How to Honour Your Dad When It's Hard to Love Him
Some of us have a wonderful relationship with our dads. Your childhood was filled with warm memories of him and you’re deeply assured of his love for you. Some of us, however, have a more complicated relationship with our fathers. You can still recall episodes involving him that evoke pain and anger today.
If your relationship with your dad is in a challenging place, know that the Lord cares about that and wants to bring restoration to your situation, just as He is doing between my father and me. Our Abba Father is eager to “turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6).
However we feel about our dads, God calls us to “[h]onor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). It is “the first commandment with a promise” (Ephesians 6:2), which should tell us how much of a blessing it is to obey it.
Here are three things I’ve learnt that I hope can also help you to turn your heart to your father.
1. Open your heart to your father
After being hurt by their dads, children might distance their hearts from their fathers to prevent themselves from being wounded again. But this coping mechanism—known as defensive detachment—also prevents them from henceforth receiving their father’s affection because it blocks out any feeling that makes them feel vulnerable again, including good feelings.
For several years, this was my defense mechanism, and God had to lead me to open my heart to my dad. What that means is being willing to let your heart become vulnerable to your father again. There could well be hurts involved, but God can help you to process that in a healthy way, just as He has aided me. It’s true that with more vulnerability, there’s a higher risk of pain, but there’s also a greater reward of intimacy.
Opening your heart also means being committed to look out for and value his gestures and words of affection towards you, however imperfect they may be. When we can identify and appreciate what is good in our fathers' relationships with us, we’d be more thankful for them and have more peace in our relationship with them (Philippians 4:4-9). Though my dad may not express love to me in the ways I prefer, I’m learning to see beyond the ways he shows love and more to his intent. When I can see his heart behind certain things he does, it helps me to see the good in him, which cultivates my gratitude for him.
An unhardened, open heart is a heart that can be broken, but when you’re broken-hearted, your Abba Father will be near to you to mend your heart and bind up your wounds (Psalm 34:18; Psalm 147:3). Trust that when God heals you, He also builds you up and watches over you, so that your labour of opening your heart will not be in vain (Psalm 127:1).
2. Forgive your father An essential process that helps us to open our heart to our fathers is forgiveness, and it must be forgiveness from our heart (Matthew 18:35). Because hurts are felt by and stored in our heart, we need to practise forgiveness from that place, so that these hurts can be healed.
Forgiving your father could entail revisiting hurtful memories of him and trying to see the situation from his perspective w
hile giving him the benefit of the doubt. It means letting go of your “rights” to retaliation and releasing your father from any punishment you may otherwise wish upon him. That’s what I’ve had to do. To forgive is to release our debtors from the debts they owe us, just as God has released us from the debts we owed Him (Matthew 6:12). Instead, desire to bless your father and want the best for him, and trust that the God of justice will Himself make right the wrongs in your life (Romans 12:19).
But forgiving does not always mean forgetting. Even though I’ve chosen to forgive, I can still be reeling and healing from the pain of the hurts. Forgiveness is also not always a one-time event, but can be a process of revisiting and releasing the hurts again, as and when needed (Matthew 18:21-22). That’s okay and normal when it comes to deep pain. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Rather, trust that as you obey God by forgiving you
r dad , He’ll provide for you what you need in order to do so (Hebrews 13:20-21).
3. See your father through God’s eyes Forgiveness can also help you to see your father through God’s eyes. In my case, God helped me to realise that my dad hasn’t been fathered well himself, so he couldn’t have given me what he doesn’t have. You may learn, just as I did, that though he’s been an imperfect father to you, he was already doing better than his own father. Or you may come to understand that your dad is in need of being fathered by the love of God the Father.
Ultimately, loving your earthly father is an expression of your love for your heavenly Father as His child. When we learn how to honour our father, we also learn how to honour the Father.
If your relationship with your dad isn’t what you desire it to be and you find it hard to love him, what do you need to do to honour him? Start this new year right by committing to turn your heart towards him. When you do that, rest assured that your Abba Father will enable you to embark on this journey and He will sustain you through it. We pray along with you that as you do, God will turn your dad’s heart back to you, too.
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This article was first published on Focus on the Family Singapore's website. Visit www.family.org.sg for more content and resources for parenting and family life.