Sunday, June 1, 2014

11. A Good Father?

(This is a series that was adapted from my life-story, Child of Mine, which is at  On this blog, it starts at the bottom of the June posts with “Like a Child.”)

            You know the scenes in shows where a little girl is running toward her dad, and she jumps into his open, waiting arms.  And he scoops her up and hugs her and cuddles her, while they are both smiling.  And they both look just so happy. 
            I have no idea how that feels.  I’ve never done that before.  The most I’ve ever had was a slightly awkward, slightly uncomfortable hug from a dad.
            And the only time that I can remember “running” towards a dad’s open arms was when I was about five or six.  I was at the top of a slide that was in the water at the beach.  And my step-dad was at the end of the slide, saying, “Slide down, Heather.  Don’t worry; I’ll catch you.” 
            I was scared of going under the water, and so I asked again, “Are you sure you’ll catch me?”
            “Yes, I’ll catch you.”
            So I finally worked up enough courage, and I zoomed down the slide to his arms.  And he . . . stepped back and let me go under the water.  He quickly scooped me up with a good-natured laugh and a little teasing.  But I didn’t want a laugh; I wanted to be caught.  (Parents, if you say that you are going to catch your kids, catch them!  If you say that you won't jump out and scare them when you are playing with them, don't scare them!  If you say that you'll be there for some event of theirs, be there!)                 
            As I was growing up, (as you well know by now) I went through several “dad” changes.  At some point, one would move out of the picture and another one would move in.  Knowing when to change from calling them “Dad” to calling them by their name was a little bit confusing.  Particularly when it came to addressing them directly. 
            My biological father was always called that . . . “my biological father, Bill.”  (Not when speaking to him, but when I referred to him in conversations.)  He said that when he used to come visit when I was little, it hurt me so much when he left that he just stopped coming.  So I never called him anything growing up, not until I was thirteen and got that first letter from him. 
            And when I would see him during trips to Grandma’s house, it felt a little odd at first calling him “Dad.”  And so for a long time, I would try to get his attention without calling him anything.  Basically just “Hey” to get him to look at me.  But, eventually, it got a little easier just to say “Dad” when I would talk to him.  Not totally natural feeling, but easier.  But even now, when I’m talking to others, I refer to him as “my biological father, Bill.”  It keeps things straight.       
            When my mom and second dad, Tom, divorced, I still referred to him as “Dad” for a little while, and I still visited.  But at some point, he moved and we moved, and we just lost touch.  No harm, no foul.  Just time to move on, I guess.  So now, he’s just “Sean’s (my brother’s) dad, Tom.”
            And the last time I talked to my next dad, Bob, he and my mom were divorcing, and he had moved to . . . I don’t even know where, but somewhere else.  And he called one day to tell me that he had a long-overdue birthday present for my second son.  And I got a chance to tell him for the first time that I was pregnant with my third child.  Five months pregnant. 
            “I’m a bad, bad grandpa,” he said. 
            I knew he was heartbroken over what was happening to the family, as was I.  I told him that he could come by and drop off the present, that we’d still like to see him and be part of his life.  That was several years ago.  my son never got the present.  Somewhere along the way, I stopped referring to him as “Dad” and started calling him “Bob.”  It just made it easier.   
            And when my mom married Ron, well, I’m just too old for another “Dad.”  I’ll just stick with names from now on.  Even when I got married, I couldn’t even think of calling my father-in-law “Dad.”  It was too awkward of a word.  An uncomfortable word.  One that just didn’t really mean anything.  (Sad thing is, I know I’m not alone.  There are so many people out there with their own stories of “Dad.”  Or “Mom,” for that matter.)
            Unfortunately, not having a close relationship with my earthly father hindered my ability to relate to God as my Father.  Having many deep scars from my parents’ divorces kept me locked behind walls of self-preservation and fear.  I couldn’t open up and trust.  And I didn’t know how to get out from the prison of fears that I had built to protect myself.  And so it was a long, slow, painful process as God walked me through it, helping me along as I stumbled and faltered. 
            This whole journey, God has been dredging up all of the old wounds and scars and fears that have prevented me from knowing Him as my Heavenly Father.  I mean, I was good with Him being God in my life.  God could guide.  God could provide.  God could wow my socks off with some amazing blessings and experiences. 
            But a Father, a Daddy?  A Father loves and delights in His children, and He wants to be delightful to His children.  A Father is trustworthy and faithful.  He has open, waiting arms for His children to jump into when they need to be held, or some encouragement, or just because they want to be near Him.  He doesn’t just care for His children; He wants connection, depth, transparency.  A Father is always there.
            I didn’t have an earthly example of that.  I didn’t know how to open myself up to all of that.  I had so many fears of being dependent, vulnerable, trusting, needy, helpless, abandoned, and unacceptable.  I had to prove my worth, to be somehow more special than I was.  Therefore, I was always working hard at impressing Him.  Working hard and yet never feeling like I could do enough or do it right.  Never feeling His love.
            Most of us, I suspect, have too many layers around our hearts.  Layers that keep God on the outside, looking in.  And to get to the center of it all - to finally see the truth about how we see ourselves and how we see God - oftentimes takes more time and energy and pain than we want to put into it.  And so we live with distance from Him.
            Back in my younger days, faith came easy.  I trusted God and loved God and served God.  But I didn’t really know God.  Oh, I did know Him, but I never knew Him the way that He should be known by His children.  I didn’t know Him as a Father.  And if I was ever to learn this, I had to be broken.       
            Oh, I was broken all right as I grew up!  But in all the wrong places and in all the wrong ways.  But God has been slowly reversing that.  He’s been working on healing the parts that never should have been broken, and on breaking that parts that need to be.  Such as my need for control, my strong tendency to be self-sufficient, the fears that keep Him out, etc.  And, boy, has it been a long road.
            But this life is about the journey, not about getting to the end.  (Until eternity comes.)  And so, the Holy Spirit brought up another doubt not too long ago.  A doubt that made it hard to be really comfortable knowing Him as “Father.”  And I didn’t even know this doubt was there . . . until a tiny, little eye-roll gave it away.
            I was reading a passage about God being a good God, something about Him being a good Father who takes care of His children.  And I felt the tiniest little eye-roll in my spirit.  I didn’t mean to do it.  I mean, I know God is a good God.  Right?  That’s what the Bible says.  Of course, He’s a good God.  I know that!  But I still felt this little, tiny snicker in my spirit, this “Yeah, whatever” kind of eye-roll.  (I hate to admit that, I really do!  It sounds awful.) 
            And I wondered, What’s that about?  But instead of just brushing this off, I stopped long enough to really consider it.  Why would I do that?  I know that God is a good, loving God.  I know it in my head.  Why roll my eyes about that?
            To be honest, I didn’t really want to face that question.  I knew that it would mean more mental work to get to the bottom of it.  I knew that it would uncover unpleasant things that I would have to face and work through.  Hadn’t I done enough work already?  And I didn’t want to learn, after twenty-plus years of being a Christian, that I had doubts about God’s goodness and love.  What kind of a horrible Christian would that make me? 
            But I couldn’t just let it go.  I had been working so hard on honesty, transparency, and drawing near to God.  And so if this was the next step, then this was the next step.  I knew that if I was ever going to really get past it, I would have to honestly face this or it would become another wall between us.   
            And so I had one of those conversations that I have with myself sometimes - conversations where I follow a train of thought to the end, allowing the Holy Spirit to shine the light of truth into the darker recesses of my mind and to illuminate whatever needs to be out in the open.  And this conversation with myself and God, with the help of the Holy Spirit, went something like this:  (And it’s not like I “heard” these responses from God, it’s more like this is how my thoughts developed, and how the Holy Spirit helped me to discover deeper truths about myself.) 
            Q:  Why do I roll my eyes when I read about God being a good Father that gives good gifts to His children?  I mean, I know that He’s a good God.  So why do I do that?
            A:  You don’t really believe in God’s goodness, do you?
            Q:  Well, I never thought about it. But. . . I guess that I must be doubting His goodness.  I don’t know why.  I mean, I have a roof over my head and food on the table.  Shouldn’t I just be happy with that?  And yet, God says He gives abundant blessings to His children.
            A:  So . . . if He hasn’t blessed you abundantly (according to your definition of “abundant”), if He hasn’t answered your prayers when you sought Him about a house, then that must mean . . .?
            Q:  Well, that either He’s not good (which I know He is) or that I’m not worth His time or His answer.
            A:  So you don’t feel worthy?
            Q:  Yeah, I guess I don’t feel worthy.
            A:  Exactly!
            Q:  Huh . . . What?!?
            A:  You’re not worthy.  Nothing in and of yourself is worthy of His blessings and His sacrifice for you.  It’s not about you being worthy enough.  It’s about you just accepting it.   His gifts are unearned.
            Q:  But I’m nothing special.  I’m just me.
            A:  Look at your children. What do they do to deserve your love?
            Q:  Nothing. They’re mine, and I love them just because they are mine.
            A:  Exactly!
            Q:  I know that He loves me. I know it in my head. But I don’t know how to feel it.
            A:   . . .
            Q:  Why do I feel like I don’t deserve to be loved?
            A:  Because you don’t deserve to be loved!
            Q:  Huh . . . What?!?
            A:  It’s not about “deserving” love.  It’s not about you or anything you’ve done.  It’s about Me and the kind of God that I am.
            Q: . . .
            A: . . .
            Q:  But I don’t know how to feel that?
            A:  And you won’t feel it until you just accept it, until you believe it and let Me into your heart completely.  But you are blocking Me.   
            Q:  What?
            A:  You are blocking Me by feeling like you have to earn My love.  And if you feel like you have to earn it, then you don’t really understand it.  And if you feel like you have to earn it, then you can’t really accept it. 

            All these years, I guess that I never really enjoyed His goodness and love because I couldn’t really believe that He was that kind of God.  A good God that loves to give and who loves unconditionally.  Sure, I believed that He could discipline and provide for our bare necessities.  But giving abundant blessings?  Desiring that we live life to the fullest?  Loving us completely, just because He is that kind of God?  Because it delighted Him?  Seriously, who does that?  We live in a much too self-centered world to understand that kind of love.   
            And so all this time, I never really experienced His abundant goodness and unconditional love.  Because I only felt it if I earned it.  I felt I had to wrestle things from Him, by pleading or earning or “doing it right.”  And if I couldn’t really believe in His love and His goodness, then I didn’t really want to need Him.  And if I hadn’t yet learned to need Him, I never had a chance to really trust Him.  And if I hadn’t learned to trust Him, then it was all up to me.  And if it was up to me, then I was doomed to fail.  No wonder life was hard.  And no wonder my relationship with Him wasn’t full of life and peace and joy.   
            But because He loved me more than I ever let Him, He allowed the pain and the trials that were necessary to break me.  He exposed the old walls and fears that created distance, the lies that I believed, and the misconceptions that I lived by.  He helped to break my reliance on other things, including myself, my prideful self-sufficiency, and my need for control.  He exposed my wayward desires and the idols in my life so that I could learn to desire nothing more than Him.  All so that I could know His incredible goodness and unconditional love.  (Ironic sounding, isn’t it?  That He had to “hurt” me to help me know His love?)