“I hate you!” It was the first time I actually said it out loud to my dad. I was scared. He knew it, and lashed out at me. There was no return volley from me. I recoiled back to my familiar place in relation to my dad. I had no authority; he had it all. He abused it: sexual abuse, verbal abuse, neglect by failing to provide basic necessities, let alone the neglect of his presence unless he had a use for me in his perverted world. Being forsaken by my father was my “normal.”
His authority in my life did the opposite of bringing clarity to my identity and boundaries. He brought confusion. I received it. Because his masculine power didn’t protect or affirm me, the inheritance I received from him defiled me in nearly every way possible. These father-wounds played out in my life at an early age. I wanted his approval, and tried to get it. But he turned that desire into manipulative games, games that I always failed.
For example, one game he often played was requiring me to give him an answer to his question, “Are you a good girl or a bad boy?” I so wanted to be a good boy in my father’s eyes, but he never gave me that option. I believed I was not a complete boy, that something was fundamentally flawed in me. In adolescence I turned to pornography for security, affirmation and escape. But addiction merely reinforced my sense of powerlessness.
Yet two signposts of good masculine love were set deeply in my soul as a child. The first was a picture in my bedroom of Jesus holding a young boy in His arms. That boy looked like me. I would believe it was me. His arms showed me strength and protection. His eyes declared delight and affection.
The second occurred after my parents divorced when I was in kindergarten. My mother and three siblings attended a small church in town. All I knew was that I wanted to go each week because I could sit with Joe and his wife. Joe was physically strong. Joe talked with me. Joe was safe. Although I didn’t have these words for it then, my first memorable taste of salient masculine strength and power occurred within the church through Joe’s love for me. Joe gave me what I saw Jesus doing in that picture.
My mother remarried and Dave became our stepfather. Despite my fears and reactions, Dave found ways to point me to the divine love I needed from my Heavenly Father. Dave did so even though he was a new Christian himself.
Weekly visits to my birth father’s house ended when my mom and Dave went to court so that Dave could adopt me and my siblings. He proved what I had come to believe: Dave wanted to protect and care for me simply because he chose to, not to get anything from me. He adopted me and my siblings; he took us as his own.
It didn’t take long for the judge to sever my birth father’s rights. More changes followed. I left school with one name, and when I returned to my sixth-grade class the next day, I had a new middle name and last name. A legal exchange occurred. My old name was taken, and I was given a new name in its place.
The name change was quick and easy. The identity change was not. Just because my name changed didn’t mean my relationship with Dave would automatically change.
When I gave my life to Jesus, my name changed. I went from being God’s creation to being His child. I treated this name change like I did my adoptive name change. My new name as God’s child got mixed in with all the other names I had assumed. “Child of God” and “beloved son” got mixed up with my other names: “victim,” “perfectionist,” “unworthy,” “impoverished,” “broken,” “abandoned” and “rejected,” to name a few.
I’ve heard that one doesn’t know who he is until he knows whose he is. While my status changed to being a child of God, I still didn’t know who I was as a real son of the Father. He was competing with all those other names I had. Just as my relationship with my stepfather didn’t change because of a name change, neither did my relationship with God.
But the Father had a plan; a plan that brings Him great pleasure. “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Eph 1:4-5 NLT).
Adopting me and bringing me into relationship with Himself brings the Father great pleasure! This adoption is more than a name change; it’s a change in identity.
For a Father’s Day gift one year, my siblings and I gave Dave a gift: we were going to start calling him “Dad.” It felt uncomfortable and awkward at first. Not only was it naming reality, it was naming our identity in relation to him. In this, I was accepting being his son.
Years later, God showed me it was time to do the same with Him. Although my name changed, my identity and relationship with Him needed to change. As I called Him my Father, and even my Dad (Rom 8:15-17), I was accepting being His son. The more I accepted being His son, the more I wanted to lay down those old names at the cross and begin forgiving my birth father. This is one way I shared in Jesus’ suffering and was ultimately empowered by my Father.
Now I have a new inheritance and destiny as a beloved son. He Fathers me. An experience I had over twenty years ago still reminds me that my Father is fighting for me. It was our one-year wedding anniversary and we were with a friend touring the shops around Niagara Falls. We weren’t looking to buy anything, just looking around. One store caught our attention so we went inside. There were barrels full of candy! The clerk immediately asked us what flavor candy we liked. I got uncomfortable because I knew we weren’t there to buy anything, but we answered his question.
With the passion of an archaeologist discovering lost artifacts, he proceeded to show us in which barrel was our favorite candy. “Take as many samples as you’d like!” he said when the tour was complete. Instead of being “a kid in a candy shop,” I felt more like a kid in a dentist chair.
I wanted to leave but took some to be polite. How much was the “right” amount to take!? Taking too much would be greedy, but too little appeared ungrateful. I wanted him to tell us precisely how much to take. This way I could “perform” like I should. I wanted to do something to deserve the candy.
He wanted to see what we found before we left. My wife and friend each had two handfuls of candy. They were given bags. Embarrassed, I held out only three pieces and lied about not being in the mood for candy. The truth was that I could not receive very well—even a few pieces of candy.
I was praying before going to sleep that night, and I sensed the Father speaking to me, “Jeff, the way you were in that candy shop is how you approach my throne of grace. I have so much for you, but you feel guilty receiving what I have for you because you think you do not deserve it.” From that point on, I have been coming to my Father through the throne of grace because He wants me to receive mercy daily and find grace to help me in my need (Heb 4:16).