When Dad's Are "M.I.A." Missing in Action

A Father's Day Lesson for Children

God is a Father to the fatherless

For the teacher:

The following question was submitted by one of the teachers from Sunday School Network (you can join too): 

We have a very small Sunday School with only about 8 kids in 1st-5th Grade. Several of them are being raised by Grandparents and/or Aunts and Uncles due to accidental death or poor choices made by their parents. Do you have any ideas for a good lesson on Father's Day that won't upset these kids?

This question hits home, it is very personal. One of my earliest childhood memories is staring in a mirror in the bathroom at school and thinking, "Even though no one loves me, I know that God loves me." I was about seven years old at the time. My evaluation was half-right. God loved me. However, I had misinterpreted my situation at home. Kids do that. Adults do that too. You see, my father had descended into mental illness. Even though my dad lived at home, he wasn't there emotionally for me or my siblings. There was a lot of stress and verbal fighting between my mom and dad, particularly the night before. From their fight I surmised that my parents didn't love me. It wasn't true. Yet, it was true for me at the time. Therefore, it didn't matter if it was true or not. I had allowed that thought to shape what I believed about myself: that I was unlovable. Despite my wrong thinking, and for reasons I can't explain apart from God's grace, I knew God loved me! I am very thankful that God gave me a glimpse of his love as a young child. I am also grateful I haven't forgotten that moment! I think it is one of the many reasons I have a heart for children's ministry today.

As I thought about how to answer the teacher's question for a good lesson that wouldn't upset a fatherless child, my first thought was to "point them to the Heavenly Father." (Is this not our task as children's ministers, regardless of whether children come from broken or healthy homes?) 

I then thought about Jesus and his earthly father, Joseph. The following lesson, then, is relevant for everyone, whether or not your dad is here and actively part of your life, or if he is missing in action!

For the students:

Hello kids, 

Today, I want to tell you about the Christmas story. You may wonder, why on earth would I read about Christmas on Father's Day? Listen closely now, to learn why. 

Read Matthew 1:18-24 from a child-friendly Bible.

From this Bible story, we learn that Joseph, Jesus' earthly father who adopted him, was a good man who obeyed God. Further on in this passage we also learn how Joseph protected his wife Mary, and our Lord Jesus from King Herod who wanted to kill Jesus. 

The next and last time we hear about Joseph was when Jesus was only twelve years old. 

Read Luke 2:41-52 from a child-friendly Bible.

Again, we learn that Joseph did the right thing. He wanted Jesus to be raised knowing about God. He wanted him to love and obey God. Yet, after these verses, we never hear about Joseph again; he's only mentioned these two times in all of Scripture! We can only wonder what happened to him. I'm sure Jesus loved him. And even though God was Jesus' true Father, God knew Jesus needed an earthly father too, but then after a short time, Joseph died. The Bible doesn't tell us how, or when, or why. I'm certain this was terribly painful for Jesus. I'm sure he missed having a dad. Particularly in the darkest moment of his life when he hung on the cross, his earthly father wasn't there to encourage him or protect him.

Even though Joseph was a man who was obedient to God, he was missing in action for much of Jesus' life. Through this, and even because of this, Jesus learned to cling more closely to his Heavenly Father. God doesn't say we won't have trouble in this life. Our world and our relationships are broken because of sin. Jesus even warned us that we will have trouble, but he promises to never leave us, abandon us, or forget about us in those troubles! (Hebrews 13:5)

I want to read one more Scripture to you. It was before Jesus went to the cross. Joseph was long gone by this time. 

Read Mark 14:32-36 from a child-friendly Bible.

In this prayer, Jesus called his Heavenly Father, "Abba." This is a remarkable name! Do you know what it means? It means "Daddy!" God was so personal to Jesus, that he called him his Daddy!

Whether or not your earthly father is here today, or for whatever reason he is missing in action too, God wants to be your Abba—your Daddy! He wants you to learn to cling to him. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus understands all that we go through in life—the good and the bad! He was tempted in all kinds of ways, yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:14-15). You see Jesus could have sinned by becoming bitter and angry towards God over the loss of his earthly father. He might have thought that God didn't love him. But he knew better! Jesus wants you to know that you have a Heavenly Father, an Abba-Daddy, who cares for you! You can go directly to him with your sadness, your joys, and all of your questions (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 14:6). 

This is a promise from God: if you ask Jesus to be your Savior and Forever Friend, you will be adopted into Abba-Daddy's family—you can become his son or daughter! (See Romans 10:13; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6.) God wants you to know him. There's only one way to get to know your Abba-Daddy, and that's by reading his Word; it's his love letter to you. You must read it or have it read to you. The Gospel of John is a great place to start reading.

Let's pray: "Dear Abba, thank you for understanding all of our joys and sorrows. Thank you for teaching us that you are our Daddy, who loves and cares for us. Help us to cling to you and read your Love Letter every day. Help us to be like Jesus, who lived in obedience to you. Amen."

Home connection
Give each child a penny. Point out the message on it, "In God We Trust." Tell them whenever they see a penny, they should pick it up, read the message, and be reminded that their Abba-Daddy loves them—he can be trusted. You might also have them decorate a small jar to store their pennies. See the Mile of Pennies devotional for more ideas to coordinate with this activity.

If you are able to distribute a Gospel of John to each child, you might have them write in the front of it, "To (child's name), From my Abba-Daddy" and write the date.

Copyright 2017 Sarah A. Keith | Photo credit: Steve Shreve

I'd love to hear from you! Email: sarah@sundayschoolnetwork.com  

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