This is, without a doubt, the most vulnerable topic I’ve addressed thus far. There is no beating around the bush about this so I’m just gonna give it you straight. This post mainly consists of my childhood experience so I do apologize if it seems sappy or filled with self-pity. My heart is not to make this blog purely about my life but I suppose you can only speak from what you know and I know my fair share about this. I have wanted to discuss this for a while now, but I was timid. But…..screw timidity because who really cares? Also, if you start to feel sorry for me while reading this, don’t. I genuinely don’t care that people know this information. I don’t think it’s spoken about enough. God has healed me in miraculous ways and I’m stronger and wiser because of it. With that said, I sincerely hope this ministers to someone, or at least, to one of the five people who actually read these things. If you have gone through a similar situation, just know you’re not the only one! Here it goes…..
So, we all have parents, like, duh. Many of them are wonderful and so full of love. If you have these parents, I’ve nothing but happiness for you. It is a rare blessing. On the flip side, some parents are less than extraordinary. Actually, they can be pretty awful. I’m lucky enough to have the awful kind. Now, to be clear, this does not NOT apply to my mother. My mother is the most beautiful, loving, supportive mom I could have asked for. Actually, my entire family is fantastic. I love them endlessly. It is solely my dad who falls in the “less than spectacular” category…and I mean, like, way, way less.
My mom had me at a young age and as a result, I lived with my grandparents and three aunts for much of my childhood, which I am SO beyond grateful to God for because I do not know who or where I would be without their raising. My dad has never been a stable figure in my life but his presence become more consistent around age 7 or so, when my parents married. Surprisingly, I do have a few fond memories of him but my negative recollections are the most notable in my mind. To put it bluntly, he was just an angry, manipulative, narcissistic, yet extremely charming liar (think Ted Bundy documentary minus the psycho killer aspect) and he took out his anger in “less than spectacular” ways. (*Hint: abusive. In every sense of the word.*)
There are many types of fathers out there. As I mentioned, there are the rare great ones, the toxic ones, the absentees, and the overworked and thus, disconnected ones to name a few. Mine falls deep into the toxic, dysfunctional category. Lovely. If anyone has ever been in an any kind of abusive relationship, you know that calling the dynamics of dysfunctional relationships “complex” is a severe understatement. It is STRAIGHT UP TWISTED. It typically showcases co-dependence, with the recipient of the abuse on a seemingly endless mission to please and receive validation from the abuser, who seeks power and control. The recipient lives in fear and self-loathing and it is a pattern that painfully destroys you from the inside out. It’s tragic, to say the least.
I’m not sure I realized how abnormal my life was until I grew older. We all have the tendency to normalize the dysfunctions we witness growing up. Of course, I knew something was wrong due to the fact that my grandpa (the other constant male figure in my life) was always so kind (not to mention, genuinely just….cool). How could he have been so good to me and my own biological father be so cruel? How could my mother be married to him if he was so mean to her, myself and my siblings? These were all thoughts I pondered many times as a child. It was all very confusing. The older I got, the meaner he became, and I’m afraid I did as well. And the worst part of all of it? NO ONE KNEW. Almost every person in my family’s social circle, outside of a few close family friends and people in my parents’ past, thought he was a great guy and it made me sick to my stomach. Sure, he had his nice moments, don’t get me wrong, but there was typically an agenda behind these niceties.
We all possess coping mechanisms, some beneficial, some not. When I became a young teenager, I learned to just shut myself off with apathy. I lived on the assumption that if I wouldn’t think about the problem, it could magically disappear, if only for a while. And I was ok with that. I simultaneously became combative because frankly, I did not want to feel helpless anymore. If he would yell, I would yell back. If he hit me, I would hit him back. Admittedly, there was zero respect on my end but I didn’t care. I was sick of it. And then I would just forget about it and move on. I knew this was dangerous territory but I was numb. Of course, with age comes wisdom and thankfully, I possess enough now to know this was my coping mechanism, but it could have easily become part of my character if I hadn’t stopped it when I did. I felt I needed to act out of necessity. There were moments when I might have had to, but it came with a cost.
I recall having a conversation with one of my youth leaders when I was around thirteen or so. I opened up to him and mentioned everything happening in my household. He wasn’t surprised. (Unbeknownst to me, he already knew.) He offered me a piece of advice I still think on to this day. He similarly experienced the negative effects of an abusive dad and said this to me, “You have to make choice. You can become him or you can walk in the opposite direction. It’s up to you.” This really shook me because it was the simplest, yet, most profound thing I had ever contemplated. The last thing I ever wanted to do was repeat these patterns in my adult life. So I decided then and there I would walk (actually run) the other way.
Fast forward about twelve years and I’m twenty five, married, and live a greatly blessed life. I’m (almost fully) healed from that which is why I’m able to be so open about it, but I still notice remnants of these experiences today. I do still have a strong tendency to close myself off. I still become apathetic (or occasionally, too consumed) with negative experiences and relationships, thus delaying the healing process. I seek an absurd amount of validation. I have difficulty developing close friendships. I struggle with resentment. I am a horrific communicator in an argument. And the list goes on……However, I can now admit to these things. It was not all the long ago that I was unable to do so.
I believe what God has helped me work though is the art of forgiveness. Sometimes it’s hard to admit you’ve been hurt because doing so intensifies the feelings. But feelings with betray you. Don’t live based on feelings. Live in God’s truth by taking one action step at a time. Forgiveness requires immediate action. Growth never comes from apathy and procrastination and if you prolong surrendering hurt, bitterness with grow. And it will continue to grow larger and larger until you lay it at the feet of Jesus.
I mean, Jesus was whipped and beaten, forced to carry his own cross (which probably weighed a ton) on his bleeding back, was nailed to a wooden cross with a crown of thorns crushed into his skull with a sign made by Romans intended for mockery hanging above His head for the SOLE purpose to forgive US! Just sit and think about that for a moment. It’s severely humbling. What a price He paid. And we think we have it hard? We do not. But he is a gracious God, and “if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness,” (1 John 1:9). He also calls to be WILLING to extend forgiveness to others “from your hearts” (Matthew 18:35). You cannot simply desire to forgive and live delaying the action step. There is a difference speaking forgiveness, and acting out forgiveness.
In what sense, then do we forgive one another? I believe our forgiveness has to do more with an attitude than a specific act. When I look to the Bible, I see a few defining principles we are called to:
- The forgiving person does not attempt to take revenge on those who have wronged him (Romans 12:17).
- The forgiving person does not hate the offender; rather, in spite of the person’s evil, he continues to love.
- The forgiving person is kind and tenderhearted toward his adversary (Ephesians 4:32).
- The forgiving person is approachable; he leaves the door open for reconciliation and longs for the welfare of the offender.
- The forgiving person is not passive in waiting for the offender to repent; he actively seeks the repentance of the one who wronged him (Matthew 18:15-17).
I have to note that forgiveness does not assume that offender’s sin is to be ignored. However, this does not imply hanging the past offense over the offender’s head but simply not letting them continue to hurt you. It’s imperative to guard your heart. But the offender still must be held accountable for their conduct. It requires a tedious process of rebuilding lost trust but it will certainly bring new life to your heart and mind, if you allow it to.
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:17–21)
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to request that the Father “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). This prayer captures something significant about being a Christian. We live by faith under grace and are called to act out of this grace. We are free to forgive in the way the rest of the world is not. We can act in mercy because God has carried out justice in Jesus’ life and death for us. People sometimes must suffer the natural consequence of sin in this world, but we don’t add to their misery by making them pay a debt to us. Forgiveness means that we shoulder the burden of their debt. You should, by all means, protect yourself from dangerous, unrepentant, hurtful people, but leave vengeance (and the healing process) to God.
So….when I view my current relationship with my father, it seems to have shifted to a more positive light. I am cordial. I may have lunch with him……eventually. But I no longer wish him ill. I truly want to mend the gap, at least for the sake of my future children. To be honest, I am filled with compassion for him. I can’t imagine what kind of childhood he must have had to make him behave the way he does. I pray God continues to work miracles on his heart and soul. But I do know this…. God created him, God loves him, and God chose him as my father, whether I like it or not. I’m grateful. God somehow, in all his divine perfection, manages to take pain and turn it into beauty. So perhaps, if you have experienced a similar story, mediate on God. After all, he does call Himself our “Heavenly Father” and I can’t help but believe that one of the many intents of this name is to bring comfort the fatherless. Ask him to heal you. It’s slow and quite painful but it will bring to light the beauty of God’s mercy working through you. He desperately wants heal you. So let Him.
“You make beautiful things out of dust…You make beautiful things out of us.”
“Forgiveness is the strongest form of love. It takes a strong person to say sorry and an even stronger person to forgive.”