Do you know the Father’s love for you? I’ve seen many patients in my private practice who struggled to love themselves or others. It is only when God’s love breaks through and we receive it that we can love ourselves.
Did my father love me?
I sat in my seat, heart-beat quickening while ever aware of my son and husband next to me.
I had been present when this exercise had been previously done, and had even participated before. “I’m good, Lord. We’ve done this before.”
I’m not sure who I was trying to convince: Him or me.
“My father loved me right? I mean, I remember the photographs. Like the one on the sidewalk where he was crouched down holding me on his knee and my cousin in the crook of his arm.”
It was as if God whispered back, “Yes little one, your daddy loved you, but you’ve wondered.”
My parents did the best they could
My father was a good man. Everyone loved him. The elderly ladies at church always looked forward to their Sunday morning hug. He cared for the orphans and widows in such a tangible way. Friends thought I was so lucky because he was fun when he played and teased. I remember those times too, and they bring a smile to my face.
Yet Dad traveled extensively for work when I was young, often gone two or three or more weeks at a time, in a day when cell phones were not yet invented and long-distance rates were prohibitive.
My other memories of him have been obscured by the heartache that ensued when he died suddenly when I was just an adolescent, leaving a daughter who very much needed her father’s love and acceptance. I then adopted my mother’s frame of reference, who was left to raise two children in a country that was not her own. Oh, how I know she tried, doing the best she could do, but her own emotional demons prevented her from displays of affection, love, or acceptance from the time I was born, and Dad’s death just amplified her emotionally impoverished state. It left me feeling like a burden always precariously trying to ensure her emotional well-being, so as not to risk losing her too.
I don’t blame them for not providing what a little girl most needed. Each in their own way, my parents did the best they could. And I can have grace and mercy toward both of them, because in my own parenting endeavors, I have also done the best I could, but not always providing what or how my children needed. Yet our Heavenly Father is full of grace and mercy despite my mistakes.
He did love me right? I knew he did, or rather, I assumed he did, although as hard as I searched back in the memory vault, I couldn’t remember him ever saying so. And then, he was gone, never again able to utter those words, or “I’m proud of you,” or “You’re beautiful,” or “Daddy will always be here for you,” or anything else a little girl needs to hear her daddy say.
“But Lord, you gave me a replacement father. Surely he loved me.”
Or did he? He had said he did, but then, I only remembered it in response to my profession of love for him first. And then, sometimes someone may say they love you, but their attitudes, comments, and behaviors leave you wondering if it was just lip service.
My heart sank. I had gone through the formality of the exercise before, but this time was different. This time the lump caught in my throat as tears threatened to spill down my cheek in front of my son and husband. I didn’t want my son to think anything other than positive things about his grandfathers.
I sat there glued to my seat, on the one hand so thankful that my sons knew their father loved them. He not only told them daily, unsolicited, but his actions backed it up. He had received his father’s love and had it to give. Yet, on the other hand, I was left to process my own lack.
“Will you let me give you what your heart needs?” I sensed God asking.
The speaker had just asked a question and let us all see the startling statistics in the hands of our brothers and sisters in Christ: “With a show of hands, how many of you never heard your father say ‘I love you’ to you growing up? Or perhaps he did, but his actions told you differently?” As we awkwardly glanced around the room, men and women, young and old, shared their deep heart hurt. Easily 85% had their hands raised. And without conscious thought, my hand joined theirs.
The speaker then invited us to come forward so that he could stand in the gap, and minister to the wounded, gaping hearts present.
Even when we can’t see it, God’s working
Years before, I knew my heart was lacking. I had prayed for quite some time for God to “re-parent” and fill the gap for where my own parents had been unable. I had no idea what that would look like or consist of, but I knew that as a daughter of the Most High God, He would be the only one capable of righting wrongs and filling gaps in my little girl heart. Yet my prayers seemed to go unanswered for the longest time…long enough, in fact, that I quit asking.
As He always is, God had already been at work, but doing an ever deeper work than I had imagined.
In a way that only God could orchestrate, a mother-like figure had contacted me sometime before with a professional question, but we continued casual conversation over time. As I entered a period of adversity, she appointed herself as my personal prayer warrior. I have to admit, I was skeptical. I’d had people promise to pray before, but in actuality, my feeble requests were made to feel like an unwanted burden. So I had no expectations of this relationship.
Yet she persisted: checking in with me and showing genuine concern of a variety I was not accustomed to. But even then, it wasn’t so much what she did, but the heart behind it. Why would she do this for a virtual stranger? Her terms of endearment for me cut through the walls I spent my life erecting. Terms I would have wanted to hear from my own parent.
The sensation within my head and heart was foreign. I hardly had words to describe it. My heart was softening, in a way that it was unaccustomed and more than a little uncomfortable. After 3 significant losses in a 6-week period, I was not too ready to allow my heart to connect to anyone new, only to be left rejected or abandoned on top of the grief I already bore. Yet when she spoke, I could not deny that my heartfelt something I only vaguely recognized: it felt accepted, valued, and loved.
During the same heart-breaking period of time, God also brought a sister-like woman across my path. Again, not a relationship I sought out, nor knew I needed or wanted. She extended affirmation, acceptance, and grace while not asking for anything in return. What was this feeling that welled up inside me?
When Love Broke Through
Scores of women walked alongside me to the front of the room to stand enshrouded in the shame that comes from believing if your own parents didn’t love you, how could others? How could God? The enemy is so convincing as he whispers his lies to a vulnerable heart.
The speaker then called men to stand before each woman to fill the gap for what their own fathers hadn’t done for them. My husband came forward to take that responsibility for me.
He looked into my eyes and repeated a prayer of the Father’s Love for me. Tears welled in his eyes and cascaded from mine down my cheeks. As I heard that he (He) was proud of me, accepted me, and loved me, I also recalled the words of compassion, acceptance, and love from those women He brought across my path and into my life.
I can’t tell you what happened, but I physically felt a shift, as if the walls built from hurt, rejection, and abandonment came up and out of me, while a belief in and assurance of His love for me settled in the vacated places of my broken heart. In that moment, I felt the Father’s love. Even more surprising, I felt a mother’s love. In that exchange, it was as if He had answered my prayers that I had given up on, and re-parented in a way that only He could.
In case I was tempted not to believe that something deep and palpable happened in that exchange, He gave me a couple of other brief experiences that bore witness to the fact that I had not only received His love but could now love myself.
On a break following the exercise, I headed toward the ladies’ room. As I walked past the mirror, I caught a glimpse of a reflection of a woman and had a flash of thought, “she’s pretty.” It was a second later before I realized it was my own reflection. I took a double-take and stood in front of the mirror realizing I had never thought that about myself before.
Moments later, back in my seat in the auditorium, I glanced down at my feet. Without any conscious intent, I heard myself think, “that foot is cute”…the foot that had been considered ugly in my estimation since a life-threatening illness as a child left it deformed and unsightly.
Perplexed by the thoughts that did not seem like my own, I silently asked the Lord what was happening. He gently replied to my vulnerable heart, “You’ve finally accepted my love, now you are free to love yourself as I intended.”
We cannot give what we do not have. Even though I had accepted Christ as my savior as a child, I had never fully accepted the Father’s love for me. Until I did, I was not free to love myself or anyone else. Only when I accepted His love for me, could I love myself.
Do you know the Father’s love for you? Have you received it?
Depression doesn’t have to become a permanent part of life.
There is hope.
Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression and the companion Hope Prevails Bible Study help the reader understand how depression comes to be, recover their joy, reclaim their peace, and re-establish their true identity, while knowing their worth, remembering their secure destiny, and being confident that nothing separates them from God’s love.
Hope Prevails and the Hope Prevails Bible Study are must-reads for anyone suffering from depression or knows someone suffering from depression.
Dear Dr. Michelle, It is hard to trust sometimes when you have lost so much, also it is hard to build a friendship across the miles. However I think God ordained our friendship. Thanks for the kind words. I love you, This is a great song by Micheal W. Smith In Christ Diana https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ped1jYLFtkA
OH MICHELLE…. my heart felt sad reading this..but by the end there were tears of rejoicing in what the Lord has done. xxxx
Yes Mary, the Lord is faithful, even to the prayers we give up praying. He longs to draw us unto Him and show us His unfailing love, if only we will open our hearts to receive it. Because of Him, #HopePrevails.
Michelle – we could have coffee and swap stories – and see how similar those stories are. I’ve learned we’re all called to be spiritual mothers and fathers to those whose parents, for whatever reason, cannot – I learned that because I needed – those mother words and those father words – and God does find a way to fill those gaps. I remember at one point standing outside, trimming roses after my 5th son was born, saying, “O.K. God – I get it – you are the Father I never had. RIght now – I’d like something down here, though. Something to help in the daily living without a tangible Father.” I don’t think God was offended. I have beautiful stories of how God filled those gaps – how he, over a period of time, sent me Father words! Your post goes straight to my heart – because I have been there!
I suspect you and I are not the only ones who have had this experience. As I looked around the room, at least 85% raise their hands. Yes, truly He is a Father to the fatherless. He is the great I AM and He will be all that we ever need Him to be. Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
Wow!! What a story, Michelle! Thanks for sharing your heart and opening up your life today!
I’m so sorry for what you have been through, but I am so grateful that God is using your misery as a ministry and your mess as a message of hope!
Your life inspires mine!
I was parked by you on RaRa today. Hope you have a blessed day~
Melanie, thank you for your sweet encouragement. I pray it isn’t my life that inspires you, but what God has done. We all have a story to tell because of what He does in and through us. He is a good Father. Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
I am so sorry you missed knowing your father’s love. He loved you so very much and was so proud of you. He had many burdens to carry and I’m sure at times you felt that. His love for his family and for God was amazing. He did his best, not always under easy circumstances. I have never understood why God took him at a time in life that his family needed him so very much. We do know he loved God and tried to follow his words. I have always been sorry that you do not have those memories of him. But, I do know our Heavenly Father has given you peace about the past. Praise god you have a loving husband and family. Your extended family is so proud of you as a person and also your accomplishments! You are amazing!
Thank you so very much for your love, support, and encouragement. We may never know the answers to the many “why’s?” but we can trust in a good God whose love never fails, and who redeems what the enemy steals. Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
I think we grew up in about the same generation, where it wasn’t in vogue to express one’s feelings of love and affirmation. I don’t remember a lot of I love yous from my parents, but they certainly knew how to show their love with actions. My husband and I have made a habit of telling our children that we love them in both words and deeds. I’m so glad that you found healing for the deep ache in your heart.
Anita, no parent is perfect, and I have certainly made my share of parenting mistakes as my parents did, and their parents did before them. But we all have a perfect Heavenly Father whose love and mercy right wrongs, and provide a perfect model for which we should aspire. Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
Michelle, thank you so much for sharing so openly. God bless you sister.
Thanks for linking up with Woman to Woman’s Word Filled Wednesday. God bless.
Jenifer, it’s not always easy to be so open and vulnerable, but it’s only in doing so that others will see what an amazing God I serve, and what He is willing to do in and through others if they will be open to Him. Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
I think our own perceptions from our childhood can do devastating damage to us throughout our lives. I really had to work through some of those toward my own dad in my late 30s & 40s. My dad wasn’t perfect and he came from a generation that didn’t speak love very often, but what I learned (with a lot of grace from the Lord) is not to focus on what I didn’t have, but what I did get. it helps a lot in accepting his demonstrations of love (even if they weren’t exactly what I was hoping for) and letting go of the pain of what I perceived as lack. Thanks for your honest and heart-felt post.
Karen, you learned a valuable lesson to focus not on what you didn’t have but what you did get. It’s also so helpful to recognize that God is not only capable but longs to provide everything we need and do not get from our earthly parents. Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
I’ve had a very similar experience . Layer upon layer. Lord, please heal us.
I believe He wants to do exactly that Samantha. I pray you experience it in His fulness.
Oh, my heart was broken as I read your story and realized that my story was similar. I think, I know, my dad loved me but I never remember him saying so. My hubby had a similar experience so when we began dating and decided to marry, one of the first things we made sure we did was to tell each other about our love and to determine to always tell our children that they were loved. What has happened out of that pain is that we have been mama and papa to hundred/thousands of people, men and women, and always tell them they are loved. Father took our hearts and filled them with His love so we could pour out and He also gave us several mom and dads who have spoken of their love for us. Oh, yes, God is faithful and He cares about our hearts and He does loves us. Thank you for sharing your tender story, Michelle! I love you my dear friend.
You have a beautiful testimony of transformation. God’s love has a way of doing that. Transforming our mindset, our heart, our psyche. Allowing us to hear his love, sense his love and experience his never failing love. He did that for me. I felt forsaken by my father. I was born into illegitimacy but both parents later married other people and birthed more children. I was reared by my paternal grandparents. I struggled with knowing my biological father loved me as much as he did the children he reared. God has healed my broken heart and allowed me to receive my father’s demonstration of love but more importantly to know and receive my heavenly father’s unconditional love. Priceless.
For many years, it was difficult to really believe that God the Father really loved me. I had no problem believing that Jesus did…he showed me with his actions. But then I realized that God showed me His love with His every action, too. My dad told me he loved me; I remember hearing that often growing up, but he didn’t show me that with his actions. Even when I was grown and he expressed regret for his lack of parenting and surliness when we were younger, it was difficult to forgive him, because it didn’t take long for him to do or say something else that told me he would have done the same things if given a second chance. It wasn’t until several years after his death that I was really able to forgive him.