As I mentioned in my last post, Lent is in full swing. I grew up in a denomination that did not celebrate Lent, so I didn’t even know it existed until I was in college, and I didn’t really begin to understand it until well into my twenties. The first time I did anything by way of personal observance of Lent was in 2010, just a few months after moving back to the U.S. from Mexico. I had no idea what the standard observances were, other than fasting, and the only reason I did any observing at all was because I felt a very intense push in my heart to do so; I fasted TV and caffeine, and it was a profound experience. I have been much more aware of Lent since then and continue to grow in my understanding of its significance, but I still have a lot to learn.
This year is the first time since that 2010 Lenten season that I have enacted any active personal observance. I am utilizing the She Reads Truth Lent 2016 study, and I have decided to fast TV once again; I know the traditional Lenten fasts are of certain kinds of foods, but I believe God is calling me back to soul-engagement on several levels and TV is getting in the way of that. So, I have committed to diving into that SRT study each day using the physical study book (rather than their mobile app plan only, which is what I did last year), and I am exchanging time usually given to TV and online videos for time spent engaging more deeply with Pops, with myself, and with others. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a very Lent-ish theme, but Jesus came and died and rose again so that we could do just that: engage truly with God, with ourselves, and with others in a way that is possible only through faith in Him. It seems very appropriate to me right now to prepare for the celebration of His death and resurrection by remembering the cost He paid so that I can engage my heart, soul, mind, and body in these ways .
I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you.
You may be wondering why the date of this reading and that particular portion of it are significant and how they are related. In the spirit of Inigo Montoya, I will “esplain” as briefly as possible.
You see, one year ago—on February 17, 2015—I sat in my therapist’s office for my regular weekly session, and I told her about the prayer conference I’d attended that weekend (Valentine’s Day weekend) through my church and about how deeply it had wrecked me, and not necessarily in ways I found to be positive. Though, now, I can look back and say that they were, but that is neither here nor there at this point. At the time I was still struggling very deeply with a dark depression and ongoing, low-level anxiety; we had been for several months exploring the history and dynamics of my family relationships and what had happened to me during the years after my dad’s remarriage, specifically the emotional abandonment I experienced from him and the emotional abuse I experienced from my stepmother. The ultimate result was an emotional alienation—at least for a time, anyway—that left irreparable damage, even after the relationships were restored. During the Christmas season I finally found language to describe the effects of that emotional alienation and abuse: I felt like an emotional orphan. It was a very isolating feeling, because while I’m not an actual orphan—I do have a family and we are all in touch and do stuff for holidays, etc.—there is something profound missing when it comes to the levels of emotional connectedness (or lack thereof) I experience in those relationships. I do not feel like I am one of them, that I belong, and yet I am not actually estranged from them in the world; those relationships are intact, but they are not my emotional home, and they haven’t been since I was fifteen.
It only took about ten minutes of the first conference session to wreck me for the duration of the weekend. That was how long it took for the speaker to present the framework we would spend two days applying to how we relate to God in prayer: that is, how a child relates to her father. I spent the rest of the weekend working very hard to maintain some semblance of composure, wanting desperately to just get up and leave but feeling trapped there both days because I had been recruited to man the book table. That was a hard conference to stick out, I promise you!
I’m sure my pastor’s recruitment of me for book table duty was a divine conspiracy on God’s part to make sure I was there for the whole thing, and I spent quite a bit of time that first night talking to God about what a dirty rotten trick that was on His part and how not impressed I was! And then I just spent the rest of my moments of free thought pouring out the pain that entire direction of teaching was triggering. There are not words to describe it. I remember very distinctly telling God,
I don’t know how to be a daughter! How am I supposed to relate to you as a father, if I don’t actually know how to be a daughter?
You see, my dad’s response to what was happening to our family after his remarriage and to my endless petitions for him to do something to make it stop was to shut down. He was so frustrated because he couldn’t actually do anything about it—or at least, maybe he didn’t think he had the power to do anything. I was convinced he did, though, that he had the power to do something, anything; in my teenage mind that would have been better than doing nothing, even if it didn’t necessarily make the problems stop. His perceived inaction destroyed the connection we’d had prior to his remarriage, and the process of repairing that broken relationship didn’t begin until four years later, less than a year before I left for college. The counseling he and I went through helped re-establish an open relationship, but I lost four very critical years of being a daughter, and that is a loss that can never truly be restored, because I will never again be a teenager trying to relate to her dad as her provider, protector, confidante, and guide. I can’t go back and learn to relate to my earthly dad in those ways at that age, and the ultimate effect of that was that I lacked that framework for understanding how to relate to God as a father.
I remember racking my brain on the drive home at the end of the conference, telling God that I didn’t know how to be a daughter and wondering how in the world I was supposed to learn to be a daughter if I couldn’t even imagine what that might feel like emotionally and mentally. I mean, how does someone who’s got zero concept of a thing turn around and train themselves to do or be that thing?
I don’t know what triggered the idea, but in that conversation with God, I decided that if I couldn’t do anything else, maybe I could just create a space in my mind and heart that would be receptive to that relational dynamic with God, a space that was at least unconnected to my earthly experiences of “father.” The only way I could think to do that was to find a dad-like name to call God when relating and talking to Him; maybe if I started talking to Him like people do to their dads, eventually my brain and heart would catch on. So, I went through the list:
- Dad—Nah, that’s too formal, disconnected.
- Daddy—NOPE! That is what I call my earthly dad, and I need something wholly unrelated to that relationship.
- Abba—I know the Bible says You’re our Abba, but that word in its Hebrew form has zero relational meaning for me. It’s just a word for me, and besides, it means “daddy,” and we already established that is not an option. So, I’m thinking “no” to this one too.
- Pops—Whoa. Wait. Where did that one come from? “Call Me Pops.” Yeah, that fits. It’s familiar and comfortable and a little quirky and sassy, like me. I like it! Ok, Pops it is!
I decided my new name for God would be “Pops.” I decided that every time I talked to God—and even when I talked about Him with people close enough to know what was going on—I would make myself call Him “Pops.” Every time. Oh boy, did that take some practice! I would start writing or talking to God, and I’d fall into my default pattern of calling Him “Lord” or “God,” and then I’d make myself correct myself and use the new name. Slowly but surely that became my new default name for Him, so much so that I now have to consciously remind myself not to use it when I talk to people who wouldn’t know who I mean if I refer to Him as “Pops.”
I remember sitting in my therapists office on February 17, 2015, explaining to her how that prayer conference went for me and why it was so difficult and the decision I’d made to call God “Pops.”
And I remember sitting in her office on November 24, 2015—just nine months later—telling her that IT WORKED!!! I had realized just a couple of days before—during church on Orphan Sunday, no less—that I no longer felt like an orphan!!! That my Pops had trained me to relate to Him as my father, my Pops, and that adoption in my heart superseded the abandonment and disconnection I felt from my earthly father. I remember sitting there in church that Sunday morning digging around in my heart and mind looking to make sure that there wasn’t some remnant of orphanhood hiding in a corner or a closet or under a piece of furniture. Nope! For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged to Someone who reciprocated the sense of belonging; I didn’t just call Him mine, but He also calls me His! It doesn’t erase the state of the relationship with my earthly dad, but that earthly relationship is no longer standing in the way of my relationship with my Heavenly Father!
As I told my therapist all of this—just two days after Orphan Sunday and two days before Thanksgiving—her jaw dropped and her eyes teared up, and we both just sat there and let that sink in for a minute.
It all started on Valentine’s Day with a broken heart and a new name.
One year later, on February 17, 2016, I sat reading Day 7 of the SRT Lent study (I was a day late reading it, but it was released on TUESDAY the 16th), and the first passage quotes Jesus saying:
I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you.
I sat and soaked in that promise-come-true. He did not leave me as an orphan. He came to me—slowly, gently, almost imperceptibly. He stayed steady through the storm, and my Heavenly Pops did something. And now I am His; He calls me His people. I am adopted and finally know what it feels like to belong to Someone, and He says He belongs to me too.
Talk about the best Valentine’s Day gift! There’s not much better than being adopted!
And Lent seems the best time to reflect on that, because Jesus said these words to His disciples on the very night He was betrayed, the night before His death, three nights before He rose from the dead, making a way for His Father to be my Father:
I will not leave you as orphans; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will see Me no longer, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live too. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, you are in Me, and I am in you. The one who has My commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me. And the one who loves Me will be loved by My Father. (John 14:18-21)
May you, too, know the power of Christ’s resurrection and the depths of the Father’s love and adoption this Lenten season!