Absent Dad, Present Father

“You must’ve had a military dad.”

I held back a wince.

“No ma’am,” I replied, focusing on the cashier screen in front of me. She prodded further.

“But you’re so polite.”

She didn’t catch the reluctance in my voice.

“I’ve actually never met my father, ma’am,” I finally said, my eyes not meeting hers.

As it usually does, that ended the conversation.

The word father has always been a difficult word for me to grasp. When I hear it, I don’t recall any memories; I don’t see a face; I don’t know a voice to associate with it. I don’t connect with it at all.

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13).

But what if he doesn’t show compassion on me? That’s the first question that comes to mind.

What Does “Father” Mean?

“God is a Father who does not fail us.”

I’ve tried to understand why fathers care so much for their daughters. I’ve observed father-daughter relationships and asked other women to define the word father. I’ve read articles.

After all my research, tears still roll down my face every time I watch a father-daughter dance. I still wonder what it means that God is a Father — God as Father seems like an intimidating idea. Thus, it’s very tough and often baffling when, in many church and Christian circles, people speak about God as a Father. In some cases, the assumptions made can be alienating and hurtful.

Changing Our Conversation

Our communities need to be mindful of how we talk about the fatherhood of God. The church needs to become a place of refuge and relearning for the growing number of fatherless sons and daughters.

It’s true that God is a Father, but when others do not have a positive association with that word (or any association at all), it can often just serve to remind them of how less than ideal their background is. We shouldn’t shy away from the truth that God is a loving Father, but we should also remember to be sensitive to those with difficult and painful backgrounds.

Don’t let fatherlessness keep you from searching out God as a Father, your Father. Though it has been hard, coming to know God as my Father has washed the raw wounds of my own fatherlessness. Those wounds never seem to fully dissolve. I still yearn for memories of running to greet my daddy after he comes home for work. Those memories never happened. And the memory of my father-daughter dance will also never happen.

But we are no longer fatherless. In Christ, we have been elevated to the status of fellow heirs and are now true sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:16–17). And your Father’s love for you exceeds all of the abandonment and disappointments in your past.

Growing to know God as a Father means dropping our guard and letting the goodness of God heal our wounds. My father has not been present, but my heavenly Father is omnipresent. For some, their father might have put his desires for money, power, or sex over the needs of his family. God, however, is a Father who will never fail us.

Loving the Fatherless

“Your Father’s love for you exceeds all of the abandonment and disappointments in your past.”

Brokenness is not a reality to be ignored by the church, but the very reason God built the church. Had we not been fallen and utterly unable to stand in righteousness on our own, Christ need not have come. If we want to emulate our Lord, we will reach out in compassion to the physical and spiritual needs of the fatherless — the neglected, abused, and abandoned.

It’s more comfortable to assume everyone is fine and turn a blind eye. But churches have an opportunity to pour out love on kids, teens, and adults from broken homes. We truly, desperately need to cultivate a sensitivity, a compassion, and a longing for the thousands of children in our communities with little stability at home.

Men need to reach out to the fatherless women in congregations. Of course, loving boundaries must be established in community with others. It might be as simple as asking her about her week when you see her on Sunday, or it might look like you and your wife inviting her for dinner twice a month. Women without fathers need to see that men can and should cherish women with love and dignity. She needs to see you love and serve your wife.

Older women, younger women need you, too (Titus 2:3–5). Not just your cooking or your hugs (those don’t hurt!), but someone to listen to them, guide them, and point them toward truth rooted in Scripture.

Grace, a Two-Way Street

It’s important for people from fatherless backgrounds to remember that grace and understanding go both ways. The people who make assumptions aren’t God and are therefore not all-knowing. Those who have not experienced fatherlessness cannot know or completely comprehend its consequences. Yes, their ignorant or careless words and assumptions can wound us, but we stand ready to extend grace to those for whom Christ died. It’s good to let the person know that they have wounded you, but with a humble and patient posture.

“My father has not been present, but my heavenly Father is omnipresent.”

Rather than let our wounds fester, it’s important for us to praise the Lord that whole families still exist, that there are couples who never divorce, that there are fathers and mothers who are still deeply invested in the lives of their sons and daughters. The Father’s heart for his children shines through them into the world. Let us rejoice in the grace that has often broken cycles of sin and pain, and produced healthy marriages and families that reflect his glory.

is currently pursuing her MDiv in Advanced Biblical Studies at SEBTS in Wake Forest, North Carolina. She writes on her blog, Washedwanderer, and you can reach her on Facebook.