Growing up without my father, the brokenness spilled over into my relationships
Shelly Mah // June 19, 2020, 11:30 pm
Growing up as a child of divorce, I was filled with envy.
I tried my very best to fill this gap in my heart through friendships, relationships and material goods. I altered my character to make myself likeable. I bared my heart to guys who said they loved me.
I even stole because it felt like the newest things helped me to fit in with the rest.
I was always envious when people around me could answer the question, “what are you going to do for Father’s Day?” I was envious when people around me shared dad jokes from their father over the weekend. And I was envious of people who could simply sit together as a family and have a meal together.
I desired love, attention, affirmation and above all – I desired someone to know my brokenness. But no matter how hard I tried, I could never fill the emptiness in my heart.
I was forced to grow up faster than my peers, and started working at 16 to share the financial burden.
It was tough being a student raised by a single parent.
Whenever my school called for a meet-the-parents session, there would always be three chairs in front of the teachers. My mum and I could never occupy all of them.
Seeing other families around made me feel as though we were the odd ones out. So in secondary school, I started to avoid attending these meet-the-parents sessions simply by not telling my mum about them.
I missed out on a lot of other things, like the start and end of school or church camps. I was envious of how the other kids would have their parents waiting for them at the car park, asking them: “How was camp?”
As for me, all I could do was to walk in the opposite direction towards the bus stop, while lugging my heavy bags back home to an empty house.
Of course, the divorce was especially hard on my mum. My father’s mistakes had shattered the family and her life.
So she took time to come to terms with the divorce. But as both the breadwinner and main caregiver of the family, she had to begin working harder than ever before.
For the first few years, mum struggled to find a balance between work and family, and it resulted in enormous stress and pressure at home. We ended up quarrelling a lot of the time.
I was forced to grow up faster than my peers, and I started working at 16 as I felt the need to share the financial burden. And as we strove, mum and I grew distant.
Most of the time, I felt like I was growing up by myself. Whenever I had problems, I ran to my friends, or I would seek my teachers or go for counselling.
And I would turn to my boyfriends. After all, family had become a completely foreign concept to me.
BREAK-UPS AND BRIDGES
While I was studying for my A-Level examinations, my first boyfriend broke up with me.
We got together even though he was a non-Christian. I had been going to church for years at that point, but I only did so for the friends. I never truly desired to know God.
Furthermore, by the time I was 17, many of my childhood church friends had already left. So I felt that my needs were being met through this relationship and it completely erased my desire to go to church.
Nonetheless, my leader and friends were intentional during this time. They sent me gifts and cards regularly to remind me that I was still remembered by them.
It was as if I lost my purpose in life.
When the break-up happened, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t feel like doing anything anymore. It was as if I lost my purpose in life.
But by God’s grace, I found new friends who stuck with me throughout that entire season. They studied with me, taught me how to study, motivated me and stayed with me in school.
Looking back, this really was God’s grace because I only got to know these people after I broke up. Yet they willingly accepted me just as I was and loved me as though I had been there from the start.
God had sent good people my way to love me and be there for me.
When my A-Level results came out, I was pleasantly surprised. Not because I did well by society’s standards, but because I did better than I had expected, given that I was distracted by the breakup throughout the months of studying and even during the papers.
Again, it was God’s grace that I not only managed to heal from this season, but gain friends for a lifetime and make it to a local university.
Some time later I found myself in another heartbreak. This time, however, I was in a better place in terms of my walk with God.
So unlike my first relationship, I committed the healing journey to God. With God in the picture, He opened my eyes to see how my brokenness from my family background had carried itself over into both my relationships.
On top of that, the Holy Spirit prompted me to reconcile with my ex-boyfriend as well. The breakup wasn’t ugly but it wasn’t friendly either.
Eventually, we both had emotional closure and the opportunity to extend grace and forgiveness towards each other through prayer.
Leading up to it, I spent a whole day in fear and anxiousness. But it was all gone when I started speaking to him. Not only did I apologise for how I behaved during the relationship, I also prayed for him, his family and his journey with God.
By the end, I was able to walk away confidently without feeling any remaining emotional entanglement.
FORGIVING MY FATHER
In reflection, I saw that the positive outcome was because God was working through me. None of it came by my own merit or strength. Based on my character, I would have never initiated to meet my ex-boyfriend.
But God had won a victory for me, and I realised that if I wanted to do justice to my future partner, I had to make myself right before God.
Specifically, I had to submit myself to a journey of reconciliation with my dad as I knew that was the main source of my brokenness.
I wanted to break free from the self-righteousness and condemnation I held against my dad. But I didn’t know where to start or how I should start.
So as a typical procrastinator, I left it aside.
A few months later, as I was sharing this with a friend, my friend decided to pray over me.
Notably, my friend urged me to pray for my dad. After contemplating whether I would for a good 30 minutes or so, I actually prayed for my father.
That would be the first step of many. Thereafter I committed myself to praying for my dad whenever I thought of him, to take small steps towards forgiveness.
I always started small, like simply replying his old messages. While none of these actions are huge leaps, I receive joy from God with every step I take to demolish the chains which had me bound for 15 years.
I believe with God as my Father, the journey of reconciliation with my earthly father has just begun.
Through it all, I see that God has been pursuing me. He had been waiting for me all these years to just turn back, and see that He had always been there for me.
He was there when my parents were absent. He was there in my break-ups. He was there when I quarrelled with my mum. He was there when I felt inadequate, unloved and unworthy.
God was always there.
If I weren’t put into these circumstances, perhaps I wouldn’t have grown as I did.
I also saw how God provided for my family even though we weren’t exactly doing well. I never had to excessively worry about money and had most of the things I needed.
His providence was also evident in how He sent good people at different seasons of my life to grow my character and give me the support I required.
If I weren’t put into these circumstances, perhaps I wouldn’t have grown as I did. Like a Father, He taught me and guided me through my problems.
God tells me that in the midst of the storms, He gives me the strength and help I need to go through them.
And most importantly, He will always be with me through it all.
THINK + TALK
- Is there someone in your life you find hard to forgive? What’s keeping you from doing so?
- What does the Bible say on forgiveness?
- Pray for God’s grace to help you forgive whether it’s someone else or even yourself.
- Know someone who may not enjoy Father’s Day when it comes around? Encourage him or her this weekend.