What to Believe When Dad Walks Away
A.W. Tozer says, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (The Knowledge of the Holy). What we think about our heavenly Father says a lot about who we are.
But what if our thoughts about our Father are entangled with and stained by the abuse and abandonment of our earthly father? Anyone who has experienced the acute pain of dad walking out knows it can be all-consuming. I have, and I know. Dad driving away shattered the one thing I believed to be indestructible, superhuman even: my family. But family turned out to be more fluid than I once thought . . . and hoped. Like a permanent smudge on the lens through which we see the world, the dissolution of the family distorts all that we know and all that we are. Our hearts beat out of rhythm. Our thoughts weigh heavier on our minds. Our tears flow faster. The voice that once calmed us in the middle of the night is suddenly silent. The picture frame that preserved our family on the wall is either gone or empty.
Warped by such confusion and despair, how do we paint accurate, biblical portraits of our Father’s goodness and faithfulness? When we’ve been the victim of sinful caricatures of fatherhood, we have a harder time seeing who God promises to be for us. The Bible articulates the truth we need, but believing the Bible isn’t always easy. When advice seems too thin, though, and life too cruel, God’s word is the only reliable brush for the suffering, painting fresh strokes of God’s character onto the marred canvas of our hearts and experience. He draws near to the brokenhearted, ready to care for you, his precious son or daughter (Psalm 34:18).
No one wants to suffer through the absence of a father who might walk away at any moment. It’s agonizing riding the bus home from school wondering if dad’s truck will be in the driveway, if his clothes will still be in the closet. God does not leave us in that suspense. God is deeply, unshakably committed to you. You never have to ask whether he will stay or leave. God himself promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
No matter what you’ve been through with your father, if you are God’s child through faith, he promises to never pack up his suitcase and leave you peering out from the kitchen window. In the middle of your loneliness, God is right there with you (John 14:16–18). Even when your earthly dad is somewhere else, God will not forget or neglect the commitment he’s made to you.
Sadly, some fathers hurt, rather than help. They bring pain, rather than protection. As a child, even into adulthood, you may have suffered both physical or emotional pain because of your dad. Your home wasn’t a safe place for you. Instead, it was an arena of fear. Take hope: your Father in heaven will never hurt you like this.
He will always protect you, keeping you safe from attacks against you. His hand of protection is unmoved and never tires. Even when he must discipline us, he introduces pain in love, and for our greatest good (Proverbs 3:12). No matter what dangers you face, God remains an unparalleled source of safety and help. He will not let danger overtake you (Isaiah 43:2–3). He is a Father of comfort and protection, not of terror and abuse.
In a single-parent home, provision for the family can be a daily struggle and anxiety. Meals uncertain. Clothes borrowed. Aren’t our parents supposed to provide for our basic needs? When dad is gone, and with him a major source of income, we must fight to see through the fog and trust that God remains faithful to provide. His resources never end (Psalm 50:10). He loves to provide for you, because you are a great delight to him. Your most fundamental needs will always ultimately be met in your heavenly Father (Philippians 4:19), not your earthly parents.
Even when Adam and Eve, God’s very first children, disobeyed, not only did God clothe their nakedness and cover their shame, but he promised the ultimate provision of Christ for their sin, as well as for our sin (Genesis 3:15, 21). In Jesus, the Father has not left us wanting. He promises to eventually provide an eternal home, one where his children will never be wanting (John 14:1–3).
Without any love or encouragement from our dad, we can easily question whether we are loved at all. It’s normal to wonder how much we are worth, whether we’re a source of pleasures or problems for others. But where your dad might be silent, God has spoken. God affirms that you bring him great delight. He says, “You are precious in my eyes” (Isaiah 43:4). You are a unique source of pleasure for him.
Rest in this: you are a delight to God, not because you bring something to him, but because he loves you freely. He showers you with shouts of deliverance, love, and gladness (Zephaniah 3:17). Questioning whether you are a delight to your dad is a real insecurity for many. It may be excruciatingly hard to believe that you are loved, but your heavenly Father does not leave you in doubt. If you are his, you are infinitely loved.
Those of us who have watched dad walk away have wrestled with trying to earn our father’s love and affection. Maybe we fight for the merits of academic or athletic success. This was my fight as a young son, deeply desiring the unhindered love and affection of my dad. Whatever the perceived standard may be, it’s no way to live as a child.
Thankfully, our heavenly Father’s love for us is not conditional. He does not love us based on our successes. Instead, God loves us because he loves us. That’s who he is. Even when we’re disobedient and rebellious, his love covers us. Even when we run away from him, he patiently waits for us to come home — a Father ready to wrap his arms around you, kiss you, and shower you with forgiveness and grace (Luke 15:20–24). As Richard Sibbes writes, there is more mercy in God than sin in you.
God reached out to you in great love when you were at your worst, not your best (Romans 5:6–8). Child of God, run freely into your heavenly Father’s embrace, trusting the Father’s arms to hold you because his Son’s arms were stretched out for you on the cross. He is a hope for the abandoned, a refuge for the fearful, a Father to the fatherless.