My father passed away on my birthday. It is always a bittersweet celebration – my living and his death.
He was a complex man, which made our relationship complicated. I loved him but there was a part of me that was also intimidated by him.
It’s not that he had an overpowering stature or that he ever raised his hand to me. But there was this smoldering temper. It lied right under the surface and I never wanted to be the cause of it boiling over.
So as a child, I played the role of the compliant good girl, no thoughts or opinions of my own – mirroring his image, avoiding emotions.
That approach worked until it couldn’t any longer – I grew up.
With each teenage and young adult encounter, I learned to navigate his temper. My strategy was similar to that little girl – work to appease him, gain his approval, and stay clear of what could cause tension.
The paradox was that although I carried an anxiousness when I was with my dad, I loved being there. He taught me the fine art of fishing. Hours spent on a pier or a riverbank. We never said much but it was just good to be together. There was a quietness about him that I admired.
Time mellowed him. The loss of my mother left him broken and the temper slowly replaced, perhaps transformed, by an ever-growing faith in Christ.
When I turned 34 my father freed me from the boundaries I had constructed to frame our relationship. With his passing, he left me a priceless gift – an awareness, an amazing example, of how God enters into our brokenness and brings change.
20My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
I have to be honest though, I find I still lean on the protective strategies I developed in my youth. The striving to prove, the conflict avoidance, the slipping away from anything remotely close to emotional tension. They’ve become my default. But the beauty is there is freedom.
Just as the Galatians 2 verse shares; I can choose to believe Christ lives in me. A new creation. This trusting allows me to recognize those defense mechanisms are no longer needed. They are old human attempts to protect me from disappointment and pain. The reality is that God waits to give freedom, each time we recognize the old-ways and ask for new strength.
I hope you turn to the God of freedom for all that keeps you striving, fearful, and lonely.
He is waiting for you to ask.
He loves you.
In memory of my dad, Alvin T. Willis (11/19/18 – 2/3/92) ~ Dad, I miss you. Thank you for what you taught me in life and death.
Psalm 51:9-12 (New International Version)
9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
For additional reading – Psalm 51 NIV – Psalm 51 – For the director of music. A – Bible Gateway
Take a few minutes to consider the following.
- Can you identify protective strategies you use in your current relationships? If yes, do you feel they are effective, why or why not?
- How can you give all dysfunctional strategies to God?