Have you ever heard someone say “that girl has daddy issues”? Typically this comment would refer to a girl looking for love in all the wrong places or perhaps someone known to be needy, lacking confidence or self esteem. The reality is that so many of us, men and women, have had issues stemming from our relationships with our fathers. Many of us have gone on a healing journey and some of us still need healing. Everyone’s story is different but my journey to wholeness concerning my family background took 12 years.
When I was growing up my parents had their own personal challenges that they were trying to overcome. Like most people, they were mostly doing the best they could to the extent of what they knew. Elements of my experiences were traumatic and painful so at a very young age I became independent, realizing that I was on my own in a lot of ways. Self-protection and independence was my way of protecting myself from what I perceived as a lack of safety, which helped me cope with my environment. I carried a lot of anger and hatred toward my father in particular. All of us are born with valid needs that are meant to be fulfilled in our family environments. Often our family is incapable for one reason or another to meet our needs. This creates wounding in our soul. This wounding doesn’t heal itself and must be addressed so that we don’t perpetuate more pain on others.
I first realized that I needed to forgive my father at about 18 years old but there was a lot to unravel and work through. At the time I thought it was enough to pray a prayer of forgiveness and move on. I’ve learned a lot more since then about forgiveness.
The first step in forgiveness is making a willful choice to release the debt someone owes you for what they did or didn’t do. They don’t have to ask for it; it’s just a choice. Once we make this choice then we can enter into the healing phase, which is actually a work of the Holy Spirit. We can’t heal ourselves with all the self help in the world. We first release the debt, then we allow the Holy Spirit to bring healing. Sometimes this is an instantaneous miracle and other times it takes a while as we heal layer by layer. Christian counseling can be a great tool to help us sort through the baggage, dispel old coping mechanisms, recognize destructive behavior and learn new patterns for living. When God set the Israelites free from the abuse and slavery of Egypt he then took them into the desert and taught them how to live as free people. Freedom is when we are set free AND we no longer behave like slaves in our new land!
It’s one thing to forgive someone who you no longer have to engage with but it can intensify the pressure when there is a goal of not only forgiveness but also reconciliation. I was lost on how to do the reconciliation phase. I had forgiven my dad for the past but was refusing to give grace for the present. I think I was using “healthy boundaries” as a cover for refusing to extend unconditional love. It’s not that boundaries are not needed in relationships but I had the fence out too far, which really was a manifestation of fear and self-protection.
They will know us by our love?…Unconditional love is meant to be the identifying mark of Christians. Until we can love people from our heart that, in our opinion, “don’t deserve it” there is still some healing that needs to take place and there is a chance that we are still standing as the punisher who won’t let people forget the past. We don’t have to partner with the the accuser (aka the devil). People are already accused enough. I say this from the position of knowing how hard this can be. We can and should forgive for things that they, out of their own brokenness, don’t even know to apologize for. God has radical grace for us. It’s the kind of grace that enabled Jesus to pray for people who were currently in the process of killing him with the acknowledgment that “they don’t know what they are doing”.
Grace for reconciliation can’t come without the willingness to love without condition. I had to come to a place where I could love my dad accepting what he has to offer, not standing in resentment for what he couldn’t offer me as a child; A place where I could receive what he has to give and not remain bitter over what he didn’t give me before.
When I spent time with him I actually found him to be generous, caring and helpful. He kept buying me water bottles because tap water wasn’t good enough for me to drink and offering to push my stroller. He truly had changed in some very dramatic ways that showed his growth. It was awesome to see.
Sometimes the most healing thing we can do for ourselves is give people the grace to start again. It’s never too late to write a new story with someone.