The heart of the Father
Just like any other little girl, I wanted my daddy to pick me up and joyfully throw me up in the air; catching me again with his strong arms. I wanted to sometimes sit on his lap and have him tenderly stroke my hair and kiss me on my forehead. If we were out for a walk I wanted him to hold my hand and show me the beauty of nature all around us. He was my daddy and I wanted to captivate him. I wanted to be his little princess.
In life, we don’t always get what we want, do we? When we went out for walks and I took my daddy’s hand, he would let go of it and tell me to walk on my own. When I sat on his lap he would pinch me in an attempt to be playful and express his love, but it was too hard and it hurt me. He didn’t pick me up and throw me joyfully in the air; most of the time, I felt like I was in his way. You see, as much as my dad had loved me, he had no idea how to express his love. He was a tall, proud man and had an authoritative voice; my friends were scared of him. So was I.
Both my parents became Christians soon after they were married and they went ahead to live radical lives for Christ. They started a charismatic church in the town where I was born and lead many people to the Lord. Their lives were dedicated to the cause of the Kingdom and their hearts were on fire for Jesus.
Somehow, even in the midst of all of this, my dad and I grew further and further apart. When I tried to find his affirmation and love, he would be awkward and distant and I started to think that he didn’t like me very much. Maybe it was because I was a girl and not a boy. He seemed to love my brothers much more. Yet I still tried to catch his attention and became a bit of a tomboy; always longing for him to notice me.
As the years went by, it gradually sunk into my heart that my dad didn’t like me as much as I wanted him to. Eventually, I stopped looking for his approval; each rejection a stab in my chest. I believed that he loved me, but it felt as though he didn’t like me and I didn’t like him either, I decided, and at times even begged my mother to leave him.
By the time I was a late-teen I was over it. He didn’t matter anymore; there were lots of boys who liked me and they seemed to be totally captivated by me. One after the other, they each told me that they loved me; that I was the most beautiful girl and that they just wanted to be with me. I was entranced. Nothing could beat this feeling of being loved and adored and whichever way I could get it was worth exploring; I found my worth in it.
Before long I started making reckless choices. The only thing that seemed to make sense was to have as much fun as possible at whatever cost. It became my philosophy in life; no other rules applied. I hadn’t left school yet when I first started using drugs. It occurred to me that it was probably not the right thing to do, but I couldn’t think of a good enough reason not to try it. Not even when my brother died did it stop me. It was my life and I was determined to live it as I pleased. Yet the guilt ate away at me. By the end of my last year of high school I had an anxiety attack that had me convinced that I was busy dying. My mom rushed me to the doctor whose diagnosis, which I only discovered a few years later, was depression. He managed to calm my nerves and gave me a series of anti-depressants and sleeping tablets. In actual fact, at the time I didn’t know what the pills were for but it greatly appealed to me to consume 16 pills a day – it somehow seemed glamorous to me. I ate more pills than food that summer. I looked fabulous.
Anxiety and depression soon became a close companion; one that I nurtured and fed. It was a bit of a love-hate relationship. While I was terrified of the anxiety attacks which were very real to me, it made me feel that I was someone special; that I’ve had to deal with quite a lot in my young years. I was set apart from other people and that made me feel good; like I was a step ahead.
My life became a party; I couldn’t be out less than five nights a week. My liver quite against its will managed to process years of alcohol and other substance-abuse. Eventually I stopped using drugs because I feared that I would develop a split personality or simply go insane from LSD; but with alcohol I was always in control, or so I thought.
In the meanwhile, my dependence on boyfriends and “flings” became insufferable. With each relationship ending, my whole world would collapse; the unbearable pain and sense of futility would send me into depression for months; I felt worthless, unwanted, hollow, a failure. It became quite apparent to me that I must be completely unlovable. The melancholy of it all was evident in my bitter heart. Even sex, I thought, wasn’t as sacred as people made it out to be, it was really no big deal.
At some point I stopped caring. Nothing mattered anymore. Nothing was of significant consequence to be taken seriously. Life was a joke. Within three years of one another I was married and divorced by the age of 24. A series of casual flings followed until I met my next future ex-boyfriend; one with the unhappy combination of denied alcoholic and drug addiction. He successfully faked quitting drugs for the two years that we lived unhappily together by which time I was convinced that love is an illusion and that men are useless and can’t be trusted.
We amicably ended our relationship having lost all hope and faith in one another and with typical predicted tendency, I spiralled down towards a nervous breakdown and a heavy-set depression sunk in. When I reached rock-bottom I started to dig. This time it wasn’t only the relationship that had ended, but the entire point of my existence that was under threat. I couldn’t see why I should bother to ever get out of bed again and figured that I might as well just sleep until the world ends. Although suicide was never a real temptation the reality was that my soul and spirit was already dead. I had nothing left to give. It felt like my insides were on the outside; everything revealed, left for dead. It was in this time that I called out to God; I mean, what could it hurt – He couldn’t possibly screw it up more than I could. My agenda was exhausted.
Within character, God mercifully and gracefully reached down to where I was lying, left for dead; He lowered Himself to my pitiful level and came to sit right next to me. He tenderly spoke to me, gently picked me up in His strong arms with joy and with love; whispered in my ear that He is my saviour, my husband, that He would never leave me, nor shame me; He made a covenant of mercy, peace and everlasting love towards me. In my desperate state I could hear His voice and feel His embrace. Despite all the anger, bitterness and resentment that I carried with me, His compelling love softened my heart and permeated my resistance; I could only beg for His forgiveness for I saw then that I wasn’t worthy. He told me that it was already done.
As if a coin was flipped, my life was radically altered. For the first time in a long time there was hope. Hope for a future. God loved me unconditionally and nothing could ever cause Him to stop; fact. He loved me for me, despite of me; He loved me because of who He is. A love that I couldn’t deserve no matter what I did. Nothing or no one could take this away from me. My life had a new purpose.
In my desire to be closer to God, I had to deal with many of the issues that were the consequences of my reckless past behaviour. Not a walk in the park, but I was determined. As I spoke to God day after day He revealed things to me that was wrong in my life; mostly things that I was in control of where I could make the difference by changing my attitude, or thought-patterns, or in some cases it was a matter of simply believing His word.
God was busy restoring me. My experience in those early months was of a very loving Father; the One that I had always longed for. He took my filthy rags and gave me a new white robe, forgiving me all my sins; He showed me things that had me chuckling with laughter; I stayed tucked under His arm, as close as I could get to my Father.
Inevitably, it triggered thoughts of my own father. The sight of a little girl sleeping against her father’s shoulder or sitting on his lap while he’s telling her a story would leave me with an ache in my stomach and a deep, unfathomable yearning. Night after night I would cry for the little girl in me that felt so rejected by her father all those years ago and I cried for my dad who couldn’t express his emotions or deal with his own heartache. In those moments, sadness and longing would overwhelm me and the hurt of it all was uncontainable; it felt as though my heart was literally broken. My dad and I by this time were getting on well and had worked through our annoyances with one another; but he would never understand the hurt that I was feeling and he would be too stubborn to deal with his own issues. On many occasions I decided that I must talk to him, but then always lost the courage and eventually decided that I could simply forgive him in my heart and we’d never have to actually talk about it. But God had other plans.
One November, while I was visiting my folks for a weekend, we had prayer and Bible time together, as we often did when my brother and I were children. My dad is a reader by nature and has an awesome knowledge of the Bible; God has blessed him with a gift of teaching in that he is able to reveal the word of God in a way that captures one’s undivided attention and awe. So it came as no surprise to me when he told me that we (my parents and I) will have dedication time together that Sunday morning. He added that there was something on his heart that he would like to share that is rather difficult for him.
What followed that Sunday morning I cannot adequately accentuate in words and haven’t to this day told the story without shedding a tear. It has been a most remarkably significant turnaround point in my life; sometimes I have even refered to it as the highlight of my life. As we sat together that morning, reading from the Bible, my dad got up from his chair and came to kneel in front of me where I was sitting. Out of nowhere he started begging for my forgiveness; he said that he wasn’t the father that I deserved, that he didn’t give me a reason to respect him, that he didn’t set an example to me of what a man should be like, and that he didn’t protect me the way he should have. He was so, so sorry and then asked me if I would ever, ever find it within me to forgive him for all the things he wasn’t; and even if I couldn’t, he wouldn’t blame me or hold it against me… It was the most awe-inspiring and humbling moment of my life!
What amazes me most is how God knows the deepest, most intimate desires of our hearts and He has this ability to, in the most inexplicable ways, bring healing and restoration to even those areas that we consider unreachable.
This has been my story. Even though I came from a Christian background, my life went horribly wrong; and even when I miraculously returned to my Father, there were still things in my life that were holding me back from God’s full plan of restoration for me. I believe that He doesn’t only restore, but He equips us to go beyond that and realise our full potential; a state in which we are able to impart blessing unto others. It is an ongoing journey.
Today my dad is my hero. Any girl would be lucky to have a father, or a woman to have a husband, who is able to be that honest with his children despite his own conflictions; a selfless and brutal act that brings about profound healing in more ways than one. In the book of Proverbs one often comes across the saying, “before honour comes humility” and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of that kind of honour than my dad.
May you let God take you on the journey that He has planned for you; that you may dare to walk on the real wild side of life, radically devoted to your Father who loves you and wants to bless you, in ways you cannot imagine; fact.