The three of us eat lunch surrounded by blue walls and an even bluer sky.
Moments before, as I walked my class to the cafeteria, a student asked if she and her friend could talk to me about “something important”. And now I find myself in the center of an elementary school at a red table with two ten-year-olds. Between bites of food, the student (whom I will call Ella) explains what is weighing on her so heavily.
“It’s about my dad. He’s supposed to call me, but I haven’t heard from him. And I don’t know why.”
“Have you been able to see him recently?”
“No. I haven’t seen him in a long time. I even tried texting him, but he won’t text back. Why won’t he talk to his own daughter? All he has to do is pick up the phone and say ‘hello’.”
She tells me about futile calls, one-sided texts, and lonely ringings ending in unchecked voicemail boxes. To her young mind, it’s simple—a dad should call his daughter. Ella’s story is not told with tears or sobs but in a matter-of-fact tone too old for her age. For myself, it becomes harder to swallow lunch.
“If I got hurt or something and then died, he would be crying. There would be tears on his face because he would miss me. So why doesn’t he call?”
From what I gather, Ella’s dad is soon moving to a different county. And this leads to the most wrenching story of all. Someone, who I assume to be the mom, takes Ella to the dad’s house. Ella goes to the door and knocks.
“I kept pounding on the door, yelling at him to come out and see me.”
“But Ella, maybe he wasn’t home.”
“His car was outside! I knew he was in there, but he wouldn’t even open the door to see his own daughter.”
The afternoon sun, glaring off the concrete underneath our feet, feels too bright. Squinting, I see a darker specter rise—the image of a little girl pounding on a door that will never open. The porch light reflects off fluttering moth wings and the lifeless car still in the front yard, a harsh reminder in the night stillness, pierced by haunting, sobbing pleas.
But those pleas go unanswered.
I mull over what to say to Ella. Regardless if her dad picks up the phone or not, regardless of the choices he makes, she is still special and loved. Her teachers and—I hope—her mother care for her. But what I really want to say to Ella, I can’t.
There is a Father who will never let you down.
When the people we love don’t always respond in love, when brokenness seeps into our relationships, when the phone on the other side never picks up, there is still someone who cares. Who will love us despite our unloveliness. Who will step into our hurt and brokenness and shattered relationships. Who will open the door when we knock in the midst of despair. Who will hear—and answer—our pleas.
It reminds me of the Old Testament passages Paul quoted:
“‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people… And I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ Says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:16-18)
Thousands of years later, the Son of God came to fulfill the ancient promise, becoming a man, dwelling among us, and then paving the pathway for our adoption with blood. Now, we can say:
“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” (1 John 3:1)
We have a Father who will never let us down.