By Star Winston
I grew up in church. A lot of people have that experience, I know. I have heard it said that church for many people was drudgery, boring, their parents dragged them, etc. My experience was quite different and I LOVED church! My early childhood was very happy – my parents were worship leaders in the church and even traveled when I was very young bringing the gospel through music all over the country. I knew Jesus was my best friend from a very young age and never doubted God’s sovereignty and power to do anything for anyone.
My understanding of God and who He was came crashing down at the age of 9 when my Father had an affair and left my mom. They sat me down and explained it wasn’t my fault, they loved me still, etc. I remember praying every day asking God to bring my daddy back, and my faith was shattered when my prayer went unanswered. This began a season of confusion in my life as an adolescent. My mom still took me to church through those years, I still believed in God, but my relationship with God had changed. I realized I no longer trusted Him.
My relationship with my dad was awful after the split and, with the tension between he and my mom, I was in a terrible position as a kid. I entered my teen years and that’s where things got pretty crazy. As a result of everything that had happened, I completely rebelled against my Mom and God. In the back of my mind I always knew He was still there – I can honestly say I saw His hand in my life time and again – keeping me safe from my destructive choices, but I couldn’t bring myself back to Him. During this time, my understanding of a Father was someone who abandons. This affected every part of my life and relationships with other people. It seems pretty cliche, just another girl with daddy issues, but there it was. My reality.
I ended up having kids pretty young and it helped me realize REAL fast that I needed God. I knew I had to come back to church and give in to the Lord, but I expected rejection. My imagination viewed a God that was annoyed with me, tapping His foot, arms crossed, waiting to say, “Well FINALLY you’re coming to your senses young lady”. This is what my image of a dad was, aside from him leaving me eventually; he was someone who was annoyed with me. You see, there was an undercurrent in the memories of my happy childhood. My strained relationship with my dad and memories of rejection and annoyance had colored what I had come to expect of God, and church family. I realize now that those were his shortcomings, not my doing, but the result was fear.
So there I was, terrified that God was angry, but I dragged myself and my kids to church anyway knowing it was still better than the life I had ruined on my own. I went to the church my mom had been attending – she had invited me over and over again, reassuring me that I would be comfortable there. She was right. One interaction, one smile, one act of graciousness at a time, I found myself unwinding and relaxing and remembering the God of my youth. I found joy and inexplicable peace, and the best part was my kids had the same type of loving church environment that I had as a small child.
Things were great overall, but I still had God at arms length. You see, I didn’t trust Him as Father yet. We sang songs about Him being a Father, we read scripture about it, but none of it made sense to my heart. I found myself envying people with good dad relationships and was so upset that I just couldn’t seem to connect with God as a Father. I would love to tell you it was a fast change, but the truth is,it took a while. I had a deep core issue with my view of my dad and it took some time for God to reveal Himself to me as a Father. One way He did so was through people in the church; they demonstrated love and peacefulness and kindness and they were SO patient with me. I was a spitfire and a lot to take back then.
Another way was through routine and discipline. In learning how to be faithful in my walk, it opened my eyes to His faithfulness. If I am honest, it started out as a legalistic obligation. Do the “Christian” things because I am “supposed to,” but the habits of the faith actually changed my heart over time. The more I saw what faithfulness meant, the more I understood that attribute of God. I began to trust Him more; I started to believe He would never leave me or forsake me. I stopped feeling like I was going to be in trouble all the time and started to look forward to being in His presence.
I can’t tell you exactly when my thinking changed completely. However, I can tell you that in retrospect, I see that I was talking to Him everyday just like I would a friend. I started to pay closer attention to the way Jesus talked to His Father in scripture and noticed that somehow without even realizing it, I had started really trusting Him more and more. I paid closer attention to the song lyrics and scriptures that described the attributes of Him being a loving Father. Abba Father or “Daddy God” is mentioned in scripture and it is a picture of that small child I used to be, reaching up for my dad and trusting him 100%. Just as suddenly, I realized I wasn’t waiting to be in trouble anymore. I felt the Lord being patient and long-suffering as the Bible describes. After experiencing such a negative relationship with my own dad, having my understanding and experience with God change so much from fear and dread to trust and delight was really the best. Now I know deep down that although human fathers can fail us, our heavenly father never will. It is real to me now and I am not afraid to go to him even when I know I am not being the best daughter. Leaving that fear behind, I talk to my dad, and He always listens.