The Father Wound – Part 2

I ended my last entry defining the “good boy.” I’ll pick it up with how the empty way of life handed down to me by my father led to a search for gratification. Growing frustrated in my natural need for love, acceptance, and tenderness, I began a restless search for gratification apart from being the “good boy.” This was the empty place within me crying out for love and approval. My needs for love and affirmation were being met in very broken and unhealthy ways. I tried to fill the emptiness I felt with pornography and compulsive masturbation, emotionally dependent friendships, and eventually anonymous sexual encounters. Can you grasp how hungry I was for love and touch? And how that hunger led me to make so many bad choices. The only touch I received from my father as a child was abusive. Terribly touch deprived I hungered for the touch of another. Proverbs 27:7 pretty much describes me at that point of my life, “He who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry even what is bitter taste sweet.”

After a while I grew tired of it all, the broken relational attachments, the sex, the isolating into fantasy, wasn’t filling the emptiness inside. I still had a deep ache within me, this was the empty way of life handed down to me by my father. At the end of my rope, I cried out to Jesus. Amazingly He answered my prayer and I became passionate for the things of God. Months later when my zeal diminished, I kept wanting to go back to the old ways of relating and I couldn’t understand why? I thought I had been doing all the right things; reading my bible, memorizing Scripture, going to bible studies and faithfully attending church.

What I hadn’t done was deal with the deep pain and grief within my heart. Outwardly I was doing all the right things, but inwardly I was still full of anger, hate and bitterness towards my father and dare I say God! I hadn’t dealt with the sin done against me by my father. I hadn’t dealt with the anger I had towards God. Oh yes, I was plenty angry with Him. Deep within I wondered why he gave me such a miserable father and such a lousy childhood. I’d see other people’s lives and be envious of what appeared to be the perfect family life. “Things would be so much different if only I had grown up in one of those “perfect” families.” I felt let down by God; I felt like he failed me, so my anger and resentment felt justified. I pretty much concluded that I was on my own in this world and I didn’t need God. All that I just described about God pretty much describes my dad. I was projecting onto God the image of my earthly father.

A part of me related to God as an abused and neglected child, not as a child that he loved. I was like an abused puppy that is adopted by a loving person; it takes a while before you begin to trust their demonstrations of love. As I’ve mentioned before I had a “Bitter Root” expectation. I expected punishment; not grace, love or forgiveness in my relationship with my father and with God. Unable to trust God limited me in my capacity to receive His love, so I lived the Christian life in my own strength. God can’t be trusted so I’ll keep being good and everyone will think well of me. This false self worked for a long time.

It is difficult to approach God as a loving father when ones experience with their own father has been nothing but humiliation and punishment. My memories of my father caused a deep anxiety within me. I knew about God in my head, but I didn’t know him in my heart. Deep down I was terrified of God in the same way that I was terrified of my own father. I had a wrong fear of God. I saw him as a condemning judge, one that expected me to be perfect and would not put up with failure. I believed he expected perfection (much like my own father) and if I failed he would be disappointed with me. Growing up in a graceless environment disabled me from receiving God’s grace. Do you see how I was unable to receive the fullness of God’s love because of my wrong view of Him?

Brennan Manning gives us a wonderful description of the true fear of the Lord, “It is silent wonder, radical amazement, and affectionate awe at the inexpressible greatness of God’s love.”

Proverbs 14:27 tells us that the right fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death. Whoa! That is completely opposite of where I was at in relation to God.

You don’t even need to identify with the father wound and can still have a wrong view. Some of you have worked all of your young lives trying to win your fathers affections and you’ve done a great job of proving you’re a success. Your father is very proud. Wound, what wound? But what some of you have done is project that kind of thinking onto God, thinking you can win His affections through your success in good works and disciplines of the faith. I think it was Mike Bickle who said, “There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more or any less.” I’m not saying we can’t grieve his heart but he still loves us in the midst of our foolishness and waywardness. As Francis Chan would say, “That is crazy love!”

I often find that what separates many of us from the love of God is our ungodly beliefs about ourselves, which we then project onto God. “God doesn’t care about me.” “God doesn’t even know I exist.” “I’m disappointed with my life, so God must be disappointed with me.” These wrong beliefs, lies that we’ve embraced, keep us from receiving the Father’s affections.

Those thoughts need to be taken captive and given to Jesus at the cross. In our Healing Path course here at The River Church Community we nail these lies to an actual wooden cross laid flat on the floor. What a glorious sound to hear hammer hit nail as these words find their end in Jesus cross. This is so empowering for men and women to rise up and take authority over these lies that have separated them from God’s healing words. Then in our small groups we listen for one another to hear the healing words of the Father to replace the lies of our past. I recommend this exercise if you have those old tapes playing in your head.

Eventually I had to learn how to be completely real with God concerning how I felt about Him if I was going to move forward in my healing journey. Holding onto our anger will only intensify our bitterness towards God and others. Truth is we can’t be right with God until we’re real with Him. As I learned how to dialogue with God, much of my anger came forth in those conversations and I began to feel a release within from all my anger and bitterness. This is actually where I learned how to receive His comfort, experience His love, and begin to truly listen to God. In relationship with God, we find that He is slow to anger and abounding in love (Exodus 34:6). He is compassionate and comforting. In 2 Corinthians 1:3 it says that he is the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” In Isaiah 49:14 Israel believes God has deserted them, forgotten them and Isaiah takes them to task and says, “Never!” Can a mother forget her little child and not have love for her own son? Yet even if that should be, I will not forget you.”

People always say the truth sets you free. That’s close but not entirely right. Knowing the truth sets us free. Take some time and reread the previous paragraph and meditate on those words about God’s character. Ask the Holy Spirit to minister to you the comfort and compassion that you didn’t receive from your father. Ask Him to remind you of the words of Jesus who said, “I will not leave you as orphans.” May He help you to internalize these truths so that they become water to your thirsty soul. Bless you heaps!!!

I’ll address healing for the “good boy” in my next post.

 

The Father Wound – Part 1

 

1 Peter 1:18, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

In my own journey of healing I’ve seen how a father influences the well being of his children. One of the most awesome revelations of the Bible is that God is our Father. So let me ask, what do you think of when you hear the word father? Do you right away think of protection, provision, warmth and tenderness? Or does the word father bring up other feelings and emotions that are difficult to admit? In early childhood our fathers should be a source of safety and security. They should bring forth a healthy self-confidence in the child. Our fathers should have affirmed and encouraged us as we began to explore the world around us. Our fathers should have blessed us as we entered into manhood and womanhood.

As an adolescent I had many expectations of my father to teach me different things. How to change the oil in the car, how to tie a tie, how to approach and talk to a women, unfortunately, my attempts at all of this and more usually ended in acts of physical, verbal and emotional abuse. My father was impatient and hard to please. My report card was never “good” enough. Even though I had a great baseball game, he always found something to criticize. Inspection of my chores always brought some complaint, it was never “good enough.” My father’s destructive criticism and humiliation left me with the feeling that I had no value. Needless to say, I feared my father. I wanted my father to love and affirm me, but after fifteen years of abuse and neglect, I left home.

Some of you may not be able to relate to my abusive father. You may have had a passive father who wasn’t emotionally present to give you the love and affirmation you needed. Growing up in a family with a “silent” dad, you always wonder, How am I doing? Am I okay? Does dad like me? Is he proud of me? Does he believe in me? You end up going through life with a whole lot of uncertainty and insecurity, and when you wonder what others think about you, you tend to think the worse.

Others because of divorce or a father who was a workaholic, your fathers just weren’t present to provide that which you longed for from them. They were great providers but you were orphaned by the demands of their careers, their broken promises and neglect. Whatever the case, some of us were deprived of the love and affirmation that we needed as children. This left us hungry for love, touch, kind words and attention.

Because of my father’s inability to bless and affirm me, I was bound up in fear, shame, and self-hatred. My father’s lack of calling me into manhood left me confused about my identity and insecure about my gender. My self-hatred kept me in a continual game of comparing myself to others and I always came up the loser in this game. I was never tall enough, never good looking enough, physically strong enough, or smart enough. My nickname while growing up was “Tiny boy.” I was always wondering, who am I? Am I what every one identifies me as, “Tiny?” Which connotes that I am limited, less than. Feeling others would see me as weak; I projected a very tough outward exterior. This is the beginning of what some would call a “false self.”

Inwardly, I idealized other men and their physical size, this further caused me to see myself as less than, somehow deficient, and never feeling like I measured up. Never having received the blessing of my father’s words and presence, I felt incomplete, I didn’t have an inner sense that I was man enough. I felt like a failure physically. Do you know what it’s like to feel like a failure at such a young age?  To feel like you have no value? And, to not have anyone speak truth into that void or just answer my questions furthered my sense of I am worthless and unlovable.

My insecurity about myself bred desperate relational attachments, I didn’t make friends, I took prisoners. I was like a parasite, trying to suck the life out of people. For others their insecurities will provoke shame and isolation, thus preventing them from engaging with others in meaningful ways.

Do you see how this thinking that we don’t quite measure up can feed the lie that we must be different? At an early age we can become obsessed with fitting in. If we don’t feel like we do, we will perform for approval and acceptance. We will find our identity in being funny, witty, cool, crude or outlandish, or we will become “good” boys or “good” girls.

“Good boy” defined is someone that gets approval from others through doing “good works.” We show up early to church to help set up and stay late to put everything away. We desperately want that pat on the head or that word of approval because our souls are thirsty for love and approval. Having not received that in my family of origin I sought it in whatever setting I found myself. This eventually leads to a root of bitterness but I’ll save that for later.

Action Step: Take some time to write out what comes to mind when you hear the word “father?” If you find yourself identifying some difficult things you might have a father wound that needs the ministry of the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the Father Heart of God.

 

Multigenerational Transmission

Last night at our Emotionally Healthy Spirituality group I spoke about “multigenerational transmission.” Freud coined the phrase that describes how family interactional and emotional patterns tend to repeat themselves across generations. This is evident in many men I meet with that struggle with passivity. Their fathers were weak and their mothers were strong. If you ask about their grandfathers it is likely they too abdicated their role as fathers and you find it is multigenerational. Great providers but weak to bring the form a young boy needs to take risk and confront the challenges that lay ahead in adulthood.

As I considered my past and the issues of my childhood I think about the favoritism that was shown to my youngest sister, and the rivalry it created amongst the rest of my siblings. Forty years later it still exist for some of them and it distances them from entering into a depth of bonding that is loving. Grudges are held for years and family gatherings are never attended because of the bitter hostility.

I also think about the abandonment, the anger that was and still is present, the competition amongst us, and the deceit that was present in each one of us. I could see it in the other generations of my family at gatherings as these issues manifested in different ways.

Our dysfunctional family patterns were so evident yet never spoken about or challenged. These are hard habits to break in such a broken family system. The power struggles and the envy is still evident amongst my siblings and I.

And the burdens of our generation have been handed down to the next and more than likely will be passed on to the one after that. What is not dealt with by earlier generations becomes the burden of the next generation. Family patterns become part of real problems that we each must find a way to solve, whether we are consciously aware of them or not. It is vital for us to continue to look at the generational inheritance that contributes to our lives.

A couple of years ago when I took the time to write out a time line of my life I fell into a dark place. The negatives far out weighed the positives. Up until the age of 19 I think I was able to identify one or two positives. My family legacy was one of abuse, fear and darkness. The cards I was dealt were not winners. These cards shaped my life, shaped the habitual patterns I fell into, and the fears that kept me bound and hidden for years. I did not know how to deal with challenges or difficulties in life so I fled them or avoided them. I felt overwhelmed and ashamed that I couldn’t figure them out and I had no one to help me. Even if I did have someone I’m not sure I would’ve asked for help.

The fears that were handed to me left me preoccupied with remaining safe and secure. As I shared with you knit into my family stories are themes of darkness with very little light. I grew up with a very rigid father who was uncompromising in his punishment of my failures.

So when I became a Christ follower the fears of my past got brought into my present situations. Hide, deceive, don’t get caught lived deep within me and these fears kept me paralyzed from ever sharing honestly and openly the truth about my life.

1 John 4:18 rings true for those who struggle with fear. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”

When the love of Christ gets set deep within our hearts our fear of judgment and punishment subsides greatly. I obviously had not reached that point in my journey. I lived in fear of the dark thoughts I had within, my sexual passions that remained unspoken, and the anger I carried towards my abusive father and honestly towards God. Unfortunately I used religion in a rigid way against those longings, passions and emotions within. And of course I harshly judged those who expressed them outwardly. I was a legalist that lacked any sense of grace or mercy towards others and myself. I believed that as a Christ follower I should not have these kind of passions and feelings. I feared even talking about these things because I believed I was the only one having these feelings and passions.

The darkness within me terrified me. I was terrified of what would happen if I actually shared this with another person and the process of change. So I continued to try to find my identity in “my goodness” and not the wholeness Jesus offered to me at the foot of His Cross.

Something had to die within me before something could be birthed within me. This meant I had to face what I had been afraid of for so many years. That began as I started to face the abandonment I felt as a child and the feelings of being an orphan, an outcast, one that isn’t chosen. I must be honest with you my body was trembling when I first shared this with a trusted other. I’m pretty sure I was on the verge of a panic attack.

This trusted other wasn’t put off by my sharing the dark things within or the feelings and anger that came forth. With great compassion and tenderness they led me into the presence of Jesus were I could receive His empathy and mercy towards the shame and pain I felt within. I needed a freedom from the pain of feeling like an abandoned child and the constant fear of God not loving me because I wasn’t praying enough or reading my Bible daily. God was giving me a heart of a child that is beloved and not one that is a disappointment. His perfect Love was being revealed and demonstrated in a way that allowed me to drop my guard. I knew how to be the son of a dysfunctional father; God was teaching me what it meant to be a son of a loving Father.

As I began to accept the things and circumstances that brought about the damage within I found a freedom to begin to share my story with others and found that many of them could identify with parts of my narrative. In sharing my story much of the grief that remained buried for years began to be released from within. Joy was part of the fruit of the loosing of the grief within. With the openness to share greater healing begin to take place and freedom from the pain inflicted began to find resolution.

Questions you might want to consider:

What is your family legacy? What did you inherit from your parents that was both good or bad?

Did you grow up in a rigid household? How does that affect your behavior presently?

Who did you speak with about your passions, desires and feelings during your adolescence?

What are you afraid to face in your life? What are you trying to forget or hope that the memory of it will lessen over time?

What needs to be birthed within you to trust God and others with your narrative?

Spiritual Narcissism

I was having coffee with a friend the other day and he dropped this phrase on me that I had never heard before but identified with it as soon as I heard it. The phrase is “Spiritual Narcissism.” Talk about incoming. Dropped like a bomb in the core of my being. Took me back about forty years to the first years of my life as a Christian and how I created an image to fit in.

Mark Twain has this great quote that describes what I’m talking about: “Everybody is a moon, and he or she has a dark side which they never show to anybody.”

My fear of others and how they’d perceive me kept me hidden behind the image I had created to be loved and accepted. My shame that feared the rejection and humiliation of others, and my fear of losing control, because that is what I was doing through my manipulation of my story kept me truly unknown by others. They knew the “good” David and not the hurting, angry, sinful David.

My early life as a follower of Jesus was all about impressing others with how “religious” I was. Throwing Scriptures around like band-aids, serving so others would think highly of me, and not watching television or listening to secular music because thats how holy people prove they are legit. It was all about suffering and sacrifice so all men would think well of me. Someone should of slapped me and introduce me to grace!

But my fear of being exposed was deep. I had felt so small and insignificant most of my life and I wanted to be admired by those around me. I read somewhere that what we want is to feel loved, significant, and special. That wasn’t my experience growing up in an abusive home. I experienced a lot of shame and humiliation as a child. Why place myself in a spot where I could possibly be further shamed and humiliated? So there was no way I was going to speak openly and honestly about my life and what I was really dealing with internally.

Genesis 3:1-13 talks about the “fig leaves” that Adam and Eve used to hide from God. I had a whole wardrobe of “fig leaves.” I’m not sure I really knew who I was. And my “fear of man,” or it might have been terror, paralyzed my voice to speak the truth. So I found a “false peace” in pretending that my life was blessed! The image I bore was not that of God but of my own making. This is what many refer to as a “false self.” The peace I presented was fabricated. Inwardly I lived with a terror that someday I would be exposed for a fake. So, image was everything.

I lived in denial of my pain and true feelings. Any time someone asked “How I was doing?” I’d reply, “Fine!”My shame, pain and sin was kept hidden behind the mask I wore. I was “The Great Pretender.”

The words of King David challenge all who would hide behind this “false self.” He tells us in Psalm 51:6, “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.”

David in that place of pouring out his heart to God realizes that God intends for us to explore those inner parts so that His truth can find its way in to set us free from our deception.

This requires inviting God to “search our hearts so that He can reveal to us our anxious thoughts and our evil ways.” God will make you aware of the hidden issues within that are blocking your growth into wholeness. My “spiritual narcissism,” that image I had created to be petted and admired was exposed in this communion with God. I must confess I fought Him at first as He challenged me to confess my sin to trusted others and to repent. Everything in me wanted to flee from His Presence and the call to stand “naked and unashamed” before others.

I was committed to avoiding vulnerability with others for years. Being vulnerable meant I could no longer control my environment through my “false self.” My body started to quake as I was faced with this type of vulnerability. I believe I was on the verge of a panic attack. I needed a freedom to love and trust the Lord more deeply than ever before. This meant I could no longer trust in the image I had created.

My dear friend Andy says: “The painful acknowledgement of our brokenness is the prerequisite to wholeness.”

This is the weakness that leads to healing. This is so opposite of what we see around us. Strength is glorified, placed on magazine covers, and revealed through some computer games and movies that we watch.

I had to acknowledge my weakness to others. As I did they brought me on my stretcher into the Presence of Jesus who received me with great tenderness and grace. It was difficult at first because I found it difficult to receive. I wanted to earn or deserve His favor. Grace and tenderness were foreign to me and it took me awhile to learn how to receive it from Jesus and from others. Part of that time involved me laying down my “fig leaves” mask and other devices that I used to deceive others.

In exposing myself to others I received what I didn’t expect, grace and mercy. They didn’t shame me or humiliate me. This is what I feared and expected because that is what I received as a child. I had a bitterroot expectation that when things went wrong and others found out I’d be shamed, humiliated and punished. That is the way it worked in my family. But in the family of God, grace, mercy and forgiveness were given to me as I overcame my inner terror of being exposed.

Becoming small before others was difficult because I had found value and recognition hiding behind my “false self.” That self that I found apart from God. It was my creation and not His.

Someone once said that we have to become Shakespearean. In Hamlet, the advice of Polonius to his son rings true, “To thine own self be true and as night follows day thou can be false to no one.”

The fear of what others think about us, and the “submerged shame” connected with that, keeps us hidden and bound in a “false self.” God can help us overcome the resistance within ourselves so that we can get free from our shame, fear of man, and pain within. Living as a “Spiritual Narcissists” is hard work. Real freedom begins when we start to confess to the Lord and trusted others the real pain and fear within.