Sunday, June 1, 2014

4. Good, Adult Step-Child

(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.”)

            When I was about eighteen years old, I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom looking over some old letters from Bill, my biological father.  Letters from my early teens, the first letters that I ever got from him.  And for some reason, a thought popped into my head out of nowhere:  I never got to go to a Daddy-Daughter dance.  Without expecting it, a sense of loss and sadness swept over me that I had never felt before.  (And I had been doing so good before that.)
            This was a turning point in my life, a turn toward emptiness and longing.  Before that, I was so happy-go-lucky, but this was the first time that I felt the pain left by the divorce.  For the first time, I realized that I actually had a desire for a “daddy.”  And that’s when it hit me that I had never even called anyone “Daddy”. . . Ever!  And suddenly, there was a tangible ache in my heart.  Having a relationship with several dads could never equal one whole daddy.             
            I’m sure that my step-dad, Bob, would have taken me to a dance if I had asked.  But it wasn’t about the dance.  And I know that it wouldn’t have ruffled him much to call him “Daddy.”  But I couldn’t do that, even if I ever wanted to.  It was just too personal of a word for me to use.  Kind of creepy feeling!  (Isn’t that sad?)  And I wasn’t comfortable using it with anyone. 
            I’m sure it’s different with a biological father, more natural.  But Bob became my dad a little too late in my life to bond totally and naturally like a daddy and a daughter.  Step-relationships don’t feel completely relaxed and comfortable.  They feel more cautious, more contrived. 
            I think that there is (at least there was for me) an unconscious need to “prove yourself,” to keep the relationship good by “doing it right,” by saying the right things, behaving well, and accomplishing good things, thereby making a step-father proud.  It’s not about just being you; it’s about earning your place in the family.  You’re always an outsider, and so it’s about learning to be content being on the outside, looking in - thankful for whatever attention and favor you do get, but expecting nothing more.  (I’m sure that there are many biological children that feel this same way, too.  Families just aren’t what they used to be.) 
            So, consequently, I was always a bit reserved with my step-dad, a bit guarded.  I never really felt like I belonged, just for being me.  I was always hyper-aware of my step-child status and my “performance” as a step-child.  The littlest indication that he was disappointed with me was crushing.  In fact, I remember getting so upset once when he yelled at me about something that I began to pass out.  I was just always so concerned with being pleasing and acceptable.  (No offense to him.  It’s not really about him, it’s about me.  He was a great dad and he did what he could to make it as natural and comfortable as possible!  God bless him wherever he is now!)
            As all these fears came to the surface, God was showing me that this was how I was relating to Him, also.  I never enjoyed the security, peace, joy, and blessings of being a child of God because I was too busy being a step-child!  I was too cautious with Him, too reserved, too guarded.  Never felt like I really belonged.  I had to earn my place, and so I was always working so hard at being pleasing.  And I determined how acceptable I was to Him by how He responded.  So His complete silence was crushing!   
            Until that night in prayer (last post), I was always so concerned with “doing it right” that I couldn’t be transparent and completely open with Him.  I couldn’t be honest with all the doubts and fears and ugly feelings inside - with myself or Him.   I couldn’t admit that anything inside was broken, incomplete, or unpleasant.  I couldn’t admit that I failed, that I felt like I let Him down and that He let me down, that I felt worthless and unlovable and weak.
            I was afraid of being hurt.  I was afraid of being a disappointment or being displeasing to Him.  I guess that I was afraid of . . . Him!  What would He do to me if I didn’t do it right?  If I whined too much?  If I doubted?  If I admitted fear?  I’ve read the Old Testament, I’ve seen the things He’s capable of doing in His wrath.  And I feared that. 
            But this lack of transparency with Him prevented me from drawing close to Him as His child.  I wanted to be pleasing to Him, so I did my best to be what I thought He wanted me to be.  I tried to be content with whatever He wanted to give me.  I felt bad asking for things, for disliking my situation, for questioning Him, for sharing (and having) any negative thoughts and feelings.  I’d do my best to righteously and bravely take whatever He dished out, without complaining or questioning or doubting.  (And yet, oh, how there were complaints and questions and doubts inside!)  I was the silent sufferer, the martyr, the “good step-child.”   
            Now, wanting to be pleasing to Him isn’t necessarily bad.  To work hard to be righteous and godly is a good thing.  A great thing!  But being pleasing becomes a “wall” when it takes the place of being honest with Him.  When I cover up anything that I feel is disappointing or unacceptable to Him - when I hide my pain, doubts, questions, desires, and fears - I am being less than fully honest and transparent with Him.  And this creates distance.  If I couldn’t be completely open with Him then I wasn’t completely open to Him.  Was I?
            Being pleasing is good when it comes from a place of love, when I feel so loved by Him and when I love Him so much that I want my life to be sweet and pleasing to Him.  But being pleasing is not healthy when it comes from a place of fear, when I am driven to please Him because I am afraid of what will happen if I don’t.  Because, in that case, I’m not really living in His love and goodness.  That kind of relationship creates unhealthy insecurities, self-protective walls, paralyzing fears, and distance between the Father and His child. 
            Oh, sure, I had a good relationship with Him.  But a “good” relationship with Him is not enough.  It’s incomplete.  I had spent my life trying to be whole on my own.  I tried to keep all the balls up in the air.  I didn’t really need Him like a child needs a father.  I was just a step-child.  I settled for the scraps of love that fell from the table where the rest of the family ate their meal together.  And I wasn’t just a step-child, I was an adult step-child who was responsible and self-sufficient so that I didn’t become a burden.  A good, adult step-child!   
            For years, I think I felt like I should just be happy that my physical needs were met and that I could do good things for Him.  I mean, my step-dads were always good at providing for my needs.  But a deep emotional connection with a father?  A deep emotional connection with my Father?  Enjoying each other’s presence?  Knowing His love as well as His care?  Knowing that He accepted and loved me no matter what?  That was just too “fairy tale,” wasn’t it? 
            But this was what I was really wrestling with that one night in prayer.  If I couldn’t do “more” or be “better” than who I was, would it be good enough?  What if I “did it wrong”?  Could He really accept me for me? 
            My relationship with Him for years had been based on fear, not on love!  And so I chose to be pleasing over being honest.  I was asking Him to settle for my good behavior and most of my heart.  I couldn’t just enjoy His presence because I was always concerned with my performance.  More than loving Him, I feared disappointing Him in all the ways I could do it wrong.  I was so busy trying to be “good enough” that I couldn’t just enjoy Him . . . for Him.  And I couldn’t let Him love me . . . for me!  I couldn’t let Him too near for fear of being hurt.  And so all this time, He was on the outside, looking in.
            Putting out there all the ugly things that I kept inside meant risking rejection.  And this is terrifying: to reveal all the thoughts and fears that you lock up inside so that you can keep up a good front.  It’s terrifying.  It really is.  And that’s why it took me thirty-plus years to be able to face all of the fears and insecurities that I held inside.  To be able to sit all alone before the Lord, crying in the dark, and to admit to Him all the things that I tried so hard to hide from myself and from Him.  I mean, come on, when we are called to such high standards in the Bible and when God is capable of dishing out some pretty hefty discipline, is it really okay to honestly reveal the ugliness inside?  Is it?