Subject lines typically train me to hit delete. However, this one—from a popular design and publishing site—stops my impulse.
I click to open the email.
“Father’s Day is coming up and we know it can be a difficult day for many. That’s why we want to offer the option to opt-out of Father’s Day emails from us.”
If your father mistreated you, I imagine you’d understand this email’s protective intention.
I do too.
Fathers wield a formidable sway. Good dads instill in us the belief and ability to attain the best of both worlds—success in the market place and a loving marriage. Lousy ones drive their daughters to do drugs, choose promiscuity over purity, and flunk school.
My work as a psychologist privileges me to hear heartrending stories from scores of sons and daughters whose fathers betrayed them. Instead of marking the next generation for greatness, these men massacred their innocence instead.
But let’s not single out biological fathers as though other men were incompetent in perverting children’s lives. Step-fathers, foster fathers, mom’s boyfriends, grandfathers, step-grandfathers, even pastors have been complicit in wringing faith and hope out of the younger generation.
For the sake of brevity, let’s refer to men with the potential to wreck the youth as “father figures”.
Which brings us back to the email we started off with.
I honor this social media company’s intention to shield their subscribers from a Father’s Day email from them, especially because many have been wounded by their fathers.
But I spot a problem.
The email campaign’s rationale runs something like this:
Many are nursing father wounds.
Therefore, Father’s Day will be hard for them.
Let’s avoid reminding them of it to keep from activating this nasty pain.
However, tiptoeing around unhealed wounds by skipping Father’s Day reminders is about as effective as abstaining from chewing for the sake of a cavity.
Ignoring a hole in your teeth won’t miraculously heal it. Ditto with the holes in your heart.
So why don’t we fix the problem instead?
Why Focus on Father Wounds?
People who were hurt by their father figures tend to also accumulate more hurt.
At least this is what I’ve witnessed. In my clinical practice, clients with oozing father wounds—because of abuse, abandonment, or both—also lack the deep-seated confidence that they’re loved. This void often lands them in poor choices—whether in the realm of romance, careers, finances, or friendships.
In contrast, those with decent father figures manage to create a stable existence, even if punctured by trials and occasional struggle. It’s as though having a decent dad defends us—somewhat because no parent is perfect—from the world’s cruelties.
But there’s an even meatier reason why father wounds are worth healing: God introduced Himself as a Father.
Our spiritual adversary knows this. That’s why the Devil pushes men to provoke their kids, which is the polar opposite of God’s command in Ephesians 6:4. When they oblige and hurt us in the process, it gives Satan an in to interject his lie about God being just as bad as Dad.
It’s true we often compare the heavenly Father to the human version we grew up with. One research study verifies that attachment to fathers, but not mothers, predicts attachment to God.
This means even if you had an absent or abusive mom but your dad was the patient, loving kind—a la the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13—then you may not end up rejecting God.
But if you grew up with an angel of a mom and a monster for a father, it makes sense if you shrink from God.
As bad as a compromised relationship with God is, it forms only half of this pickle. Another research study found that your relationship with God does a better job at predicting your mental and emotional wellbeing compared to religious practice (such as how many times you pray or attend church).
Here’s the take-home message: Your father’s mistreatment of you might sour your mental health and your relationship with God.
Two Groups Who Renounce God
What do you say—shall we work on healing any father wounds you might have?
The key lies in your relationship with God. So, let’s see if you identify with either of these groups, even if remotely:
1. Private Renouncers
Perhaps you attend church faithfully. You may even serve at the nursery or worship team. However, is your view of God distorted? For instance, do you secretly believe God will only respond if you read a certain amount of Bible, memorize new Scriptures, or log an hour of prayer each day?
I wonder if you feel obligated to appease God because you fear His short fuse.
Or maybe you doubt God’s goodness for you. You might have no qualms believing God will come through for another, but not when you’re the one in need.
If any of the above resonates, this man’s story might intrigue you. One member of a Christian Facebook group I joined confessed that it has taken him 50 years to wipe his father’s face from Jesus’.
Can we please pause here? Let’s value this man’s persistence in reclaiming his faith. It took him fifty years—half a century—to disentangle his father’s disposition from the heavenly Father’s.
His valiant effort sets an example. How much do you superimpose your father figure onto God? That is, have you compared God to the man who raised you and concluded, “God’s just like him!”?
Would you give God the chance to reclaim His image in your eyes?
Take the time to find the answers. They may just transform the rest of your life.
2. Public Renouncers
Did a father figure abuse you and justify it using God’s name? Then you might end up resenting not just the brute, but also the Lord—perhaps to the point of scurrying far away from the faith.
Whereas I might lose it altogether.
Misconduct in the name of the Almighty infuriates me because God is love (1 John 4:8,16), not a devious gaslighter. According to John 10:10, that role belongs to the Devil—and since God can’t lie (Numbers 23:19, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18), we can trust whatever He says.
Speaking of which, God didn’t leave behind His Word because He’s some cosmic killjoy. He nudges us to embrace Scripture so He can protect us (Psalm 81:14) and our children (Deuteronomy 5:29, NKJV). Forever.
Like with many survivors of religious and spiritual abuse, however, these verses may only succeed in shrugging your shoulders. The millions of unsatisfied why’s may preoccupy you instead. Then why didn’t God stop evil things from happening? Why are my prayers unanswered? Why is the perpetrator getting away with what he did? Asking why might be your battle cry.
I may not have all the answers, but this I know: you’ll improve your chance to hear God’s response after you’ve reconciled with Him.
Father God, Heal My Father Wounds
You can’t expect to heal and wage a silent war on the healer simultaneously.
Which is why reconciling with God deserves top priority.
It’s in this capacity God promises to put perpetrators on notice: “the one who is disturbing you, whoever he is, will have to bear the penalty” (Galatians 5:10, AMP). As though emphasizing the point, another verse echoes the same warning. “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you” (2 Thessalonians 1:6). After all, revenge is His right (Romans 12:19).
It seems apropos to close our time by quoting the email which launched it:
Father’s Day is coming up and I know it can be a difficult day for many.
That’s why I’m asking you to consider reconciling with God. Allow Him to heal all your wounds.
Please ask Him to demonstrate how much He adores you—because He does.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/AntonioGuillem
Audrey Davidheiser, PhD is a California licensed psychologist, certified Internal Family Systems therapist, and author of Surviving Difficult People: When Your Faith and Feelings Clash. She founded and directed a counseling center for the Los Angeles Dream Center, supervised graduate students, and has treated close to 2,200 clients. Dr. Audrey devotes her California practice to survivors of psychological trauma. Visit her on www.aimforbreakthrough.com and Instagram @DrAudreyD.