The middle-aged woman sat before me with tears streaming down her face. “He’s never once in all my life told me he loves me.” She cried. Dora (not her real name) wasn’t speaking about her husband or her children, she was speaking about her father. She had grown up in a nice home in the suburbs and had never lacked for anything. Her parents were decent and hardworking people who treated her well; there was no abuse as we recognize it today.
Dora filled me in on the details of her years at home with her father. He was always a poor conversationalist. He preferred reading books and playing or watching sports to personal interaction. Because he had a bad temper, she never knew when he would explode in anger; sometimes his anger didn’t make sense. The whole family tended to walk on egg shells around him. He said cruel and thoughtless things to her. She recalled his critical comments about her intelligence and abilities (“You must have been behind the door when they passed out the brains.”), and how she never quite measured up to his standards. She had always wanted him to be proud of her, to value her. But he did not. She recently learned that when her husband had asked for her hand in marriage, her father’s response had been, “Sure, no one else will want her.” The pain was visible on Dora’s face.
Dora concluded that the opposite of love is not hatred, it is indifference.
Her father is now elderly and in failing health. She struggles with visiting him because there is little relationship between them. She faithfully phones several times weekly, and the calls are strained and brief because there just isn’t much to say. As much as she still longs for a connection with her father, as much as she wants him to be her “daddy,” she won’t get what she wants. She does, however, have a Heavenly Father who loves and cherishes her (2 Cor. 6:18).
The Lord Jesus Christ taught us to call Him Father (Luke 11:2; Matt. 6:9). Dora learned through biblical counseling that she matters to God and that she has the privilege of calling Him Father, Abba. God the Father values His children; He is kind and loving and will care for and nurture His children when an earthly father will not. He hears our cries in the night (Ps. 55:17). He answers our pleas for help (Ps. 34:17; 6:9). He is is our ever present help in time of need (Ps. 46:1).
…and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty. 2 Corinthians 6:18 (ESV)
What comfort we find in the Word of God! Our Father God is not indifferent to His children. More than that, we see in the Word that God desires a relationship with us! He has created a way for Dora (and you and me) to have an intimate, transparent relationship with Himself through Christ. Because of this, we can experience the joy of His presence (Psalm 73:28; Ephesians 3:12).
This does not take away Dora’s heartache regarding her earthly father. It is not a panacea. In the real world, people don’t always come around to our point of view or fulfill our desires. Dora has spent her entire life trying to win or earn her father’s approval and his love with no success. She lives with a sense of guilt and failure. “What’s wrong with me that he won’t love me?” She cried. The answer is, nothing. This is not a Dora problem; it is her father’s problem.
The hard truth is, her father will most likely never change. Apart from regeneration in Christ that would break his hardened heart, there is little chance he will suddenly soften toward her. This is something Dora will continue to live with on the human level. Acceptance of this fact is hard, but it will be necessary if she is to avoid bitterness toward him.
Dora has concluded that, while she is not indifferent to her father, she does not love him. She will continue to respect and honor him, help him and serve him until he dies. But, because there is no relationship there, she does not love him as she imagines a daughter should love her father.
Sometimes, there are no happy endings to a story. That is tough to live with.