By Andy Zoppelt
The story is often told that a child first develops their relationship with God from their dad; I would like to dispel that myth if possible. My dad “seemed” never to really care for me. I can’t remember him ever telling me he loved me. He often called me names and discouraged me every time I would try to succeed. I never had feelings of love for my dad and often expressed to others how much I disliked him.
I remember one day my dad told me he didn’t know how long he would live; I remember the thought I had: “I couldn’t care less.”
We lived on a 60 acre farm about 20 plus miles outside of Pittsburgh, one day I took it upon myself to run a new fence about 200 feet along his garden to keep the cattle in their grazing area. I dug the holes and would go up to the wooded area and cut down the locus trees and use them for the post. The ground was hard and I worked all day in hopes my dad would be proud of me and hopefully I would win his favor. He came home from work (I was 16 at the time) and when he saw the fence, he complained that the fence was not perfectly straight and got angry with me. I was discouraged and angry. It seemed discouragement and anger were the feelings I experienced with my father and I judged him harshly because of it.
My dad died when I was 38 and a Christian. I remember looking into his casket and looking at a man I had no feelings for nor expected to miss. For many years many Christians would try to understand my indifference towards my father… but, for me, it was the truth and it expressed the honest feelings I felt towards him. The shock at my lack of love for my father was not easy to understand. I was convinced that I knew of no other way to express my feelings for him and the negative attitude he seemed to have left me. I blamed him for much of my short comings. We often find it easy to blame others for our lack of love and the pain we suffer.
I subtly fueled my revenge for my dad every time I talked about him; it gave me grounds to prove what a poor father he was and it provided me with the grounds to excuse my behavior. It also provided me the fuel to excuse my weaknesses and sins which often led me into self-love…. self-pity. It gave me the right to “be” what I was without dealing with “who” I really was… a rebel!
Such relationships often provide us with the excuse for our lack of love and obedience; we don’t have to deal with a real and honest searching in our own hearts, we feel free to put the blame elsewhere… We are just "more" unfortunate than others because of our upbringing.
Certainly self-pity finds a way… but that is something we are use to. Such behavior convinces us that our problem lies outside and beyond ourselves, thus we look for deliverance rather than dealing with our responsibilities to His cross. The fact is we don’t want to die, we clutch to our needs like a spoiled child determined to have a cookie.
January 3, 2007
While doing some inspections in Hialeah Florida, as I was driving down the road I saw an image of my dad standing before me. I looked at him and stared at him; he stood there and said nothing. He had a kind of half smile on his face and a look of peace on him. As I stared at him I began to cry… I loved him! I began to realize he was a man like me, one who makes many mistakes and was often misunderstood. He did what he knew and was driven by forces beyond his understanding and feelings he could not control. Only truly in Christ can we find life for our life. My natural, self-centered, self-grabbing life could not experience love because I was too in love with myself. True love understands and draws on compassion to relate to others. Selfishness becomes angry when it is not catered to and when it is not given what it demands. The self-centered, self-pitying person cannot see beyond their needs. Such people (like myself) set themselves up for Satan’s lie. We hold onto our excuse, because it is our right to be what we are. We believe: “Truly God will look upon my extreme misfortune and have mercy on me.” We forget that God has mercy on those who have mercy on others. We remember and hold on to the faults of others instead of forgiving them.
For years I was bound and limited by my own judgments. My many excuses for my failures were not working with God anymore and it was time to deal with the real problem: my excuse for my rebellion toward God!
I was broken and crushed, my excuses exposed… I was an emperor without clothes. I wept and cried for my lack of real love for my father. I loved my dad and was sorry for not seeing his love for me… as ignorant and driven as he was. He too was a man with many problems, but I was too selfish to see them. He was judged every time he fell short of my evaluation of him and my expectation for him to meet my selfish needs. “He failed me!!!” was the cry of my deceived heart. I was trying to suck the life out of him for my own selfish needs. How could I help him and love him when I was too busy trying to help and love me.
I truly miss him now. I miss sitting at the table and eating with him as my mother put the food on the table. I miss working with him. I wish I could see him again and tell him how sorry I am for having been such a selfish son.
He had gone through so much in his life and I was too concerned about myself to see it. He had 3 children during the time of the great depression. He lost his job and he finally lost his home. He grabbed his children and moved into a shack with no heat except for a wood burning stove in the kitchen. There was no refrigerator, no hot water, bath tub or shower, only an old commode in a dirt covered floor in the basement. The electricity would be turned off from time to time because he didn’t have the money to pay the bill. We rarely had good food on the table, my mother did the best she could with making homemade bread and food from the government. My mother told me that she thought my dad had a nervous breakdown, she said he would lie in bed for days and would not get up. Where did he get his hope? Who was there to support him? My self-centered love could not truly love him, I was too busy thinking love was all for me. Oh how selfish and self-centered I was, I could only understand “my” pain. How we fail to truly understand the motives of others. I guess we are just too busy understanding and surveying every inch of our own pain.
My mother told me that he was once a man full of life until he lost everything he had. I am convinced I would not have done any better if I were given his circumstances. Do we, who want so much forgiveness and mercy, fail to have forgiveness and mercy on others? Most relationship fail because of unforgiveness and the expectation we put on others; of course we are driven to have others fill our selfish love’s needs. It would have been a different relationship if I loved my dad and cared for his pain. But I never tried to understand him, I was too busy understanding what he wasn’t doing for me.
I could have been a better son if I wasn’t driven by my own obsession and selfishness. It was the deep rooted selfishness that had driven me to be the wild person I was before I met the Lord. I learned to blame others for my problems as I grew up and found it hard to trust anyone. Unforgiveness and bitterness which led to depression was the result of my selfishness.
As I walk with the Lord, there seems to be no end to the Lord’s dealing and the uncovering of “my” sins of selfishness. Jesus is setting me free to love people more...its not easy to love like Jesus loved. Never look for a friend to agree with you, look for one that will tell you the truth so you can be free.
God truly is our Father and we misunderstand Him just as much also. If we lose our lives for His sake, we shall surely find His life and that more abundantly. Only His life can satisfy us, why do we look elsewhere and for other things for happiness?
The day I saw my dad in a vision, I realized how much I failed “him.” As a result of that day I have become a greater vessel to receive and give my heavenly Father’s love to others. That day something left my body, and I felt a greater freedom to love and understand beyond my own selfish needs. To be filled with love can only come as we truly understand others. We must put a stop in the time we spend in self pity and on our self-centered life and its selfish needs. Brokenness brings compassion and the Holy Spirit finds a way through such brokenness to reveal Himself through us to others. The only reason we get angry with others is because we don’t fully love them. Only love and life touches people… intellect and selfishness are hindrances to His purposes.
We are bound in our judgments and selfishness and we will progress no further. We can hide with our justifiable hurts and shortcomings, but in the end it brings the fruit of death. The more I realized my rebellion was because of my judging of others for selfishness sake, the freer I was to love Him. Whenever we find a hurting person, we often find unforgiveness at its heart. Whenever we truly free others from their sins against us, we free ourselves from the inner condemnation that hinders our love.
I truly love my heavenly Father and my earthly father that He gave me. I only wish I could have seen his love from an unselfish heart. Oh how I wish I could have loved him and supported him. How wonderful it would have been to have enjoyed my dad rather than judge him. I missed the love I could have experienced, if only my love would not have given up so easily and if I never permitted my expectations to be the standard for his love. The proud hate to be emptied, but the humble rejoice… for with each emptying of ourselves there is a filling of Himself. We often like to talk of a God of unconditional love for ourselves, but not for others.
Truly our heavenly Father loves us and is working in us to be one with Him in Spirit and in Truth. I pray this will speak to your heart and maybe of a failing relationship you might be experiencing. Your pain will never be healed in your judgments, but in your forgiveness and compassion. God can never heal a relationship where there is unforgiveness, criticism, bitterness and anger. Our relationship with others must go beyond our “need” for them. Our desperate need for them to give us happiness is often the thing that drives them away. Too often love is confused with what others can do for us, rather than what we can do for them… love has no end!
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance… Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. Let love be your highest goal!”
1 Cor 13:4-7, 13-14:1, NLT.