Our fathers, our God

Last week, my dear niece was visiting us, and made some comments which made me realize how much she is questioning her faith. For example, at one point, when my husband was having a trying time, he said his new favorite phrase that is helping him look at things from a positive angle- “I wonder what God is doing today?” Dear niece said, “Letting children starve in Africa.”

Later during her visit, my husband said something upon which I’m still reflecting, “Our first and most permanent image of God is usually based upon our view of our own fathers.” I don’t think this is a revolutionary thought, but in our 3 cases it seemed to apply.

Dear niece actually quickly responded and said, “Hmm… that’s probably why I think God is pretty much absent and doesn’t care too much about anybody.” Her father has essentially been absent for her 17 years, struggles with alcoholism, is physically violent, and refuses to send financial support (though he currently doesn’t have the means to help.) There were times when my sister has worked 2 or 3 jobs (and had significant help from our family) to care for dear niece while her ex was on a binge or just enjoying life it its most hedonistic style.

DH and I had similar reflections on our relationships with our earthly fathers and our heavenly Father. I could ramble on and on here, but I’m wondering if anyone has had a similar experience, has read something useful that could help dear niece or even something useful that I could read that might just satisfy this new hunger to learn more about our fathers and our God.

I’d even love to hear your own reflections on how your relationship with your dad impacted your relationship with God.

My father was basically a good man, he would as we say give you the bit out of his mouth, he always helped people in need.

When he drank he came home and wrecked the home, we had to sleep out some nights in the woods.

He rebelled against the Catholic Church, my mother was a Protestant who converted to the Catholic faith.

So my religious influence wasn’t from my father, he didn’t like they way some business men were treated with great respect in the Church while him and others weren’t held with that esteem, I’m glad the Church is changing in this regard.

I don’t ever remember him going to Mass, except for weddings and funerals.

So the only influence my father had on me was to say to myself, " no I don’t want to be like you, abusive when he was drunk, and terrorising us when we couldn’t defend ourselves."

He was a real Jekyll and Hyde character, he left he house so placid and came back like a demon.

Anyway I was always interested in the Gospel stories, and liked this man called Jesus because I could identify with Him because I was suffering as well.

And thats what drew me to God, the suffering I was enduring, so I suppose in a roundabout way the only good that came out of my father was to draw me closer to God via the sufferings of Jesus.

My relationship with my father killed my relationship with God for 30 years.

My father was emotionally abusive to my mother and I and physically abusive to me. He had an unpredictable temper and we never knew what would send him into a rage.

Yet my father was a devout Catholic, confession every Saturday afternoon, Mass every Sunday, altar server for weekday Masses. He showed one side of himself at church and another side at home. I’m sure no one at church would have ever guessed what occurred at our house behind closed doors.

My father died when I was 14 and unfortunately I was not able to separate my anger at him from a belief in God. I grew up hating men and swore I would never get married.

When I met my husband I experienced unconditional love for the first time in my life and it was through my relationship with him that I was finally able to forgive my father and return to the Church. I have also had years of counseling to deal with my childhood.

Wow- you could be my DH’s sister. DH stopped attending Mass after Confirmation because he saw his father getting drunk and abusive every Saturday night and forcing the family to mass on Sunday.

When we met he said, “I’ll do anything for you or with you except go to Church.” 8 years later he’s a member of the Knights of Columbus and a good, solid Catholic. His dad passed away about 3 years ago and luckily he made his peace somewhat before his passing but still laments the fact his father didn’t have time to make a Confession before dying.

I’m so glad that your husband has offered you the love you needed and that you have forgiven your father.

I believe that my father very much influenced how I experience and think about God.

My father is one of the people I respect most in this world. He is smart, good, artistic, but was hardly ever around when I was a kid.
When he was around, my mom kept us distant from him (jealousy?) She also protected him from knowing what was going on in the family.

I suffered some pretty terrible physical and sexual abuse and also neglect as a child. My very good father did nothing about it. He never knew.

I have tremendous respect for the Divine, but I never expect it to intervene on my behalf.

I think my mother also influenced my faith a great deal. She was a perfectionist tyrant. The last thing I ever wanted was a devotion to the blessed mother, I did not need another mother in my life, certainly not one who was perfect, the suffering saint and who intervened between me and God, as my mother did between myself and my father.

As a child, I gravitated toward the Holy Spirit. A friend from the outside who offered me hope and help.

Jesus, was like a brother, and I already had three of them, and some of the abuse came from them.

I moved far away from my family of origin, and left the Catholic church. I do think there is a connection.

I don’t think the issues with my family will ever be fully resolved. Those things leave scars on one’s soul that no amount of therapy, prayer and forgiveness can ever erase. Consciously, I’m over it, but it creeps up on me in unexpected and devestating ways.

It didn’t help that my family was the “perfect” Catholic family. It was such a part of our identity, and one of the reasons the problems were never dealt with. I know there is blame there. I don’t know how to get past that.

Jesus suffered on the behalf of others, but at least for a good purpose. What I suffered on their behalf did no one any good. My mother used to tell me to offer it up for the poor souls. That might work when one is hungry but puts off having a snack, but it is less useful when one is being beaten or raped. To have that connected with one’s faith, ie, offer it up for the poor souls, is bound to have a negative influence on one’s relationship to the church and what it teaches.

If the church can offer refuge to a hurt soul, then such suffering might lead one to the church, but when the church is used to justify or excuse suffering, it is liable to put a barrier.

People say, “but can’t you see that was not the church, but just a sinner in the church?”

I guess I can’t, not really, because it was such a cultural thing. It was all tangled up together. The priests and nuns told us to obey no matter what, to offer up our sufferings, that nothing we went through could even come close to the sufferings of the blessed mother, saints and Christ. Those teachings, unfortunately, did allow such horrible things to continue. I couldn’t even take a chance with my own children. I simply would not raise them in a faith that I felt was complicit in the awful things that happened to me.

Jeff CAvins gives a beautiful testimony and reflection on this topic, referring in part to his relationship with his own father, and how reconciliation with him played such a role in his own conversion or reversion. I’m sure it is in print or on tape someplace by now. I think previous posters are quite on target with their comparisons. Jeff’s point was the essential role of the father in faith formation, but also the need for the individual to move beyond the imperfect relationship with the earthly father and to give God a chance to reveal Himself as he truly is, not through the filter of our experienc with the earthly father figures.

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