When it was discovered my dad was having an affair, the family unit I’d known for twenty-seven years was slowly torn apart.
Now what I once knew as my family no longer looks the same, feels the same, or is the same. It’s felt like what I’d imagine losing a limb might feel like; first searing pain, then numbness, now an ever-persistent ache. At times, losing a parent to death would have seemed like a more welcome trial.
I’ve had to battle bitterness and unforgiveness like never before. But I’ve also experienced support from a family bigger than my physical family: the family of God. And more importantly, despite the faithlessness of my earthly father, God has been a faithful spiritual Father.
I’m glad the Bible gives us stories of people who have experienced the destruction of their families too. It usually makes me thankful my story isn’t as bad as theirs! Take Job, for instance. In a single moment everyone—except his wife—was killed in one fatally catastrophic and seemingly freak accident.
Job has been an example to me as to how to respond to God when something dear has been taken away. Although he went through the natural process of grieving and mourning, he also:
Fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:20-22)
Job’s response seems pretty amazing to me. I know I’ve charged God with wrongdoing a few times and my life’s losses don’t compare to Job’s.
The neat thing about the story of Job is that we get to know the "back story" that we probably won’t ever know about in our life’s story. We discover that the tragedies that befell Job were not some sort of cosmic punishment. Actually, the opposite was true. It was because he was so righteous that these disasters occurred. It was because Job was "blameless and upright" that Satan wanted to test and tempt him to betray God. But the good news is that all of Job’s trials—although not necessarily caused by God—were in God’s control. Nothing happened to Job that God didn’t allow and place boundaries on. Likewise, it gives me comfort to know that everything that occurs to me has been sifted through the fingers of God and can be used by Him to mold me more into His image. He can take even the loss of family and turn it into something for my good.
Although God can use our trials to make us more like Him, our response to our loss will have a lot to do with whether we’re shaped more into His image or not.
One of the most common battles I’ve faced is bitterness. Bitterness can exist either towards God or other people. For me, it is towards my father. I can become bitter over the pain he’s caused my mom, my siblings, and me. Or over the difficult financial situation he’s put my mom in. I can become bitter imagining other families having joyful holidays while we have to decide how to split ours between four different parents (my husbands’ parents are divorced as well). Or maybe when trying to pick out a Father’s Day card that just says "Happy Father’s Day" without all the praise of what a wonderful example he’s been to me.
The week before Father’s Day this year I was confronted with Ephesians 4, which tells me to put on a "new self" by getting "rid of all bitterness" (Ephesians 4:31). I was convicted and with the Holy Spirit’s help sought repentance and a heart change. As my father and I met for Father’s Day, I can honestly say I didn’t struggle with bitterness this time. A small battle in the war against bitterness was won.
My friend Briana can also relate to this struggle. Her bitterness has been towards God, and after losing her father to cancer, she admits:
Any time I would face something difficult in life or see God take something I treasured away from me, I would go back to my Dad’s death and build a case against God from that point on, sowing many seeds of anger and bitterness in my heart over the course of many years. Through this, though, I have seen God’s relentless pursuit of my heart. No human would ever have patiently and faithfully stuck with me or continued to love me if I had wrongfully accused and so pridefully mistrusted them as I have God during various seasons of my life.
Whether towards God or man, it’s no easy task to defeat bitterness, I know. But I’ve learned that if I let bitterness grow in my heart, I’ll only make those around me and myself miserable. It is a battle worth waging.
God doesn’t intend that we go through our losses and spiritual battles alone. He wants to use the Church to show His faithfulness and extend His arms of comfort. I’ve realized I need to see my family as being bigger than just the physical one I was born into. I want to invest myself into the lives of my spiritual family members so that we can "carry each other’s burdens" (Galatians 6:2). However, to allow people to carry my burdens, I’ve discovered I have to be humble enough be real about what’s going on in my life. When I’ve done this, I’ve experienced the blessing of having people encourage me by praying for my family and me on many occasions.
Briana had a similar experience when her father died. She remembers "depend[ing] greatly upon the outstretched arms of the body of Christ at that time to just be there through a very disorienting time of my life. The body of Christ became a tangible picture to me of God’s abiding love and faithfulness." The wonderful thing is that after experiencing such comfort from our spiritual family members, we’ll be eager return the favor. When circumstances threaten to overwhelm our friends, we’ll have an opportunity to encourage and offer practical help.
No matter what happens to our physical families, or what pain they may inflict on us, if we are God’s children, He will always be a faithful Father to us. He is a Father who extends grace and mercy into our lives, not just for salvation, but also for each day as long as we live. He uses the events in our lives to shape us into people that resemble Him more and more—if we are willing to let Him mold us.
The fact that we are under going this spiritual metamorphosis should humble us. This humility should make us careful to not judge those who’ve wronged us. While we can realize their actions were sinful, we must remind ourselves we also are capable of the same actions if we don’t stay close to Christ.
I have a friend, Lydia, whose mother abandoned her family. One day she was there, the next day she wasn’t. Lydia shares that the memory of her mom’s leaving sobers her everyday as she thinks about her own capacity to make a similar sinful choice. She says, "I see that if I don’t stay connected to the vine of Christ, I too, could walk away. . . . I want to view [my mom’s] life from an outsider’s point of view, and see any weaknesses in her that may be in me, asking God to help me overcome them His way." Part of God’s faithfulness to us is that He keeps us from making the same sinful choices that have been committed against us.
Some of us have lost a parent to death. Some of us had a parent abandon us. Some of us have experienced the split of our families by separation or divorce. No matter what the story, we don’t have to repeat the same mistakes. We can heal and be changed more into the image of Christ. Like Job, we can praise God during devastating circumstances because our eyes are opened to seeing God’s faithful hand. No matter what family we may lose along life’s journey, we can always find our Father. He is always near and will never forsake.
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Ashleigh Slater, Founder & Managing Editor
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