2014-09-30 - Family Ties
Originally Published 2013-04-13
When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit, bearing witness with our spirit, that we are children of God - and if children - then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. (Rom 8:16-17)
As a marriage and family therapist, I spend a lot of time talking with people about relationships. One of the things that comes up in my office, fairly often, is what happens when a parent was absent. I hear about mothers or fathers who left, passed away, or weren't that involved in their children's lives, for any number of reasons. Whatever the situation, once these children reach their teen or young adult years, there is often still an empty space, full of hurt and questions. There is a need for information and understanding. There are internal struggles about what to do with lingering feelings of loss, confusion, frustration, and hurt. The same thing often happens in cases involving children who were adopted. Sooner or later, they become curious about their biological parents. This usually isn't because their adoptive parents were awful parents. Its just that they still don't feel complete. They want to know about the people who created them, the people they're genetically linked to. They want to know about family history, who they look or act like, and what sorts of people their biological relatives are.
I think this curiosity, and longing to connect with what we came from, is a natural need built in to all of us. We are all made to want to know (or at least know about) the people who gave us life, in the first place. So much of our identity comes from understanding those people. If we have good relationships with them, we want to maintain those relationships and the sense of belonging they give us. If we don't, we struggle with what to do about that void in our lives.
I don't think that everyone should try and find and bond with biological parents. That's not always possible or wise. The empty space or missing piece has to be acknowledged and cared for in some way, though. This may just mean finding out as many answers as possible, to factual questions. It may mean grieving the relationships that will never be, and exploring ways to find meaning in the experience. At times, it does mean literally seeking out the parent or parents. Acknowledging the reality of what is, and making conscious choices about what to do with this need, are so important. Otherwise, that need can drive people into a lot of wrong choices, in an effort to fill those empty places. Running from these feelings doesn't make them go away.
I think we are also this way about God. This need is even more important than the need to reconnect with earthly biological parents. It is natural for us to want to know the One who made us and set our lives in motion. I think this is why we struggle with issues of meaning and spiritual identity. There is a void, an emptiness, a missing puzzle piece in our hearts, because of that part of us that is made in God's image. We have to give attention to that part of ourselves. Again, we can try and satisfy that longing with all kinds of other things, but those efforts will fall short and will still leave us restlessly wanting something" more," something "else."
The only way we're going to have that need truly met is through a relationship with the One who made us with that need in the first place, our Creator and Heavenly Father. We can't feel complete without that connection. The most important parts of our identity come from our relationship with God, no matter what else has happened with our earthly families. God is our loving and trustworthy Father. He is our Perfect Parent. He knows what we need, and how to give us good things (Matt 7, James 1). He won't leave, lie to us, or stop loving us. No earthly relationship can guarantee us those things.
That relationship with God can be the basis for healing the hurts that come about when other humans fail us. Our own flesh and blood might abandon us, let us down, abuse our love and trust, and not even acknowledge us. God gives us the love and acceptance we so desperately need, as wounded children. If we give those hurts to Him, find our identity in Him, and seek to grow in closeness with Him, He will help us grieve and heal from the losses of earthly relationships. He will take care of us and meet our deepest needs for unconditional love, guidance, and belonging.
Whatever else you're seeking, don't forget that your deepest heart needs are for the One who knit you together in your mother's body in the first place (Psalm 139). You are here because He wanted you to be, and because He has a unique plan and purpose for your life. You are His child, first and foremost. Reach out to God. He will help you understand who you really are, and will meet your needs for family, love and belonging.
All scripture references are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.