As I shared in my last post, your intimacy with the cherishing Father enables you to more deeply and intimately cherish your family. But what if intimacy with God the Father is hard — maybe even seemingly impossible — for you because of the deep wounds you carry from your childhood and your painful relationship with your own human father? Or what if your father was absent and your feelings of abandonment are coloring your ability to trust in God? Or what if your mother abused or emotionally damaged you, rendering it extremely difficult for you to understand the nurturing parental love of God?
My friend from decades back — like when I was an adolescent! — Dan Kuiper has just written a powerful book called When Father is a Bad Word. Keep reading our conversation about how healing is possible. (And please consider sharing this interview with friends or loved ones who may be dealing with the emotional and spiritual pain of a deep father- or mother-wound.)
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I am the husband of one wife (one of God’s many good ideas) and am a father of three and grandfather of two. I am a speaker, writer, story teller, and conference facilitator. My first book, When Father is a Bad Word, was released earlier this year.
This month on my blog we’ve been discussing family life. One way we learn about family love is through the love of our heavenly Father. How has God’s character and fatherly love influenced the way you love your own family?
Since I began my journey toward discovering just who my Heavenly Father really is, the attribute of God that has stood out the most is His unconditional love. I still have trouble wrapping my little brain around that — that my Father in Heaven loves me completely, absolutely, and irrevocably.
Perhaps I still struggle with this from to time because the love we humans offer so often has strings attached. The non-verbal message we give, sometimes even to our own children, is, “I’ll love you if . . .” The Heavenly Father gave me a bit of an epiphany after my first grandchild was born. As I held that beautiful little boy in my arms, it struck me just how much love I had for him. And this despite the fact that he hadn’t done one thing to earn it. At that point, all he did was eat, sleep, and poop. Yet, my love for him was and is so deep that I would die for him. That’s how the Heavenly Father feels when He holds His kids in His arms. As I’ve been coming to grips with that love I have found it imperative to not just verbalize but demonstrate Father-like unconditional, unalterable, and unending love to my family.
For some, the topic of “family” is very painful because of the hurt they’ve experienced in their family growing up. You understand this struggle, don’t you?
Oh, my, yes. My father was an alcoholic. And if you know anything about alcoholism, you know that it is a family disease. A parent’s behavior will affect — either positively or negatively — every person in the home. Alcoholic family systems, in particular, produce children who judge themselves unmercifully, who live for the affirmation and approval of others, who have no idea what genuine love is, who are terrified of intimacy, who feel that they can never measure up, who live with a pervading sense of shame and a belief that they don’t matter. And unless these issues are addressed, children from dysfunctional homes will carry these characteristics into their adult lives, into their marriages, and into the relationships they have with their children.
Your new book, When Father is a Bad Word, explores how hurt in our family life can negatively affect our relationship with God as our Father. Why did you want to write this book?
Very simply, because I don’t want to see anyone make the mistakes I’ve made. For years I viewed God through the distorted lens of my dad. I projected the characteristics of my earthly father onto my Heavenly Father. God, then, became a Father I was afraid of, a Father I couldn’t trust, a Father I was unable to please, a Father who didn’t want to spend time with me, a Father who could pull his love out from under me at any moment. It wasn’t until I began to understand and experience the truth about my Heavenly Father that healing could take place.
As I’ve gone through the healing process of discovering who my Heavenly Father really is, I have encountered countless people whose concept of God has been warped as a result of father wounds. Some want to experience an intimate relationship with God, but deep down, aren’t convinced He wants to be close with them. Some mistake doing things for God with being close with God. Some are so fearful of being hurt by yet another father that they find it easier to just keep God at arm’s length. And some have such deep-seated misunderstandings about the Heavenly Father that they have turned their backs on Him completely. Through the words of my book, I long to take each wounded soul by the hand and introduce them to the Father I have come to know and love — a Father who delights in His kids, a Father who keeps every promise, a Father who would never think of leaving us, a Father who loves us more than we will ever know.
What hope would you offer to my readers who may be struggling with wounds from a dysfunctional or abusive family? How can they experience healing?
First, we must realize the truth of the often used phrase in the recovery world: Our response is our responsibility. The severity of our situation won’t cause us nearly as much long-term pain as our response to it. We have choices! We can choose to live under our circumstances or rise above them. We are, in fact, the only ones who can make that choice.
Second, we need to know that there is hope. If we believe our situation is hopeless, it will be. But God is a Father who gives us hope to overcome anything that comes our way. He is a God who specializes in fixing broken things. The Bible tells us that He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. That He gives strength to do what we could never do on our own. That He is a Father to the fatherless. And, best of all, He redeems our pain and actually turns it into good. In Him there is always hope!
All that being said, we must also know that healing takes time. Our woundedness is often the result of years and years of pain. Those wounds are not going to disappear overnight. I recently got a chance to meet William Paul Young, author of The Shack, who said, “It took me 50 years to wipe the face of my dad off of God.” We must be patient with ourselves and commit to the process, not just for our own sake, but for the sake of everyone we love. The healing process takes time. But there is tremendous freedom in once and for all putting our past behind us.
How does intimacy with God our Father help us cherish our families?
Thanks, Kelli, for using a word we don’t hear much anymore in our culture — cherish! To cherish is to go beyond loving. It is to adore, to hold dear, to be devoted to. We are better equipped to cherish our spouses and children when we have experienced true intimacy with our Heavenly Father. When used as a verb, the word intimate means “to make known.” Once our Heavenly Father makes Himself known to us — His true self — we will then allow ourselves to be more vulnerable around Him. When I think of experiencing intimacy with my Heavenly Father, I picture myself in His lap, His arms wrapped around me as He “makes known” to me just how much He loves me. When I know that I am adored and held dear by a Father who is completely devoted to me it is easier to be that father to my kids.
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Thanks so much, Dan! Readers, I hope this interview encouraged you in your own efforts to grow in intimacy with the God who loves and cherishes you! Also, check out Dan’s site FindingFathersLove.com for more info about his book, his speaking ministry, and to follow is encouraging and insightful blog.