We first learn about God through our fathers. We learn what a father is like – for better or worse. We also get our identity from our fathers. We determine our value and worth from the relationship we have with them. Our experience as children shapes who God is to us and who we believe we are. It is easy to see why fatherlessness is such a crisis on so many levels. The devastation is deep and wide, both inside and out.
I was one of these nomadic children stumbling through life, trying to figure out who I was. I don’t remember a time when my father lived with us. Recently, I was asked to think back to my childhood experiences; to notice how my relationship with my father influenced my life. The sad truth is that I can remember very little. I cannot recall a single memory when my dad asked me about my life – my interests, my dreams, my plans. I can’t remember one single time that my dad ever expressed interest in knowing me for me at all.
Fatherlessness also creates vulnerability within us. We are exposed in our human neediness. God made us with a deep desire to belong, to be known and loved for who we are. When this is not our experience, it triggers our inborn survival instincts. Psychologists call this our “flight or fight response”. We adapt, cope, and pursue ways to fulfill our God-given desires. We often look for love in all the wrong places.
This makes chameleon people who change colors to adapt and fit in without a well-formed sense of self. It is obvious why there is inherent danger in this and an array of not-so-positive developments in life. I tried on different personas and ended up with a dysfunctional mixed bag. I predominantly chose the “fight” approach. Like most people, this is the emotional equivalent of putting your best foot forward. The best offense is a good defense. But it is only a pretense, a cover up, a false self. Underneath, I had as many deep fears and insecurities about who I was as anyone else.
My favorite literary character as a child was Pippi Longstocking. I developed a sort of Pippi-persona. Let me explain. Pippi was a girl who won the admiration of the other children in the neighborhood through her ingenuity and acts of bravery. The children who lived next door to Pippi had a more typical upbringing. Tommy and Annika were “good children” who were “well brought up and obedient”. They had parents, rules, and a bedtime. The children were amazed by this odd, yet appealing, girl. She was “the most remarkable girl they had ever seen”. She was larger than life. Pippi had no rules. She walked with one foot on the sidewalk and one on the street. When asked why she did this, she said, “Isn’t it a free country?” and then told magnificent tales about people in Egypt walking that way. Pippi came across as free-spirited, exotic, and cultured. She was said to be “stronger than a horse” and could lift a bully off his feet until he apologized. Boys respected Pippi. Everyone was enchanted by her. Her self-motto was “don’t worry about me, I always come out on top”. She was an irresistible girl whose daring feats were almost as captivating as her crazy red braids, and the shoes that were twice as big as her feet.
Pippi did have big shoes to fill in this image she had created. She didn’t know she was living a lie though. She was just trying to survive her circumstances. Pippi just wanted to be known and loved like everyone else, but don’t tell her that. She would have denied her need and probably put you up in a tree until you took it back. In truth, Pippi was alone and on her own. Her mother had died and her father had abandoned her. She told tall tales about her sea-captain father, but in truth she didn’t know if he was ever coming back for her. Pippi was really just a nine-year old child trying to determine who she was, and living in denial about her lonely searching through life.
The truth is that the personas we create in response to life do not liberate, but confine. They box us in, define us, and load us down with expectations. There’s no freedom found there. The only thing powerful enough to awaken us out of this mirage is the glorious love of God the Father. He is the Creator and Father of all. “To know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19) is to be set free from the personas and to become the person you were created by Him to be – A child of God who is known and loved just for who you are. Your Heavenly Father has interest in your deepest longings, your wildest dreams, and your every step forward in the big shoes you’ve created. In His love, we stand on solid ground with sure footing to move toward who we are becoming in Him. The Father is both loving and strong. He is a good Father. He fights for you and protects you. He holds you in His everlasting arms of love.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness…I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am [their] Father” (Jeremiah 31:3, 9).
I don’t know what kind of relationship you had with your father or how it shaped your view of God and yourself. But I know the God who is “a father to the fatherless” and who “sets the lonely in families, He leads forth the prisoners with singing” (Psalm 68:5, 6). I give thanks and glory to the Father for His miraculous, redemptive love. His love that changes us, heals us, and frees us from the big shoes we never had to fill in the first place. We are loved not because of our ingenuity or bravery. We don’t have to prove ourselves worthy of His love, or earn it through impressive behavior. We are loved because that’s who He is. “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Father God sees through the Pippi-people we personify to the heart of the child He made and loves.
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
A true friend would blow Pippi’s cover. Who is the “Pippi” in your life? It’s time to tell her the truth of who she really is. She has a Father who loves her, quirks and all. She can come to Him and share her heart. He is trustworthy with her deepest fears and desires. But don’t try to talk to your Pippi without first coming to the Father yourself. Pippi is perceptive. She can spot a fraud a mile away. It takes one to know one. God’s love must first do some work inside your own heart, deep below the surface of pretension. Where are you still boxed in, loaded with false things that you’ve let define you? We can only truly love because God has first loved us. Dare to let Him love you with His fierce Father love in the false places. I can’t think of anyone who would be more captivating to others. You just might become the most remarkable girl they’ve ever seen.