Do you remember crying because your daddy wasn’t there for you when you needed him? Or your mama? You’ve been carrying around a father-wound and a mother-wound that God wants to heal. Let me introduce you to Abba-Daddy Who Wipes Away Your Tears.
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17b-19 NIV)
My earliest memory is a scene in the kitchen. From my seat in the baby’s high chair, I see Mommy washing dishes. Daddy comes into the room demanding that she serve him a bowl of “wife-dipped” ice cream. I’m not old enough to understand why the tone of his voice disturbs me nor why Mommy gets upset. What I do remember — and rather vividly — is a ball of ice cream flying across the room, thrust from her spoon toward my father.
Although loud fighting was not common in my childhood home, their quarrel that day became permanently etched in my psyche. Sixty-plus years later, I still tense up in when I witness people argue loudly with each other. I want to intervene. I want to bring peace. And I feel completely incapable of making a difference, because at some level I’m still the two-year-old surprised by the scoop of ice cream flying across the room.
The next life-changing event that I remember occurred four years later. At six years old, a child’s brain develops an ability to understand her environment and reason out what’s good, what’s bad, and what should be but is not. At six years old, I came to a devastating conclusion: My daddy was not the warm, friendly, understanding, compassionate listener that I needed him to be. Whatever triggered this realization is lost in the past, but I remember grieving deeply and making the decision, which held for the rest of my life, that I would never again call him “Daddy”. The name didn’t fit. “Dad” was more acceptable. It felt less intimate. It acknowledged his fatherhood while representing the sad lack of father-daughter closeness.
My dad was basically a good father. His flaws only tell part of the story. He loved his wife and children dearly, and I knew it. He was not abusive. He made it a priority to attend my school events. He figured out ways for the family to have fun together, including awesome vacations, despite being poor. He taught us how to have a balanced life. And most importantly, with my mother he introduced me to Christ and taught me to pray.
The problem was: I had discovered that my father was not The Father.
Every person is created by God to know him, to love him, to serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in heaven. Saint Paul wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:3-4 NIV; emphasis mine).
You and I were created to be like our Divine Father; we were made in his image (Genesis 1:26). Therefore, since the moment of our entrance into this unholy world, we instinctively have been seeking the Perfect Father who made us. However, until we learn how to have a close, intimate relationship with God as our Father, we will keep looking for him in his closest representatives: Fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles, foster parents, grandparents, teachers, best friends, clergy, etc.
In my forty-plus years of ministry, I’ve encountered many who are seeking the Perfect Father in the people around them without consciously realizing that this is why they continually feel disappointed and hurt. Many of us end up in divorces and other broken relationships because of this. It’s also why ministers and priests disappoint us: We look to them for the best examples of God’s Fatherhood, but they are all imperfect. Sadly, their failure to be the God that we want them to be causes indignation and outrage, a reduction in donations to the church, separation from the parish, and — all too often — separation from the very God we’re seeking.
No one can love us the way God loves us. Everyone whom we rely on for the love and care and support we need are imperfect representatives of God the Father.
Throughout my childhood, I expected my daddy to be God. Of course, I didn’t realize this because I thought I had already found God. Jesus has been my Savior and a close companion for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, having a close relationship with Jesus seemed to be enough. In reality, it was not.
It would take another twenty years before I came to know God as my Abba-Father. Meanwhile my dad, like all human fathers, continued to fail to be the Father for whom I deeply longed. Although he did a lot of things right, every imperfection stood out as a big reminder that he failed to be what I wished him to be. My mother wasn’t perfect, either, and her shortcomings contributed to my false images of God. So did the Third Grade teacher who embarrassed me in front of the class. And, after I became an adult, the policeman who gave me a speeding ticket instead of letting me go with just a warning. (And so forth with every human authority figure.)
Created to be loved
Abba-Father God gave us life and created us to be loved, Ever since he created the Earth, he’s been looking forward to having a close, loving relationship with you. You are God’s handiwork (see Ephesians 2:10). Deep in the soul of every child is an awareness that his or her life comes from God “the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it” (Isaiah 42:5 NIV).
Every child instinctively knows that God exists and that he is the source of love and that he is perfect. Want proof of this? Consider how strong is the impulse to expect perfection from humans. We have all been seeking him (although unconsciously) in the people around us since our babyhood – especially in those who were our first representatives of his Fatherhood.
God created us for love. Psychologists have long recognized that the need to be loved is the strongest of psychological needs. When we feel unloved, we are profoundly sad, emotionally hungry, and shaken to the core. It can lead to despair, and it’s a very short walk between despair and suicide.
God designed into the very fabric of our being a natural yearning to receive his love, to be embraced securely by his caring compassion, so that we cling to him all the way into eternity. We were born with a divine knowledge of what love is supposed to feel like, what it’s supposed to look like, and how it’s supposed to be shared.
Have you ever watched a small child follow his or her parent? One day during weekday Mass, God taught me about his Fatherhood as I watched a young mother and her two pre-school sons. The older boy was getting too rambunctious, so she stood up to take him outside. She signaled the younger one to stay in his seat. As she walked toward the door, he watched her steadily. Nothing else mattered. His instinct was to jump up and run after her, but he fought it. Up he stood and then obediently sat down. Then up again when his mom opened the door to leave. He started to move toward her but then returned to his seat. It became especially hard for him when she disappeared from view, and finally he gave in to his inner yearning and ran after her.
In the animal world, this is called “imprinting”. The first creature that a freshly hatched duckling sees becomes its mother, which it dutifully follows everywhere even if the mother waddles across a busy street in front of oncoming traffic. Fortunately, human parents are a lot smarter than ducks.
When you and I were little, we had the same instinct to follow our parents. It’s a built-in survival mechanism. It’s the primal example of trust. Jesus used this as an example of how we adults should trust Father God. He said in effect: “Unless you become like little children, you will never be able to follow your Father to Heaven” (adapted from Matthew 18:3).
However, since our human parents were not perfect — because they were not God — following them sometimes led us smack into the oncoming traffic of worldly ideas, misunderstandings, and arguments that caused ice cream to fly. And sometimes it crashed us into their anger, their unhealed wounds and, for some readers, their deliberate abuses.
We all need healing
Take a few minutes to think of some of the ways that the imperfections of your parents (or guardians) and other authority figures have caused you to suffer. Do you remember crying because your daddy wasn’t there for you when you needed him? Or your mama? Did a father-figure punish you when you didn’t deserve it (or anyway, you thought you didn’t deserve it)? Did a parent fail to come see you at a school event? Were both your parents away at work when you needed a hug after a bad day at school? Was your father separated from you by divorce or death or long travels for his job? Was an important person in your life too drunk to notice your needs? Or too busy?
Pause to bring these hurts to mind. Abba-Father wants to heal them!
This exercise of remembering is not meant to ignore what was good about these people. We’re setting the stage for a closer relationship with God the Ultimate Parent. We’re not fault-finding, we’re seeking God. We need to recall the imperfections of humans because this is how we overcome our false images of the Divine Father. This is how we open ourselves to the healing love of the only parent who is perfect. Even the best of parents unintentionally hurt their children because of human limitations and because of how they, too, were treated by their own imperfect parents.
Next, think about the examples of insufficient love that you learned by witnessing the imperfections of others. Do you have a spouse who was unfaithful to you? Or a boss who never deals with problems in the company? Or parents who changed after you became an adult, as we see in Debbie’s story? She says:
All my childhood memories are wonderful of my parents. Sure, we were disciplined, and at times I felt things were unfair, especially when I was a teenager, but for the most part I know that all the discipline was for my own good. Unfortunately, in their last years, my parents seem to be fighting verbally with one another. What is so hard for me is wondering, because I grew up thinking they were the best parents and in love with each other, how could they be so unkind to one another in their last years? My heart is broken not seeing them love each other openly on a daily basis.
Listen to how that translates into her relationship with God:
I want to see God Our Father as the one I call on throughout the day (a hard habit for me to form). My question is: How do we become more childlike, trusting God in our daily life?
Who has taught you to be distrustful? Cynical? Guarded? Charmaine says:
It is so difficult for me to totally trust God, to surrender all to him. I keep trying to fix me but to no avail. You see, when as a child, my siblings called me bad names and I cannot remember ever being defended by either parent.
Who has taught you to be jealous? Do you believe that God favors others more than you? That he answers the prayers of others while saying “no” to you? Listen to Tonia’s story:
I continually remember the time during my senior year of high school that I wanted to become a dental assistant. At the time our city did not offer classes and I would have to go to a city that was quite a distance. My parents refused my request. However, my oldest sister, who was the perfect daughter at the top of her high school and college graduating classes, was never refused when she asked to go away just as far. I felt like the child who is always walking in her shadow but never good enough!
Who has rejected you and made you fear abandonment? Kay lived in a loving home, and yet:
There was always an emotional distancing from my Dad. He and my Mom shared an amazing love for each other that I, as their only child, never really felt a part of. I felt protected; I felt loved, but I also felt like the “third wheel”. As a result, while I believed in God the Father, he was a distant supervisor of my life and not at all someone I would go to for comfort and solace. Mom and Dad had frequent arguments that scared me because I feared abandonment. These arguments were always followed by long periods of silence. My life, up until my Dad died, was colored by issues of abandonment, rejection, fear of his anger, lack of warmth, criticism, and other concerns, all of which shaped my thinking and beliefs about God the Father.
When my Dad died, I was given the opportunity to care for my Mother who was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. I developed a whole new perspective of my Dad and a great deal of respect for the man that he was. That perspective allowed me to develop a different relationship with God the Father and a great love for the comfort and guidance he offers for me and all his children.
Who made you feel “not good enough”?
There is another side of God that we must also consider. Although we refer to him in manly terms, God is not limited to manly traits. He is both a Father and a Mother to us. He has the nurturing qualities of motherhood as much as he has the protective qualities of fatherhood. What is your ideal image of the perfect mother? God is the source of that. He has given us the perfect example of motherhood in the flesh in the Mother of Jesus. And yet, as Maureen’s story tells us, we feel like we’re missing out on the motherly love of God:
I know my mother loved me, but I don’t remember her being loving toward me. I only remember her being judgmental and distant, unlike my father. I have no trouble relating to Abba-Father. He is my everything, just as in my childhood my father was kind and self-effacing. But even at the ripe old age of 72, I struggle with mother issues.
And what about other authority figures? Priests and ministers are charged with a very special responsibility of representing God. They are supposed to be our spiritual fathers. Mary says:
I personally have had an awakening in my relationship with priests as representations of God. Growing up I was told they were “God on earth for us” and so I have had more than a few disappointments finding out they were really “only human”.
Recalling the sources of our poor images of Father God is key to getting to know him as he really is. However, part of the healing process is to also remember how our parents (and others in positions of authority) revealed the truth about God. For example, my dad represented God’s Fatherhood very well in his protection of the family. I grew up feeling the love that inspired his protectiveness. A favorite memory comes from the time when Ralph and I were dating. We were high school sweethearts. Ralph’s father was very suspicious of me due to his own protectiveness.
When Ralph drove me home from our dates, we usually talked for hours parked in the driveway. When my family vacated the living room by going to bed, Ralph and I brought our discussion (and smooching) indoors.
Around 10:00 one night, while Ralph and I cuddled on the couch, deep in conversation, the phone rang. My parents had just gone to bed. Dad answered the phone. Ralph’s father was calling to find out if Ralph was with me, and then he insisted, quite irately, that Ralph should be sent home immediately.
What happened next made me feel very good about my dad. He defended Ralph! He protected our right to be together. He made a difference by standing up for us.
Any scary experience during childhood can become a misconception about God. And the reverse is true: In the ways that we felt protected when we were young can become trust in God.
My dad counseled a man who was mentally unstable, trying to help him spiritually while a psychiatrist dealt with his problems psychologically and medically. Unfortunately this man became violent and attacked his psychiatrist, beating him into a veritable human vegetable with a hammer to his skull. While he was still on the loose, the police informed my dad that he might come after him next. So my dad sent me and my sister and brother to the house across the street.
We watched from a window as police cars patrolled the area. From the vantage point of safety, the situation seemed like an adventure, like I was living out a cop show on television.
Years later, when faced with a challenge that involves taking risks, I have enough trust in God to feel exhilarated by the adventure. Certainly, there is some degree of worrying about what’s going to happen, but if I’ve sensed the Father’s calling or go-ahead in the troublesome situation, I trust that he is protecting me. I trust that he has a plan that’s so good, even if things go wrong they will turn out to be used for good (as Romans 8:28 promises).
Because I grew up feeling protected by my parents, when I’ve needed God’s protection, I have felt it. Think now about your own father, mother, and another significant parental influences. In what ways did they portray or represent God’s wonderfulness? Laura shares this:
I grew up with a dad that expected perfection. If he said jump, you asked how high on the way up. If you brought home an A from school, why not an A plus. But he also was the one who told you that you sang the best in your class, and I believed it! As I have grown I have realized he just wanted the best for me.
It’s good to think about what they did right more often than you think about their shortcomings. Father God revealed himself to you through these important people, and he continues to do so whenever you remember the good times. A good spiritual exercise when you’re feeling low is to ask yourself: “What misconception about Father God is contributing to how I feel?” Then pull up a memory of your dad or mom or someone else (it could be anyone else, including friends) doing something for you or saying something to you that made you feel good. God speaks through such memories. He too wants you to feel good.
Abba-Father wants to heal your heart
Jeanie, whom I met through my ministry, told me, “Even though my dad was a good provider, never hit me, and I knew he loved me, I was afraid of him due to how I saw him act in stressful times when things didn’t go his way.”
No matter how old we are today, for every unhealed wound of the past, there’s a little child in us who still cries out to be nurtured and comforted by the One Who Is The Perfect Daddy – the one whom Jesus called “Abba” as he cried out for help during his great emotional agony in the Garden of Gethsemane just before he went to the Cross. We want Abba to hold us in a protective embrace and make every hurt go away.
The problem is, he’s invisible. He’s not physically touchable. It takes a lot of time and effort to learn how to feel his embrace. In the past, we turned to our human dad (and mom, etc.) and found him to be insufficient. He could not give us everything we needed or longed for.
This has handicapped our understanding of the total sufficiency of God. On the one hand, we know that God is quite sufficient for our every need and every good desire. On the other hand, to some degree, each of us sees him as less than he is.
The truth is: God is more sufficient than we can imagine. As Ephesians 3:20 points out, he is able to do immeasurably more for us than we could ever ask for or even imagine. And he wants to reveal more of himself to you now.
This book is written to introduce you to Daddy Who Wipes Away Your Tears. In whatever ways your parents and other authority figures have failed to represent Father God’s true nature, he wants to enter into your heart more deeply and heal you. He wants to enable you to receive from him more of the goodness and love that you long for. He has been waiting for this day. He is inviting you to reach out to him and accept more from him — more than you know is possible.
Today’s Exercise: List the Hurts You Want God to Heal
To get started, list the ways you’ve been hurt or failed by parents and other authority figures (teachers, clergy, etc.). Do this in writing. There are writing exercises for each day of the journey as you travel deeper into the Father’s heart. As you proceed, your Loving Father’s healing embrace will be unveiled.
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© 2020 by Terry A. Modica
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