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Experiencing the True Love of the Father

Experiencing the True Love of the Father

by Jennifer Ann Burnett, MD

Dec. 31, 2007

 

I came to know Jesus at an early age, leaving a trail of tears as I walked up to the altar of my church when I was in sixth grade. My former Sunday school teacher preached the sermon (I didn’t usually go to church but came that day because I heard he was going to be there) and I understood then that even though I was a really, really good kid, I was still not good enough to satisfy God’s standards. But Jesus had already done that for me, and through His sacrificial blood, the price for my sin had been paid. I asked Him to come into my heart right then and there, and He did!

 

But not much changed in me back then. I continued to go to Sunday school and church and began reading my Bible. I started in the O.T. and I only had a KJV Bible, so I quickly got lost in Genesis with all the “begat’s”. No one really discipled me back then- for I was a good child and never got into any trouble. But when I was in my junior year of high school, I became involved in Campus Life, a popular Christian group for my age. There were people in that group who were really excited about Christ and full of His joy. I also found out about other modern translations of the Bible and learned how to study the Word myself. I began growing in Christ by leaps and bounds.

 

As I grew in the Lord, I became a student leader in Campus Life and also in my church youth group. I was voted president of my youth choir and went on two state-wide choir tours, giving my testimony and leading the altar call after our services. In my senior year, I led a Bible study on my high school campus (with faculty permission and sponsorship) that met at lunch in the library. People recognized my zeal for Christ and my leadership abilities even back then. Christ was the center of my life! I graduated from high school with a 4.0 and many honors. As I moved on to college, I excelled academically and further Christian leadership opportunities presented themselves as more and more people observed my drive and enthusiasm for the Lord.

 

I was just so ‘on fire’ for God back then- or so it seemed. But in actuality, my “first love” for Him had been slowly dying over many years due to a really deep and pervasive character flaw in me. It is well known that a child’s relationship with his or her father has a great bearing on how they later relate to their Heavenly Father. Paul tells us in Rom 8:15, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ ” “Abba” really means “Daddy”, a very intimate and endearing term, reflecting the joy of a child who is very secure in his or her father’s love and affection.

 

 Unfortunately for many children, their relationship with their earthly father falls far short of this heavenly standard. My father was very distant and I can’t recall him ever telling me he loved me when I was little. He was a very macho type of guy and what he wanted was a son who he could mold in his image. I was the first-born (my brother didn’t come along until nearly five years later) and my dad just didn’t know how to relate to me. This deeply affected me, for I so wanted his love and approval. I constantly sought his attention and affection, just as any daughter naturally desires- but we were just worlds apart.

 

I was close to my mom and loved to cook and help with the housework. I began writing poetry (again, taking after my mother) and composing little songs. But my father pretty much ignored me and I just went along doing my own thing. This situation only worsened when my little brother started to grow up into the son my dad always wanted. (Interestingly, in spite of their similarities, or more likely because of them, my father and brother fought constantly when he was in his late teens and twenties.)  However, I finally was able to get some attention from my father when I began excelling in school and brought home straight A’s. This gave him something to be proud of and brag about concerning me. I also learned to play tennis and joined the high school team, which gave us something to do together that my dad enjoyed. I even got interested in woodworking because that was his hobby.

 

This is the type of relationship I had with my father. To get his attention I felt I always had to perform for him- get straight A’s; win the prize at the Science Fair; earn this and that achievement award… Though I was doing well in school and also in my church youth group (though my dad had absolutely no interest in God or my church activities), I still felt unloved and unlovable. I had sensed there was something grievously wrong with me from an early age; if your own father can’t love you, then you must be terribly defective! Therefore, I came to the conclusion that the only way people would  take notice of me and like me is to be constantly performing for them, living up to their expectations of what I should do and say an who I should be. It was this mindset that became deeply ingrained in me due to my earliest childhood experiences with my father.

 

That is the seed that was sown in me, this terrible flaw that would eventually poison my whole life, especially my relationship with God. Though socially, “spiritually” (at least as far as my circle of Christian friends knew) and later on, professionally I was very successful and a model of what was expected of me, the inner feeling that I was “defective” persisted. No one really knew who I was inside, for I feared rejection if I ever allowed anyone to see the real me. So I constructed an elaborate façade to make sure everyone liked me. And even though it seems silly to think that we can fool the very One who created us, I thought that if I continued to DO the things that pleased God (such as studying the Bible, witnessing to others, going on missions trips, etc.), that I could make God love me too!

 

 So, I was doing everything in my power to be a model Christian. But keeping up such a façade slowly eats away at the deepest part of your soul, eroding you from the inside out. Eventually, no matter how strong you are, you can’t hold it all together any more. And you also have to face the ultimate decision about God and His sovereignty- If you know that He is the Creator of all things (including yourself) and you hate yourself because you feel you are defective and inherently unlovable (even to God, who you feel will only love you if you are constantly performing for Him), then you must come to the conclusion that God is either evil for making you so defective or totally uncaring and aloof to all your suffering!

 

Because of all my successes and the approbation I received from others, I had been able to avoid facing my insecurities and terrible self-image, thus living in a world of denial for most of my life. God, however, had been dropping “hints” that something was very wrong between us. Like whenever I read Rev 2:1-6; it bothered me, for I knew it was describing my unhealthy relationship with my Lord. I was still accomplishing a lot of good Christian things but I had stopped even thinking about my true motivation for what I was doing. I had a good knowledge of the scriptures and my doctrine was sound (or so I thought). My behavior as a Christian was impeccable as well, at least from my point of view.

 

So I, like the Ephesian church, assumed that I must be a top-notch Christian. But when it came to v.4-5, I knew that I didn’t have that “first love” in my heart for Jesus any more. My worship in church was unenthusiastic at best. Even when I did the right things, like visitation and evangelism, it was out of hollow obedience, not because of any sincere desire on my part. I had no joy or sense of purpose as I related to the God I had come to regard as a demanding, distant and uncaring Father (just like my natural father)! And this went on and on for decades!

 

But, when God knew it was the right timing, He decided to do something about my spiritual “disease”- He allowed my whole life to unravel! Marriage, job, church ministries, friendships- all disintegrated during a very short interval of time. When you have been trying to fool yourself into believing that your inherent value as a person is based solely on who you are (professionally and otherwise) and what you can do, then God has no other option. He had to knock out all these false props to bring me to the point where He could begin to heal the deep soul-sickness within. It was an extremely painful process, but He needed to do something drastic to make His wayward daughter finally understand that she was neither “defective” nor “unlovable”.

 

When He finally got my full attention, He began showing me (and it took a lot of convincing on His part!) that He made had me just as He meant me to be, “warts and all”, for His own special purpose. He then got it through my thick skull that His love for me is unconditional and unwavering, so I never need to try to “earn” it. I even learned that the attitude I had, that I must constantly “perform” in order to make myself acceptable to God, was actually an insult to my loving Heavenly Father. He had already given His own Son as a sacrifice for my sin to secure my “acceptability” long before I had even arrived on the scene. For me to think that I had to or somehow could do more than Jesus had already done to make myself “right” before God was really ludicrous! And understanding this finally set me free from fear that I was constantly in danger of losing God’s love if I ever failed to be “perfect” in everything I did and said.

 

There were more “revelations” He had for me. He showed me through His Word that He had made me just as He desired (Ps 139:13-16), so I should never consider myself to be either “defective” or “unlovable”.  My Father does not view me as the world does, which forms its opinions of us solely by our “outside”- our appearance, social status and visible actions. Rather He sees us as we truly are, on the “inside”- our character, motivations and innermost desires; for “the LORD looks on the heart." (1Sam 16:7). Even more important, God’s view of us is not anchored in the “here and now”, but He perceives us as He knows we shall become.

 

Back then, in the midst of my decimated life, I had looked in the mirror and all I saw was ugliness. It was not just my physical appearance (which desperately needed improvement, as I had “let myself go” due to the deep depression I was in at that time), but I saw the rottenness of my very soul. My supposed exemplary Christian life was just a sham and the true love of God was nowhere to be found in me. Tears streamed down my face, for I felt that the “beauty” I now knew that God desired to create within me was an impossible task. My situation was hopeless; I felt I was beyond redemption.

 

But right then and there, in the midst of my brutal assessment of myself, God gave me a verse and told me to make that a constant meditation of my heart. That verse was Song of Songs 4:7- “Thou art altogether beautiful, My beloved; there is no flaw in thee.” He told me that not only does He look past the external and see down deep into our hearts, but His view goes  beyond our present state to how we will be after the work of His Spirit in our lives has made us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4).  Just as He sees His future Bride, the Church, to be “without spot or wrinkle” (Eph 5:27), so He already knew me as I one day will be, “beautiful” and “flawless”.

 

I had accumulated much bitterness and resentment in my heart due to the very painful experiences in my past. I had blamed it all on God because (as I had viewed it) He had allowed all these bad things to occur and didn’t seem to care how much it hurt me. It took time, but God began to show me how He was using all my pain and suffering, both past and present, to mold and shape me into the image of His Son, just as He had “perfected” Jesus through His suffering (Heb 2:10). And He also revealed how all my painful experiences had produced in me empathy for others who were going through similar circumstances, permitting Him to use me more effectively to minister to them (e.g. 2Cor 1:4). Thus I finally came to accept that God has a good purpose in everything He allows to happen in my life (Rom 8:28; Jer. 29:11). I was then able to ask His forgiveness and be cleansed of all the bitterness and anger that had derailed the loving relationship my Father desired to have with me.

 

So, although I thought I knew the Word well and even had led Bible studies on such “basic” texts and scriptural principles as God’s unconditional love for us, the Lord had to make these passages very personal to me. Things I had known in my head for ages, God made them genuine in my heart and life. The Bible was thereby transformed into His living Word and studying it became a truly life-changing process, rather than a mere spiritual or intellectual “exercise” that all good Christians needed to do. The Lord and I had some incredibly special times together, talking for hours. (With my life in tatters, I had little else to do back then!)

 

And through all this He brought about an inner healing I never thought possible. Over several months time He even granted me some very special “visions”. These consisted of something like waking dreams- of Jesus taking the place of my earthly father and I becoming His little daughter. He would invite me to come to Him, crawl up into His lap and ‘snuggle’ into His warm embrace. He would sit and talk with me for hours. I could feel His warmth, smell His fragrance and experience a sense of absolute peace and contentment in His powerful and all-loving arms. He would tell me how pretty I was and how much He loved me, His very special “princess”. These encounters were so vivid, they actually came to supplant my childhood memories of a distant father who was never able to do or say any of these things to me.

 

So, I found a brand new relationship with a loving Father and accepted myself a His beloved daughter, one who never needs to fear that she will lose her Father’s affection and care for her. And through this He began to transform me into the “woman of God” He has always wanted me to become. That prickly passage in Rev. 2:4-5 no longer causes me to scowl in frustration but instead provokes ‘tears of joy’, for I now have a wondrous love-relationship with my Lord that makes me feel like the Shulammite in the Song of Solomon!

 

And my ability to worship God also was also transformed. The Holy Spirit instilled in me the real meaning of the John 4:23-24 passage. When I was finally able to experience the truth that I was God’s beloved daughter and could come to my Father with the trusting and gentle spirit of a little girl who never need fear rejection, my heart was released to worship Him like never before. And that inward transformation was even visible to others, for people in my church (Conservative Baptist at that time) began to comment that they had never seen anyone worship God with such joy and abandon as I was now experiencing.

 

It took a quite a while, but after I had learned these very special lessons, God then began to “reassemble” the broken and lost parts of my life. He led me to a new city, gave me a different and so- much-more rewarding job, and new friendships. He opened up a brand new ministry for me, especially to women going through the crisis of feeling lost and unloved. Many had had childhoods that were also bereft of a loving and accepting father. Or worse yet, they experienced a father-figure who had abused them, physically or otherwise, when they were little. The healing that God brings us through His Spirit can produce a miraculous transformation in both the natural and spiritual lives of such wounded people as these, just as He did for me!

 

 

To sum up: I have been transformed by the comprehension and intimate experience of my Heavenly Father’s unconditional love for me. He overcame all the bad encounters I had had with my earthly father and through these very personal revelations (i.e. God applying His Word to my heart instead of me just knowing it in my head), He changed me in some very miraculous ways. The changes that occurred then far exceeded what had happened earlier in my life when I had first invited Jesus into my heart in sixth grade. At a Christian bookstore I found a plaque with a big red flower and the caption: “If anyone is in Christ, She is a new creation. II Cor. 5:17” I bought it, for I knew God meant it for me. It sits in the window of my kitchen by the sink to remind me of the power of God’s amazing and transformative love!

 

I am still learning and growing more each day; trying my best to glorify God in my life. But it is no longer out of a sense of it being my “duty” as a Christian, nor due to the fear that my failure to do so will cause Him to reject me. Now I can respond to Him simply because I have experienced the intimacy of His love for me and I just want to please my wonderful and caring Heavenly Father. So that is why I can rejoice and allow Him to use even the painful experiences of my life to reshape me into the “image of His Son”, thereby gradually becoming the woman of God He has always meant me to be. God is love and perfect love casts out all fear. Come! Crawl right up into His lap! Find rest from all your insecurities and sorrows- safely enfolded within your Daddy’s loving arms!

 

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