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​Spiritual Friday: Honoring Our Fathers

Last Spiritual Friday, we gave the patients an opportunity to write their fathers thank you notes as a way of reflecting back on Father’s Day and Men’s Health Month in June. For patients whose fathers have passed, I suggested they could say thank you as if it were a prayer. Some of our patients grew up not knowing their fathers at all, so we suggested they could write to someone who was a father figure or fatherly presence in their lives – a brother, grandfather, teacher, coach, sponsor, mother, etc.

The patients seemed to enjoy this opportunity. I watched two patients write a card together and slip it under their therapist’s door – this touched me.

In smaller groups, one of the patients shared:

"I haven't spoken to my father in such a long time. We hardly know each other, but I wanted to say something, so I just told him I wanted to have a relationship with him and I was just trying out what that feels like."

For me, that was the most touching moment. All the other patients in the group offered their loving support and encouragement.

This patient heard back from her dad and came to me expressing her heartfelt gratitude. She said she never would have thought of writing that note on her own and that she felt the strength of her group helping her.

Thank you, G-d.

The patients shared their thoughts about writing letters to their fathers:

  • "I'm so angry but I know I shouldn't hold onto that anymore."
  • "This is the first time I've written or said anything to my dad in so long because I've been so angry."
  • "I'm so grateful for the memory of summer evening drives with the convertible top down going for ice cream."

We had many meaningful readings and played a beautiful song by Sarah McLachlan "Song For My Father". I asked the patients to think of their Higher Power during this song as a place of strength, courage, safety, encouragement, and love.

The patients were especially touched by the story of "The Prodigal Son". Many had never heard it before.

There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them.

Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”

The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” - Luke 15:11-32

The patients could all see themselves as the wasteful son – extravagant, ego-driven, addicted, selfish, self-centered – who hit a bottom and then became afraid, alone, hungry, and remorseful. But in the end, they asked for help and forgiveness, became humble, and received only love.

We spoke of the idea that the father in the story could be their Higher Power – the unconditional love always available to them from G-d.

Many patients were surprised afterward when I told them this was a story told by Jesus and could be found in the Bible!

No matter how different we may appear on the outside, we are all the same on the inside. We all want to love and be loved. We need each other. It is our sameness that allows us to be understood, accepted, embraced, and honored. I think the patients experienced this today, if only for a while.

"The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone." - Mitch Albom


Reverend Laurie Durgan