Recently my husband was overseas for a couple of weeks, working with our missions agency. Understandably, the kids had their moments of really missing their father, but most of the time, life seemed to go on as normal. My five-year old son still went to preschool, and my 3-year old daughter still stayed home with me. By the end of the time, my daughter and I had basically spent every waking moment with each other and were VERY ready for the Pappa to come back home!!
But it wasn’t until he was actually back home, that I noticed the change in my daughter. She was suddenly less clingy, less defiant and bossy, more willing to play on her own, kinder to her brother (and me), and didn’t seem to fall apart as easily if she was told “no”.
I wondered if this was just my imagination or not. And instead of sighing a little “hmmm…” and moving on with my normal life (as most sane people would do), I decided I needed to Google the effect of a father’s absence on girls.
What I found seemed to confirm my hunch. And while not every woman’s experience is the same, I found that many studies show that, yes, in fact, there is a big effect on girls who grow up with absent fathers. (Read more about those studies here, here, and here.) I think we intrinsically know this and don’t need studies to prove it, but it does help to see that it is not just one or two women who struggle.
Having spent many years discipling and mentoring young women who grew up with distant or even abusive fathers, I have observed that many of them live with trust issues, fear of abandonment, distorted perceptions about themselves, and difficulty maintaining healthy relationships with men.
I feel great compassion for these young women. We all have a deep need to be validated. God’s design is that our fathers would be the one of the first to help shape our sense of worth. By modeling the love of our Heavenly Father, our earthly fathers are meant to convey their love, support, and unwavering acceptance of us as individuals.
God's design was for our earthly fathers to model his love and acceptance. #fathers #dadsmatter Click To Tweet
When Jesus was on earth, the first words the Father audibly spoke about him were of his worth and identity: This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased. This acceptance and value were not tied to his behavior, performance, appearance, or ability. He was pleasing to his Father. He was an accepted Son. Just because of who he was.
This identity was also what Satan questioned when Jesus was led into the desert. “If you really are the Son of God…” Does that line sound familiar? If God really loves you, then why…? Will God really take care of you? Thoughts of accusation about God’s character and about your legitimacy as His child.
So how can we be whole if we grew up with imperfect fathers?
We must invite God into the wound.
I don’t know what your path will look like, but ask God to begin to heal you. Ask Him to show you. He may lead you to a book, a speaker, a blog post, a friend, a Bible verse, but He will show you His love for you if you ask and keep on asking until He does. He wants you to know and experience it more than you do.
In the past, I struggled with insecurity over the way I looked. For many years, I didn’t even realize this about myself, but the Holy Spirit was faithful to show me thought patterns I had. When I was in a group or out in public, I was almost constantly bombarded with questions of how others were perceiving me, especially men. Was I seen as beautiful? As desirable? As worthy?
My mentor at the time suggested that I start sitting with God everyday and asking Him what He thought of me. Could the answer really be that simple? Would God really show up?
He did. He began to reveal His love to me as I read His Word. It became very personal. “You are beautiful my love, my fair one…”
He spoke to me through movies and romantic pop songs, through creation and the care of loved ones. The Holy Spirit was reminding me in so many ways how great the Father’s affection was for me.When we know God's approval of us, the need for earthly approval melts away. #approvaladdict Click To Tweet
As I drew near to God and received from Him the approval that I so desperately longed for, I found that I didn’t care as much what others thoughts. Those questions would still come, but I was able to extinguish them with the truth of God’s love towards me.
I still need to hear it, but that season in my life set a solid foundation that I still stand upon.
My husband and I used to be involved in running Discipleship Training Schools for young people. Once when I taught on getting to know God and hearing His voice, I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to put together a simple slideshow to play for the students. It was merely a collection of images of fathers with their children. Dads with their babies. Dads with their toddlers. Dads with their young children and growing teenagers. Dads with their adult kids. As the images rolled, the song, “How He Loves Us” would play. The response was breath-taking.
The Spirit of God was tangible. The Father was meeting with them. God was opening their hearts to grasp the love that He had for them. Some of the students were weeping. Others were still and wide-eyed, overcome with they truth of how intensely and intimately they are loved.
No matter your relationship with your earthly father, you don’t have to live with a Daddy wound. Ask Father God to show you how He loves you and then be on the lookout for it. (You could even find your own images of fathers online and look at them while you play the song mentioned above. There’s something so powerful about seeing a loving father with his children.)
If the wounds are deep and it’s too hard to hear his voice, seek out help. There is no shame in reaching out. We cannot walk through life whole until we know the love that our Daddy God has for us. We cannot be “good Christians” without it. We need to know the strength of his love for us personally. Experiencing God’s love, enables us to forgive the mistakes and sins of our human dads.
How can we love Someone that we don’t know? And how can we obey Someone that we can’t trust? Obedience naturally flows from a loving heart that is founded in trust. That’s why Jesus said, “If you love me, you’ll obey me.” He wasn’t giving a command. He was just describing what love does. Love that is rooted in knowing we are loved.
We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
If we are ever in doubt about God’s true intentions towards us, may we first ask, “What would a good father do?” and live in the truth of that answer, even when we don’t know or understand the path He is leading us on.
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