This article was originally published on The Gospel Coalition, When Father’s Day Hurts, by Heather Davis Nelson.
I was blessed to be raised by a dad who loved me well as his daughter. He cherished me, led me to Jesus over and over again, and proudly gave me away to the man I married almost eight years ago. This man has been a father for four years to our twin daughters, and I daily thank God that my girls have such a father to call “Daddy.”
This isn’t an article about my pain, but it’s an article about the pain so many of you carry on this day. God calls us to bear one another’s burdens, and in my calling as a counselor and friend, I have heard your stories, and I hurt for you today. I wanted you to know that someone notices, sees, and acknowledges today’s pain.
Today may be painful because you’re grieving the father you never knew. The father you wish you had known, but whose absence leaves a hole in your heart and your life. A hole that you’ve tried to fill a thousand other ways.
Pain may show up in many different ways on this Father’s Day.
The Pain of Losing Your Father
Your pain may be the absence of a father you knew and loved dearly and who is now gone. Whose death you grieve today most keenly. I pray the God of all comfort will meet you in each avenue of sorrow you will walk through today as you know him as Father and the ever-present one.
The Pain of an Abusive Father
Or maybe the pain comes from a father who violated the protection and trust meant to be inherent in your relationship. Abuse of any sort—emotional, physical, or sexual—breaks boundaries established by God and leaves indelible pain, confusion, and deep wounds. Your journey feels long and hard and impossible and dark. You may not even be able to speak of what happened, and so you fake a “Happy Father’s Day” greeting to the man who did what should not be done.
I hurt for you and with you, and if you need a safe place to talk, find a trusted friend or counselor or pastor and begin to share this pain. Speaking about such things feels as if it will multiply shame, but that’s the kingdom of darkness trying to keep you from coming into the light. When light shines in the darkness, the darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5).
The Pain of Longing to Be a Father
Then there are those of you who long to be fathers, and whether the delay is due to waiting for marriage or waiting through infertility, this day is a painful reminder of what you (or your spouse) are not yet. Celebrating this day can sometimes just deepen the shame or frustrations.
The Pain of Mixed Grief
Some of you endure a combination of what I’ve mentioned already, and so the hurt is multi-faceted and often complicated grief. Such as grieving the death of an abusive father. Or a feeling of fear and dread as you watch your husband becoming abusive in ways your own father was to you. Or celebrating a wonderful father while wondering whether you or your husband will ever become one.
And then there’s the frustration of waiting for your husband to step up and be the kind of father you had or that you pray he would be for your children. Perhaps you read the greeting cards and wished they were actually true. You feel disappointed, and you wonder if and when he’ll ever change.
The God Who Sees
As you grieve today, I want you to know that you’re not grieving in silence, and you’re not grieving alone. And even if today passes without any other acknowledgement of the burden you carry, there is one who sees, who meets you even now, carries your grief for you. He atones for the sin committed against you; he is the perfect and present Father you long for or miss or never had. He is the one who met a slave-woman and her son when they’d been cruelly abandoned by her mistress and were languishing in the desert, expecting to die. Hagar was her name; listen to the comfort in her own words: “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13).
On this day you will see all the Facebook and Instagram posts celebrating fathers and painting pictures of beautiful Pinterest-worthy brunches and picnics and barbecues. You will feel as if you are not seen or known.
Take comfort that there is a God who sees you. Who sees your pain and your grief and your brokenness. He sees you, and his seeing brings healing, comfort, and light into darkness.
I can’t promise the pain will be lessened, but I know a God who promises his presence with his people in times of distress. And he is the one from whom all the best earthly fathers derive their name. He is the one Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction.”
All the images of perfect families with perfect fathers you’ll see this Father’s Day through posted pictures, at church or the brunch restaurant or at your next-door neighbours’ home are not as perfect as they seem. In fact, they could be well-constructed masks to cover pain that might be more similar to yours than you know. Take courage to tell your story, whether beginning today or tomorrow; whether with one friend or in a more public sphere; whether in person or email or a blog. Your story will remind others that they, too, do not grieve alone. And you may even be able to put words to what someone else could never express until they read or heard what’s on your heart.