Sunday, August 30, 2009

Our Father

Anyone who knows me knows that I have never had a desire to have children. As a young girl, I credited my (at that time) unheard-of stance to a very pious (and somewhat self-righteous) philosophy that went something like this:

"I cannot think of one UNselfish reason to have children."

And, it was true, I could not. Having grown up in a home full of girls, most of them being much older than I was, I heard much pining for children with little variation in motives. Some girls dreamed of being wives and mothers - practiced and planned for it all of their young lives. It was about the fulfillment of their calling, their aspirations, their life's work. It was all about them. Some girls longed to have "someone who would finally love them." (Eeek! God help the poor child born into such an empty heart and into such unfillable expecations!) I heard women talking about getting pregnant to keep a man or to save a marriage. I also heard the stories of women and men who wanted to give their children "the life they never had" growing up (which, frankly, still sounded very selfish to me).

But in addition to the reasons I could not find for having children, I found a lot of reasons for not having children. Once again, growing up with kids who were in child-protective care for some reason or another gave me PLENTY of reasons. I think we have very little concept as to the prevalence and true depravity of the abuse that is perpetrated on the helpless every single day; I got to hear those stories first-hand. Why would anyone want to bring an innocent into a world so dark, so evil? I could not fathom it.

Furthermore, I knew something very fundamental, even then, about myself. I am human. I could see only too clearly a number of very personal reasons as to why I should not ever be a mother.

I feel the need to offer a disclaimer at this point. I think that motherhood is only ever to be honored as one of the most selfless and thankless jobs in existence. I do not share these things to denegrate motherhood or to belittle women who want children or dream of being wives and mothers (though, of the latter, I have definitely and sadly been guilty). No, I share this because, though I may never change my mind about having children myself, I have come face-to-face with something life-changing...

I grew up without a father. My mother had to be mother and father all by herself - not just to me and to my sisters, but to literally hundreds of children who were raped, beaten, molested, used, exploited, and abused in unfathomable ways. I suppose that she didn't have to. She chose to. She chose to be a mother to me, to her family, and then to further give of herself to care for others that way.

Anyone who knows me knows that I counted myself lucky at not having a dad growing up. There was no one to hurt us, for example, as most perpetrators are men, with a large percentage being fathers, sadly. There was no arguing or marital strife to cope or contend with. Honestly, I looked at other families and I truly thought that I had it made.

But I also thought that I was crazy when, at age 22 or so, I would very nearly burst into tears any time an older man in church looked me in the eye and spoke kindly to me. You see, though I had not experienced hatred, rage, or abuse at the hands of a father, I had also never experienced kindness, comfort, or cherishing either. In fact, I had never even witnessed other women experiencing those things or receiving those things from men.

It was a rude awakening at 25 to discover that I had a very empty, very dark place in my heart where a father was supposed to be - where any kind of positive male role-model or experience was supposed to be, for that matter. The image God gave me was of a neighborhood street, the homes neat and trim, the streetlights stretching on ... until they just stopped. The street continued, but there was only the blackness of night byond. And then ... nothing. Just ... nothing. Where people ought to have images of father, memories and fondness, love or connection or whatever, there was simply emptiness for me.

I began to recognize, to come to grips with and grieve this loss.

And then the strangest thing started to happen.

God started to fill that void.

There is a man that I will never forget who led a worship team at my church. He and his wife advocated for me at one of the darkest times of my life, and I will always remember that he was willing to step into the messiness of real-life and fight, fight for me the best way he knew how. I will never ever forget his words of compassion.

In the last five years there have been men who have spoken affirmation where there was only trauma and unworthiness before. There have been those who have offered a strong arm on which to cry and even a protective presence in questionable circumstances. I don't think any of them will ever know just how valuable these small and precious gifts were and are, like light on a dark street.

I have never been the kind of girl to look for a father. No, I suppose in some ways I tried to be what I lacked. I have always sought to be perfectly logical, for example, rational, and never controlled by emotion. I went for years without crying and then never let anyone see my tears when they came. More than that, I sought to be a woman of character - character that I never saw in men, in a dad. I wanted to be solid, dependable, a woman of integrity, in some ways to fill the void of that type of figure in my life - and, as I saw it, in the world. Everything I wanted in a dad I tried to be.

But as I have slowly released my death-grip on this one-girl attempt to change the world by being the one thing I never had, as I have painfully turned to look at who God created me to be, who I am, I have found that God has had His own agenda. He has wanted to be a father to me.

I was at the gym the other day. It was one of the worst days I have had in my journey of healing and recovery with God. I felt desolate and, I guess, a little lonely. I asked a friend who was on the treadmill next to mine how he recovered from the hurts and betrayals of his past enough to go on, marry, and have a family of his own. Honestly, I don't even know why I asked the question. I suppose I was just looking for a connection with someone and knew from his testimony that he would understand what I was fighting, that he would understand and not try to fix me. But what he said surprised me.

He started talking about being a father. He started to talk about looking down into the face of his little girl, and I saw and heard something I have never heard before.

I heard the heart of a father.

I had to turn away from him to bite back the tears that sprang to my eyes unbidden at his tenderness. I've never had that. I never had a dad to look down into my face and just love and delight at what he sees there.

But at least now I've seen it.

And I have a slightly better glimpse into how God must look at me: I think it looks a little something like the way that man in the gym looked when he talked about the face of his little girl.

As an adult, I have stumbled across two people who, when I asked them why they wanted to have children, gave me answers that I couldn't so easily dismiss as merely selfish. The first was a woman who took me in and gave me a place to stay when I didn't have a home anymore. She said something along the lines of, "When you have been filled with such good things as love and life, having children is a natural expression of its overflow." Cheesy, I suppose. But the other woman I asked said this: "God has given us two very unique opportunities to participate in the divine, opportunities that are ours only while we are on this earth, only to be experienced in this life: Marriage and parenthood. I want to take advantage of those opportunities while they are mine." Somehow, I think the two answers are intrinsically linked.

I confess that I am glad I am not faced with any such divine opportunities right now. I do not know if I have the courage that these last two women seemed to demonstrate, the first who is a mother and the second who is not yet married. However, I can attest to the truth in their words, for it is out of the overflow of love and life that God has been filling me, that I might have something to offer others, and it is in the divine participation of others that I have begun to know healing, hope, and fathering.

Our Father which art in heaven
My Father which art in heaven (and on earth in the hearts and hands of men!)
hallowed be thy name.


  1. I LOVE that the first thing Jesus said when He showed us how to pray was "Our Father" too! Honestly, I don't think many people know Him that way. Alot of people know Him as Teacher, Lord, Savior, All Powerful, King I dunno. But, Father comes first. As a dad, I have learned how I have misunderstood my Father, underestimated His desire to spend time with me, His love for me and how His heart LONGS to give me wisdom in this world so that I can walk without falling. God has good plans for you:) He does.

    1. Thank you! What a beautiful thing you have chosen, choosing to be a father. May God bless you and use you to reveal himself to the world. :)


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