One of my earliest memories is of sitting on the floor of my room at age four crying, “I want Daddy, I want Daddy!”
I’d broken a rule, and my mother had sent me to my room. As I cried, she came in, sat on the floor with me and pulled me into her lap. Holding me close, she lamented gently, “Oh sweetie, you can’t see Daddy right now. Daddy’s very far away.”
I remember the sadness in her voice, which even then I perceived was both a response to my sadness and also something rooted in her own brokenness from their recent divorce.
No mother is intended to raise children alone. She needs a husband to be their present father. And she needs a husband committed to living life with her. As he adores her, touches her, provides for and protects her, she is free to more fully embody “home” to their children. Otherwise, she is left too vulnerable, as my mom was.
The day-to-day absence of my father was a wound we rarely, if ever, talked about. Perhaps none of us could articulate it. But it impacted each of us, like a grey ghost in our house.
I was a sensitive boy, and though I did not know what was lacking, I could sense my mother’s need. And so, I tried to make up the difference by being good. I used humor to make her laugh, gave her gifts, spoke words of encouragement. She was delighted with all I gave, as any good mother would be, but of course she needed more. Adult-sized needs can’t be met by children.
I was sincere in my gifts, but some of this was more than a little boy making a clay ashtray for his mom. I needed her to be okay, and I was striving to make that happen. Because if she wasn’t okay, if she wasn’t secure, then how on earth could I be? I was striving for my own sense of well-being.
Subsequently, as I began walking with God, I felt an unspoken fear that I needed to do well and be good or He would leave (like my dad did). Or if He stayed (like my mom did), my failure would mean He would love me less.
In early adolescence, a friend loaned me a pornographic book, which I pored over into the night, even feigning I was sick in order to stay home and relish in it the next day. The images of women there provided physical pleasure and an emotional surge of something for which I was hungry.
The women in these images looked vulnerable—after all, they were exposed—but they also seemed confident. They didn’t need anything from me, and their eyes stared at me with affirmation and desire. It was an illusion, of course, but in the euphoria of sexual fantasy, all else was drowned out for me. I was cocooned in pleasure and well-being. For a brief few moments, at least.
For years, I returned frequently and secretly to pornography. It didn’t take long before I was enslaved. The cocoon served both as as an illusory “home” and a prison of shame.
This started to change for me after I started down a long road of recovery for my addiction to fantasy and pornography.
I began by confessing my sin to a few close Christian brothers in college. We were the blind leading the blind, but week after week, I came admitting failure, and week after week, they accepted me. They didn’t run out the door. Despite our mutual failures, we fought as best we could shoulder to shoulder.
This emboldened me to eventually seek more experienced help at Regeneration and with a Christian therapist who had expertise dealing with sexual addiction. Regeneration provided my on-ramp to the deeper work of Living Waters.
I remember after one ministry time specifically, the women on the ministry team prayed over all of us. In light of my shame, to have a woman lay hands on me in my brokenness was a gift to me. Through these women’s intercession, I sensed the Lord’s love in a way that moved me to tears.
As the ministry time went on, the Lord gave me a picture of Jesus seated next to me and me leaning on his chest. I wept freely as waves of ease and well-being washed over me and through me. For several minutes, I could feel His love—not just in general, but for me.
Eventually, I wiped my tears and prayed, “Thank you, Lord. Now what do you want me to do?” My instinct was if God was pouring out on me so lavishly, He must have a mission in mind—like He was fueling me up before sending me on a journey.
His reply took me by surprise.
“Do?” he asked. “I don’t want you to do anything. I didn’t give so you would go do something for Me. I gave to you because I love you.”
In a moment I saw the cross anew.
By definition, a gift is free. If something is required in return, it’s not a gift. He gave and forever gives Himself to me.
I do not need to do well in order for Him to give, in order for Him to be okay, in order for Him to stay. My well-being no longer rests in how well I do. I am free to find my well-being in the well of His love.
I’m married now with four children of my own. I try to be a present husband and father. And in times when my sense of well-being is shaken (as it often is), I am learning to draw deeply from Him as a husband and father, too.
It can still feel like a risk sometimes. Can I really rest with Him when there’s so much to do? Can I really trust He loves me when I have done so poorly loving Him? But I know wherever I am lacking, I can draw from Him because He gives Himself to me. Ironically, as I cease striving and choose instead to abide in Him and His love for me, I do better.
“Cease striving and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10a NASB)
“In repentance and rest you will be saved; in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Is 30:15 NASB)