The last time I spoke to my father, I was folding clothes in my room. My voice came out tight as I said, “Please say goodbye back. I don’t want to hang up on you. But I will.”
I remember years ago when we lived in Brazil, he would buy my sister and me handmade wooden puzzles from street vendors. I would build them so often that I’d start challenging myself in new ways—Can I build the puzzle with the pieces turned upside down? Could I do it with my eyes closed? Even then, our relationship was always a strained one. His overt preference for my sister and consistent dismissal of my feelings created a deep wound. As I grew older, our relationship became more difficult still, especially as I started noticing his harsh treatment of my mother. All of this hurt has followed me into adulthood. And his leaving our family in 2007 almost ended what little relationship we had.
Dr. Stanley, in Courageous Faith, writes:
No one wants to experience hardships and afflictions. And the truth of the matter is that when they happen during our childhoods, they often become an excuse for us to give up, treat others badly, and be negative. But when trials arise, we have a choice about how to respond to them: as a burden or a bridge. We can see them as weights that depress us and keep us discouraged, or as conduits that the Lord works through to develop us into who He wants us to become and to deepen our intimate relationship with Him.
God uses everything for His purpose, and He can use hardships—even childhood trauma—for good, including deepening our relationship with Him. But what I often don’t understand is, How? What is my role in this? If it’s all a matter of perspective, then I need new glasses.
There have been little windows into my father since the last time we spoke, five years ago. Once, he and my mother spoke and it did not go well. Another time, he sent me a viral video on Facebook Messenger, with no greeting, no other message. It was a video of a man talking harshly about how people won’t always love you but you have to be yourself. I chose to not read too much into it and didn’t engage. He has put my mother and her brothers in tough situations, sometimes even trying to use the law against them. From what I can see, it is not healthy for us to reconnect, and I will not do so until I am able to see something that draws me toward him.
God uses everything for His purpose, and He can use hardships—even childhood trauma—for good, including deepening our relationship with Him.
My relationship with my father has been a weight that often depresses me and keeps me discouraged. So much of our formation as humans comes from the example our fathers set. All I can do is surrender my situation over and over to God. It doesn’t make the sadness and disappointment go away, but it invites Him into it. What else can we do when we find ourselves in circumstances like these? The choice to continue surrendering the situation to God, as much as necessary, is no small thing.
When I feel overcome by sadness on important dates, or if I’m made acutely aware of my loss, I’ve learned that it’s helpful—healthy, even—to allow myself to feel it. But then, I let it leave me. I let the grief pass through my hands and into God’s. I’ve also found that meditating on scriptures that speak directly toward this wound is a comfort. In Isaiah, the Lord says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” (Isa. 49:15-16). I keep this verse close so, as often as necessary, it’s easy to remember that though my earthly father left me, God the heavenly Father hasn’t and never will.
Illustration by Adam Cruft