Father’s Day… as the years have gone by, this day has gotten easier, but there was a time in my life when this day brought nothing but pain. All of the Christian platitudes in the world did nothing but make it worse.
I was young when my father left our family. This daddy’s girl’s world came crashing down in a pain I still struggle to put into words. It’s a rejection so deep, a loss so profound, it took me years- decades even- to grieve its impact on my life.
As news rippled through our Christian community, efforts were made to save my parents’ marriage, but after the divorce, all efforts to save anything stopped.
At my Christian school, I was ostracized and made fun of for being the ‘girl without a dad.’ I would break down crying in the middle of class, much to the frustration of my teachers. At home, my tears were met with an attempt to erase any hint of my father from my life, which just made it hurt worse. At church, the response over and over again was, “Don’t worry. God is your heavenly Father.”
I know they meant well. I also know this a true Biblical reference to God (not just a worship song). In the Bible, it is meant to be a comfort- an image of the love of God for us and our relationship with Him.
It might be comforting to people who have lost their fathers in death, but for someone whose father had essentially rejected her, it was far from comforting. All it did was spark a deep hatred and fear of God in my heart, and not the reverent, respectful kind- more of the “terrified” kind.
If my earthly father can hurt me so much, why on earth do I want a Heavenly Father to do the same?
No, thank you.
So began a life marked by struggle- with anger, with relationships, with men, with pain, with fantasy, with porn, with self-esteem…
I know I am not alone. Many, but not all, of my readers are girls with “father wounds.” Rejection. Abuse. Loss. It sends them on a search for love, belonging, meaning, identity.
That’s really what we lose when fathers walk away- identity. We don’t know who we are anymore.
When that happens, telling me who God is doesn’t help. Because if “father” is a bad thing, then God being a father is going to be a bad thing.
If my earthly father doesn’t love me, then my Heavenly Father must not either. If I can’t keep my earthly father happy, then how do I keep a Heavenly Father happy?
If her earthly father abused her, sold her, handed her off to his buddies to be raped, how is God being her Heavenly father supposed to bring her hope?
I understand people mean it as a comforting truth, but do you see the problem?
When women are dealing with father wounds, they aren’t simply “daddy issues” they just need to get over.
Telling them “God is your father now” is equivalent to “Do you want me to kiss it to make it feel better?” While intended to be genuine and caring, it feels like nothing more than a patronizing brush off.
Yes, it might be true, but not all things that are true are necessarily helpful. For example, let’s say you find me with a gaping leg wound, struggling to walk, clearly in distress. I call out to you and you simply reply with, “The hospital is a ten minute walk that way” and walk the opposite direction. You have given me truth, but you haven’t helped me.
The hospital being a ten minute walk that way is true, but it isn’t helpful if I have a compound femur fracture. I’m not expecting you to be an orthopaedic surgeon and fix it, but at the very least you could make sure I get to the hospital.
Sometimes you have to aid someone to an understanding of the truth, before the truth can help them.
Telling someone who has been wounded by a father “God is your father now” is not going to help unless you first help her get to the place where she wants a father again. Depending on the circumstances, that could be a long road.
She has to come to a place where her identity has been restored and the idea of fatherhood has been redeemed. Until she’s at that place, you can sing “Good, Good Father” in worship all you would like and it’s not going to help. If she doesn’t want a father, telling her God is one does nothing.
It took years for me to come to terms with my “father wounds.”
Twenty years, as a matter of fact. I had to realize that nobody, no man, and actually, not even God could take the place of my earthly father or undo the damage his choices caused. It was a long and painful road, and there was a very real time of grieving the life lost through no fault of my own.
I will never have that relationship. Since I was a daddy’s girl, that loss fundamentally changed who I am today. I have panic attacks in certain situations that can be directly attributed to the trauma of losing him. I will never have that man who has known me, loved me, and protected me all my life walking me down the aisle, because the man who could have had that walked away from it. Walked away from me- from all four of us, from my mom. God being a father doesn’t change that.
While my father is alive and well, I am fatherless. I have a couple men who are like fathers and grandfathers to me, but none of them can take my father’s place. No one ever can or will.
There is one day I remember so clearly when it call came crashing down for me. It’s like all of the tears I had bottled up for twenty years came out at once. I cried uncontrollably for an hour straight, punching my steering wheel, barely able to breathe, choking out the words, “It’s not fair” over and over.
A man who God used to redeem the idea of “father” wrapped his arms around my sobbing frame, pulled me close, and said, “It isn’t and I’m sorry.”
And it isn’t. It wasn’t. And it never will be.
That day was a few years ago now, and I still hesitate to call God “Father,” because “father,” as redeemed as it may be in my life, is still broken.
As I watch my good guy friends become fathers, it heals a little more. As I watch the fathers in my church, it heals a little more. Still, I don’t see God as my father. I talk about this in my book, but I honestly see God more as a Lover, not at all in a sexual way.
I see Him as someone who relentlessly pursued my heart, protects my heart, and desires the best for me. I see Him as someone who is always wanting me to grow, who gives me my identity, who knows me more than anyone, who I want to be just like.
I think for a lot of people, that’s what a father actually is. I think that’s what a father is probably supposed to be. My brother is going to be a father later this year, and that’s the kind of father I hope he will be. If I ever have kids one day, that’s the kind of father I hope my husband will be, and I will support him in being that. It’s also the kind of mother and wife I hope to be.
So, in a sense, I understand if God is a father, then He must be a good one. But, I just don’t call Him my father. It’s not because I insist on being fatherless. Fatherhood, for me, does not imply love, and I would rather choose to remember I am loved.
In time, could I view God as a father? Maybe. For now, though, it is enough to know that I am loved, and He is good, whether I call Him “father” or not.
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Photo Credit: Katie Chase