You may have had the best childhood anyone could ask for, or maybe you experienced trauma in ways few can fully understand. The environment we were exposed to as children plays a key role in the way we treat ourselves as adults and interact with God.
We learn how to adapt and adjust to find connection and love. Often times, the way we do this will begin to integrate with our spiritual walk. Even if they’re not healthy, they are what we know to be true.
Either of the childhood realities can negatively affect us in our relationship God
The Role Of A Good Father Figure – In an ideal family structure, the father is key to speaking identity and creating safety for his children. It’s in the times we are scared or question whether we can accomplish something new that dad’s voice gives us strength. When I say “create safety” I’m referring to the emotional stability which comes when our dad is present and connected to our needs. It doesn’t mean dad goes and buys a shotgun, so you feel safe. (although I’ll be doing that long before my daughter is old enough to date). 🙂
Like many things in life, there are often gray areas that create a whole reality. This is no different when it comes to my points above about the role of a father. In a healthy family, a father plays a particular role, but it doesn’t exclude the mother from playing a part. I’m only saying that both a mother and father lend strength in different ways.
With all that said, let’s dive into some of the reasons our earthly fathers can fundamentally change the way we see God.
The Downside Of An Amazing Dad – Hear me out on this point before you jump to defending your dad. If you have a connection with your dad and extremely you feel close, or he has ALWAYS been there for you no matter what there is a chance he gets in your God spot.
Meaning, you begin to trust his voice as if it were God speaking. He’s the ‘be all and end all’. This can actually cause an identity crisis because we are inevitably called to find our own path in life. When dad is in the God spot, you remove the ability to take risks and trust and create opportunities for God to show Himself as the loving Father He is.
What Happens When Dad Is Absent? – There are two kinds of absent fathers. One is when you have a single parent household, and he’s physically not present. I have always said single parents are one of my heroes. I have the utmost respect for them, but when you have a parent missing from the picture, it creates a gap in a child’s emotional development.
The second form of an absent father is more common than you may think. It’s the families who grow up with their dad being emotionally absent. It could be due to the fact he’s always working, struggling with depression or drinking, etc.
The byproduct of this upbringing is often that you feel God is distant and hard to connect to. There always seems to be a sense of separation though your heart is to know Him and you long to feel him close.
How Our Religion Plays A Role – There are plenty of benefits that come from growing up in a religious home. That said, I often find my clients in an emotional state where no one knows who they really are. They feel an obligation to say things right, be the funny one, be the person others can process with, or they believe that processing pain will drive people away instead of drawing them closer.
In essence, they are in a constant state of performing for love. After all, that’s how they learned to receive it as a child. When they were doing “good,” then mom or dad would heap praises on them, but when they were “bad,” then love was withdrawn either in the form of punishment or silence.
When you grow up in this kind of an environment, you’re terrified to take risks. Why? Because you don’t believe you have permission to mess up, and if you do, then God will pull back His love in response to your “failure.” You get boxed into a substandard life that feels safe, but slowly kills you inside.
What Unhealthy Discipline Teaches Us – I’m not weighing in whether or not discipline is good or bad. That’s not the point of this post, although personally I don’t disagree with it. My point is to unpack what happens to our intimacy with God when the discipline is predominantly interwoven into our childhood.
Our parents are our first exposure to life, and a part of that exposure is to create a perception of what love looks like. The problem with excessive discipline is we fundamentally believe God’s love seems like punishment. Not only that but for us to grow, we have to be hard on ourselves. It morphs into an ugly version of self-hatred. It is what drives so many away from the church. Why would they want to pursue a relationship with a God who is more known for causing pain than giving love?
When Anger is Used to Create Fear and Controls Us – I don’t know about you, but I remember several moments when my dad would use anger when he felt like the situation was out of control. He had to show enough anger that we (the children) would understand he’s running the show. It worked for a time but soon it drove a wedge between us when I was a teenager. Fortunately, we have reconciled and forgiven one another for the roles we played that caused pain on both sides.
What happens over time is we believe God is an angry God. We feel paralyzed to pursue something new because we’re afraid of being “outside of God’s will.” See, being outside of God’s will means we’re stepping outside of the rules of the house. When we did that as a child and received anger in response, we learned how to stay small to maintain a distorted sense of connection and prevent feeling fear.
Our learned response to anger or feeling fear puts a ball and chain on our ankle as an adult. We exert so much emotional energy trying to figure out what God wants us to do and never take the first step in any direction.
How Getting Healed From Our Past Affects Our Relationship With God – As you can see, our history plays a significant role in how we perceive God as adults. This is why choosing to pursue healing of these wounds are so important. As you begin to receive healing from those childhood experiences and change your self-destructive responses, it creates a domino effect in your heart and fundamentally changes your relationship with God.
As you grow in the ability to love yourself, you grow in your ability to receive God’s genuine and unconditional love. Pursuing wholeness is one of the most catalytic ways to draw closer to God.
He is longing to lavish you with love, and it breaks His heart to see you carry a warped perception of His Goodness.
The Challenge: Take time to think about your childhood. Did any of the points above stand out as an accurate representation of what you experienced? If the answer is yes, do whatever you have to, to find healing. It will unlock far more life than you can understand on this side of the pursuit.
I dare you to take ownership in the areas of your heart that you realize have tainted your relationship with God. 🙂