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  • Gladys Childs

How do I call God 'Father' after sexual abuse by dad?



Susan from Texas writes:

Having gone through the trauma of being sexually abused from early childhood to my early teen years by my father, I have "a problem" with using that moniker for God. I would love to be able to address Him as my Heavenly Father or even Abba, but it's just....sort of creepy, if you know what I mean.

First, let me say how truly sorry I am that you had to experience this trauma. No one should ever have to walk this road. And thank you for being brave enough to ask a question that most others would be afraid to voice.

To begin, it is okay not to call God: “Father,” “Him,” “God our Father,” or other masculine terms. Using male pronouns for God is a human construct, not one from God. Though inspired by God, the scripture was written in patriarchal societies by men. During the time frame in which the scriptures were written, language standards prioritized male pronouns. In fact, for most of history, it has always been the norm to use male pronouns over female. Only in recent history has it become accepted practice to use the pronouns of “he/she” when doing any writing or to substitute “she” in a place where “he” would most frequently be used. Again, language is a human construct and, until only recently, has been controlled by men.

Secondly, who God is and how God acts is not who people are and how people act. This is hard for many people to grasp, so I will repeat it. Who God is and how God acts is not who people are and how people act. Make this a new mantra for yourself. Write this phrase on sticky notes or note cards and put them on your bathroom mirror, bible, refrigerator, place of employment -- anywhere that works for you.

God has many attributes, but the one which should be most associated with God is love. 1 John 4:16 states, "So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love..." (ESV) There is verse after verse in the bible referring to the love of God. Also, God is only a Creator of good. In Mark 10:18, we learn no one is perfectly and consistently good but God. So, God is love and goodness. Cling to the truth of who God is, a God of love and goodness. Now and forever, God is love and goodness.

On the other hand, humans are creators of both good and bad. In fact, the only reason we can be creators of good at all is because our Creator God instilled goodness within us in the first place. And unfortunately, we as humans (since we have free will) create most of the suffering and trauma in the world. Sad but true. I will not give examples because we all have enough examples of humans being good and, too frequently, wrong. This brings me back to who God is and how God acts is, not who people are and how people act. You need to separate the two.

Last of all, if you want to be able to call God "Heavenly Father" or "Abba" or any other masculine-related term, then begin by laying this desire at the feet of God. Lay it down daily in your morning devotional (hopefully you have one, if not, start tomorrow morning) and pray to God to help you achieve this. Also, pray for God's help to own the phrase "Who God is and how God acts is not who people are and how people act." And focus on scriptures that speak of God's love, goodness, grace, and mercy. If you Google "Bible verses on God and ____" and then insert one of the attributes above in that blank, you will pull up numerous verses. Pick verses to memorize or read daily that speak to you about these outstanding characteristics of God.

To go even deeper, set aside an hour each day to meditate with God on your desire (do this as many times as you need). As you start this hour, ask God to help you see, understand, have clarification, and hear from God. If you are feeling up to it, take the mantra about who God is and how God acts and change it to "Who God is and how God acts is not who my dad was and how my dad acted." Yes, I did say that....breathe. Keep breathing. Sit with God and ponder this phrase and stay in the uncomfortableness with God, do not run from it. Sit. Stay. Breathe.

I learned from great spiritual warriors at the Academy of Spiritual Formation to take one problem or one question and sit with it and God for one hour in complete silence. No television, no music, no interruption. One hour, in silence, alone. It is incredible how much transformation can occur when we focus on just one thing and lay it at God's feet for a solid hour.

Now, you do not have to sit. Go for a walk in the park, in the woods, around your neighborhood. Or do a combination of sitting and walking. I have found it best to have a pen and notebook where I have written out my question or problem at the top of a clean sheet of paper. Then as I meditate and ideas or concepts come to me regarding that question or concern, I can write them down for reflection. Often it is in the act of meditating with God and writing that God's wisdom flows through us.

You are stronger than you know, and God is with you. God delights in you. God loves you. You have this. Be at peace with this particular journey you are on.

My prayer for you and all women and men who struggle with this same issue: May God's love and goodness surround you. Feel that love and goodness hemming you in on all sides. May you have the courage to sit with God for an hour as often as needed. May you trust in God's delight in you. Know that you are God's beloved child, no matter what terms you use to refer to God. Amen.

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Photo by Aditya Saxena on Unsplash

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