Longing for the Dad Who Wasn’t There

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About a year after our father died, my sister Kathy
became suicidal and was admitted into the psychiatric ward of the
hospital. She had attempted suicide in the past. Now her despair was an
unprotested submission to defeat. Five years of counseling and prayer
seemed to have changed little.

“I’m so tired of trying,” she told me one day. “I don’t
feel close to God. I don’t care about living. If it weren’t for my
kids, I’d just give up.”

The situation stung with irony. Thirteen years earlier,
Kathy had entered into a relationship with God. She accepted Jesus as
her Savior and eventually led all her siblings to the Lord. Now she
could not seem to find Him.

Distorted Images

The question is not whether God had failed Kathy or she
had failed God. It is, rather, what kind of God did Kathy know? What
kind of father did she imagine God to be?

Did she know a Father God who appreciated the smallest
things about her and thought she was special? Or did she imagine a God
who preferred more “together” Christians? Did she know a Father God who
loved to spend time with her? Or did she imagine a God who would get on
a train and leave her behind?

From the time I was 2 until our parents’ divorce when I
was 6, our father was addicted to amphetamines. As a result, he
developed a drug-related psychosis, and his behavior often bordered on
the bizarre and abusive.

Divorce made my father disappear from our lives. Looking back on those early years, I’ve often wondered, Daddy, where were you?

When you were a child, your own father modeled God for
you, accurately or not. Perhaps you attended church and were told God
was good. But if your father was absent or ineffective, you ran into
the same problem my sister had. You couldn’t reconcile a positive image
of God with the distorted picture your father presented. This warped
image of God hid the very thing for which you searched.

If you have finally let go of your father, you are free
to find another Father in God. However, has your subconscious painted a
picture of God for you that has disqualified Him for that role?

What Color God Did You Paint?

Imagine that you were given a blank canvas at birth. Your
father’s words and actions (or lack thereof) provided the tools, paints
and brushes with which you would paint an image of God as you grew up.

If your father was absent due to divorce or abandonment,
you were left with a blank canvas and only a few tools. Perhaps you
didn’t even believe in the existence of God. You had no reason to
believe in a loving earthly father, much less a heavenly one.

On the other hand, an absent father may have worked to
your advantage. Daughters who don’t have to fight negative father
images are sometimes more receptive to a fatherlike God. Most of you,
however, experienced some interaction with your father that left you
negatively predisposed toward God.

If your father was emotionally distant and unattainable,
you may have painted a picture of a God who was hard to find in times
of need. You were unsure of God’s care for you and imagined that He
deliberately removed Himself from you.

If your father was ineffective because of a problem such
as alcoholism, he may have depicted a God who was a mass of
contradictions. You never knew what to expect from God.

The abusive, harsh or domineering father usually does the
most damage. If you would describe your dad this way, you probably
painted a God who was angry, volatile and demanding. You couldn’t
please Him no matter how hard you tried.

As you grew older these images colored your thoughts and
attitudes about God. You probably wanted to avoid the concept of God as
a Father, so you focused on Jesus.

Many father-deprived daughters cling to the person of
Jesus to crowd out negative ideas about a God who might be like their
fathers. However, when we fix our eyes on Jesus so that we identify
only with Him, we are not really seeing Jesus at all.

Jesus died as a sacrifice for sin, but He also came to
revolutionize forever our view of God. Time and again Jesus referred to
God as Father—and not only as “Father” but as “Abba,” an Aramaic word
meaning “daddy” or “papa” (see Mark 14:36).

Jesus emphasized that God was our perfect Father, but
perhaps His greatest testimony to the fatherhood of God was His own
behavior. When we read about Jesus in Scripture, we can take comfort in
His loving manner, His sacrificial life and the way He took the
children into His arms. But when Jesus did these things, God the Father
did them as well.

Jesus is God (see John 14:9). All His character traits
are those of God Himself. Through Jesus’ words and actions, God
endeavored to draw us closer to Himself.

Take a second look. As you fix your eyes on Jesus, what
do you see? Do you see Him pointing the way to a loving, caring Father
who is eager for His children to know His love?

If not, you need to repaint your canvas. You need to
repaint God with such true colors that He becomes Daddy, your Abba
Father. To do this, you need a revelation. But how?

God has given us the Holy Spirit, who is able to call
what is not into being. You can ask Him to wipe away the old picture on
your canvas. Cry out to Him for a revelation of God’s father-love for

God’s Part: The Faithful Father

If God is to become Father, we have a responsibility, and so does He. Does He have what it takes to be a good father?

The two most important things a father gives his child
are love and discipline. The lack or warping of these two necessities
hurts us most as children.

It is the little girl inside of us who needs to have a
relationship with Abba Father. Only He can provide the needed love and
discipline that will cause that little girl to grow into maturity and
to stop seeking a daddy in the wrong places.

How does God handle the fundamentals of discipline and love?

Abba Father’s Discipline. It hurts sometimes to
allow God to deal with me as my Father when I’ve made a mistake. But I
need to be dealt with firmly so that I don’t sin again. And I know that
after I have repented and cried for a while, He will comfort me.

The father-deprived daughter shudders at the idea of
God’s discipline. She imagines that God’s discipline is like the
fallible, earthly discipline she may have experienced growing up.

Let’s look more closely at what makes God’s discipline a good thing:

• It proves we are His much-loved children (see Heb. 12:6).

• It is perfectly motivated by His love and desire for our best (see v. 10).

• It consists of guidelines given in Scripture, the
conviction of the Holy Spirit and the natural consequences of sin. God
makes the rules clear, lets us reap what we sow and then looks
searchingly into our eyes when we blow it (see v. 11).

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