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How to Forgive (and Honor) a Father Who Wasn't a Good Dad

  • Kia Stephens
How to Forgive (and Honor) a Father Who Wasn't a Good Dad

“I hate him,” a reader said to me as she described her father. “I don’t forgive him for abandoning me and making me feel neglected. . .I do not forgive him for forgetting he had a child and moving on with his life. I can’t forgive him.”

In the court of popular opinion, her sentiments are justified. It is hard to forgive any man who willingly chooses to abdicate the responsibility of fathering his child. There are no excuses that would substantiate this behavior.

For many, it’s difficult to imagine why a man would not be present in his child’s life. I can still remember the Cheshire cat grin that spanned the width of my husband’s face both times the sonogram revealed we were having a baby. I have watched this same excitement govern his interaction with our sons.

For some men the sheer joy and privilege of being a father seems to permeate their existence, and for others the mere thought of bringing a life into this world terrifies them or doesn’t seem to impact them at all. Thus, countless men and women grow up without a father – I did.

My parents met and married with limited knowledge about one another, and as a result, their marriage ended shortly after I was born. I have a few memories of supervised visits and gifts left on the front porch of my grandparent’s home for birthdays and Christmas, but for much of my childhood, my father was absent from my life.

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"Wounded girls grow into wounded women and may remain in this state for a lifetime."

There are no fond memories of daddy daughter date nights, special words of affirmation, or times of feeling like daddy’s little girl. Instead, I have memories of being raised by my single mother while questioning where my daddy was when I needed him most. This is why I understood my reader’s words; I too had tasted the mixed cocktail of anger, sorrow, and bitterness.

I too had father wounds: punctures to the soul of a girl and a woman. Knowingly and unknowingly fathers have harmed daughters with their absence: whether resulting from abandonment, divorce, incarceration, death, abuse, addictions, or mental disorders. Consequently, wounded girls grow into wounded women and may remain in this state for a lifetime.

So the question becomes: How do you heal? How do you move forward? How do you forgive and honor a father that did not father you? I am not offering you suggestions that I’ve read in a book or hearsay that I picked up in passing. The advice I’m sharing is fire-tested wisdom that I’ve learned through the trial and error of my own life. 

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1. Grieve and weep over what was lost.

Before you can begin to forgive a father, you must first acknowledge the ways that you have been wounded by him. A common misconception about forgiveness is that it requires you to excuse or dismiss the actions of your offender. Dismissal is not forgiveness nor is it a healthy way to process pain. Grieving, on the other hand, gives you an opportunity to weep over what’s been lost: time, innocence, relationships, childhood, and peace.

This takes time, and grieving is less a destination than it is a journey. There are some areas in my life I still grieve and will continue to do so until the day God “completes the work He started in me,Philippians 1:6. I am however, encouraged by the words Jesus uttered in His sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” 

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"God himself, the initiator of all life, comes alongside us as we grieve."

Does it strike you as strange that God calls those who mourn blessed? Many, if not most, people don’t consider mourning to be an attribute of a blessed person. Yet here in this passage, our Savior explains that those who mourn are blessed because they will be comforted.

God himself, the initiator of all life, comes alongside us as we grieve. Our tears summon the very heart of God to comfort us in a way no human being could.  Whether He does it directly through His word or chooses to use men and women to be His hands and feet, we are promised comfort. However it happens, this promise will be kept. 

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2. Embrace God as your heavenly Father.

A reader challenged me once. In short, she said that God was a lot of things, but He could never be a father in the life of a woman. Her statement was based on squeezing God into man’s finite understanding of a father. (Not to mention this limited view of God leaves many fatherless men and women without hope.)

We may not experience the audible voice of God or see him face to face on this side of heaven, but we can know him as a heavenly Father. This is another promise tucked in the pages of scripture. 1 John 3:1 says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

As a result of Christ’s sacrificial death, we have been grafted into the family of God. Romans 8: 15 says: “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship, And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.”  Our faith in Jesus Christ was one of the most costly adoptions known to man. 

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"We have been given direct access to God as our Father"

If we believe in Jesus, his death on a cross, and resurrection, we have been given direct access to God as our Father. This means we don’t need a a third party to communicate with Him on our behalf. We can boldly go before God in prayer and pour out our hearts before him.

As with any relationship, this vulnerable conversation between God and man takes time.  Through prayer and Bible study, a transition takes place in our hearts. Talking to God becomes less awkward and more natural. Our view of him evolves from being distant and impersonal to that of a heavenly father who is intimately concerned about the details of his daughter's life.

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3. Forgive your father.

Forgiveness is easier said than done, but it is still doable. It is not a dismissal of anything you’ve experienced, but it requires you to relinquishing your right to hold another person responsible for the wrong done to you. 

A choice to forgive your father is not saying that your story and your pain do not matter.  You may feel as though forgiveness would be allowing Him to get away with what he has done to you. This may be especially true, if he has yet to apologize or even acknowledge any wrongdoing.

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"We choose to forgive because we have been forgiven."

Forgiveness, however, is a choice that does not depend on the actions of your father. It only depends on you, and it’s for your benefit. Deciding not to forgive will negatively impact your life.

Trust God to, one day, right every wrong (Revelation 21:4-5). He is sovereign and just. We choose to forgive because we have been forgiven. Period. Matthew 6:14 says: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”  A forgiving heart is foundational when it comes to honoring our father.

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4. Pray for your father.

When God gave the fifth commandment to “Honor your mother and father” in Exodus 20:12, he didn’t give specifics on how to do it. This seemingly simple command becomes difficult to follow when your father wasn’t a good dad. We know what honor looks like when the man is actively raising his children well, but we struggle to honor fathers who abandoned their families or were harsh to their children.

If you need help coming up with a good reason to honor your father, Lynette Kittle, wrote about 10 Biblical Reasons to Honor Your Father (Even When it Feels Impossible). Because "just the mention of showing your father respect may seem like an impossible undertaking for a wounded heart to fulfill."

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"In praying for him, God changes our heart too."

One way every person can honor their father, no matter the type of father they have, is to pray for him. This is one of the greatest things we can do on their behalf. In prayer, we can pray for the man God intends for him to be. We can ask God to move mightily on his behalf and alter the trajectory of our father’s life for the better.

For some of us, we may be the only person willing to pray for fathers. If this seems difficult, a practical suggestion would be to write your prayers out. Make a conscious decision to pray for his health, protection, provision, his relationship with God, and his relationship with you. In praying for him, God changes our heart too.

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"God enables us to love and honor our father in a way that would otherwise seem impossible."

Oftentimes prayer gives us a level of compassion for our father that we would not have otherwise. Thus, we are given the gift of perspective, enabling us to see our father as a human being rather than through the lens of disappointment. When this supernatural work happens in our lives, God enables us to love and honor our father in a way that would otherwise seem impossible. This is why it says in James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”  Our prayers honor our father in ways we may not be able to with our actions.

Kia Stephens is a wife and homeschooling mama of two who is passionate about helping women know God as Father. For this reason, she created The Father Swap Blog to be a source of encouragement, healing, and practical wisdom for women dealing with the effects of a physically or emotionally absent father. Each week through practical and biblically sound teaching she encourages women to exchange father wounds for the love of God the Father. For more encouragement download Kia's free ebooks, Hope for the Woman With Father Wounds and Forgiveness Hacks: 5 Strategies to Help You Forgive. Additionally, you can connect with Kia on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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