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Still learning from her father

Joy Clough is a retired Sister of Mercy living in Chicago. In Learning About the Father From My Own, she shares how she is still learning from her father.

An important lesson in my life is one that I’m still learning. It involves welcoming and trusting God as a loving father, rather than as a severe judge or “divine tester.”

…Then, one day when I felt particularly distraught, I found myself yelling at God (yes, out loud) that “my father wouldn’t do this to me.”

And there it was. Right out there, reverberating in the air, echoing in my own ears. My father wouldn’t do this to me, and God my Father wasn’t doing this to me either. I was doing it to me.

…The father doesn’t weigh his love for his child; he simply loves. The child doesn’t think about trusting his father; he simply does. Oh, is that what Jesus meant about “unless you become as little children”? Hmmm. I’m still learning.

Be sure to read her whole story Learning About the Father From My Own

My experience of my father

Her story trigered my own story. I think I was in eighth grade. Perhaps it was the beginning of my teenage rebellion.

A friend of mine (easily) talked me into playing hooky from school for an afternoon. “Who would know?” The only problem was that I left my bookbag in the schoolyard. Of course, by the time I got home, Sister had already called expressing concern about whether I was sick!

My mother was waiting! What a tongue lashing! But then my father came home. To this day I can not forget the look of pain on his face. He was a very gentle and loving man. He was not angry. He was just so disappointed and hurt by what I had done. That look was the worst punishment he could have given. (As I write this I can still feel the emotions!)

As you may suspect I am still unpacking that look. It taught me so much about his love for me … and his hopes.

Fast forward to his last weeks on earth. He was facing major surgery, a surgery from which he never recovered. He was telling my mother that he did not sleep. I can still hear words spoken in German. “So, I kept praying my “Vater Unser” (Our Father).” That was the trust he had in his Father in heaven.

Lessons for all of us

Sociologists say it’s common for people to perceive God is like the fatherly figures in their lives. If dad is caring, patient, and concerned, then children will believe God has those same characteristics. And the opposite holds true when a father is harsh, judgmental, or absent.

Jesus reminds us… “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent?” (Luke 11:11).” He is drawing our attention to an ideal of fatherhood.

Whether we are fathers, biologically or spiritually, we can learn much from our fathers (and others).

I realize that we are all called to live the lessons that Sister Joy and I learned. We can trust a loving father (or mother)!

I am also painfully aware that there are many who are not as fortunate as Sr. Joy and I have been.


  • What lessons have I learned about me being the image of God in the lives of others?
  • How can I be sensitive to those who were not blessed with loving images of God?

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

My father wouldn’t do this to me!