She was probably one of the most timid kids I had ever interacted with—often looking down when you talked to her, very soft-spoken, curly hair sitting on her head like a mop—you could tell she did not like having to answer the questions in the meeting. It was hard to believe that someone so shy could produce such extreme behaviors; running away, throwing objects at people, even threatening to kill herself. Then came the question that everyone was waiting for: “Why?”
What would cause a child who seems so meager to act in such an extreme way? What could have happened to push someone this far to make these choices? Often times the answer to this has to do with past abuse, a cry for attention or that somehow the person has been wronged. And even though some of these reasons would have been valid for this child, that was not the answer she gave. Her answer? “I wanted a dad.”
The room fell silent. It must have been one of the most honest, heart-wrenching confessions I have ever heard. She wasn’t blaming anyone. She wasn’t trying to get out of anything. It was nothing more than the hurt of her heart laid bare. It brought her to tears, and it was all I could do to hold back the sting of tears in my eyes. And then came the weight of responsibility, hitting me as softly as an 18-wheeler barreling down the interstate.
Here’s the catch—for a few months I will have the responsibility of being “dad” to this child. My wife and I work as house parents for “at-risk” youth—whatever that means. Never mind that I have no children of my own yet, have never been without a father and at times still feel like a child myself. I found myself wondering how I could possibly fill this hurt. How could I understand this pain and then role model what a dad should look like?
And then something in me started to resonate with her statement, “I wanted a dad.” Even though I have always had a dad present in my life, and a good one at that, I still know what it feels like to want to be closer to my Heavenly “Dad.” I want to be closer, because I still have those times when it seems like other things will satisfy me, things that I know are bad for me. I find myself running away from where I should be, throwing judgments on people and threatening to kill myself spiritually by my poor choices.
As long as I have this flesh housing my soul, I will always be at odds with being apart from God. As much as I can know and experience Him here, there is still something in me that longs to physically be with Him, to know Him much closer than I do now. I am thankful to have the faith that I do, but there are times when I don’t want to rely on faith, but on my own senses, to experience God fully with all of my being.
I was reading through Psalm 63 the other day and was thoroughly impressed with David’s desire to know God. Phrases like “my whole body longs for you,” “your unfailing love is better than life itself,” and “I lie awake thinking of you” seemed to pierce through me. It wasn’t that I have never felt a desire for God like this, but that I give up these desires for lesser things when I don’t find them fulfilled on my timeline. And then I realize, with the gracefulness of discovering you have had a chunk of broccoli stuck in your front teeth for the last hour, that I’m not nearly as mature as I think I am.
Where will my story with this child end? Well, hopefully in a few months she will have experienced love and family and a father figure like she never has before. And as she matures and learns healthier ways to deal with her emotions, hopefully I too will mature and learn how to deal with my longing for God in a way that brings me closer to Him. I know that I can never fulfill the role that she is looking for in an earthly father, but I can show her the love that has been shown to me. And through this love perhaps she will find, like the psalmist said, the One who places the lonely in families and is a Father to the fatherless.