In our church service last Sunday, the Spirit led us into an extended time of worship and our pastor let it continue rather than bringing the Word. I thank God for his obedience. The decision was a courageous one but it enabled such a wonderful time of ministry that impacted many. At the beginning of the week, he encouraged us to share our experiences of that time on a Facebook post but I want to use this blog to do that instead.
One of the worship songs was Way Maker (Leeland, Better World, Track 3, 2019). This is quite a new song for me but it stirred up something inside from the first listening. On Sunday though, every time I got to the words ‘promise keeper’, I was unable to sing them as I started to cry. It’s not unusual for me to get emotional during worship if a particular song speaks to me so I didn’t really think too much of it, other than to enjoy this intimate time with God, but it was something I dwelt on later as I reflected on the service.
In order to write about this reflection, I need to give you some background into my childhood and my relationship with father figures. This was something I was going to write about anyway, before my experience on Sunday, so it’s all worked out rather well.
This is Me: My Mum and Dad separated when I was 2-years-old. Dad was an alcoholic and a gambler and Mum had had enough. We stayed in the same, small Somerset town but moved house and she began a relationship with another alcoholic: this time, a violent one. He moved in with us leaving Mum for dead a couple of times with his alcohol-fuelled rages. Some of those rages he took out on me too. I remember being terrified of him although I would only have been 4 or 5 at the time.
I was still in contact with my own Dad and would see him on weekends but, being an alcoholic, he wasn’t particularly reliable and I remember not seeing him for what seemed like weeks on end. I have a very vivid memory of sitting on a low wall outside a house just down the road with my little shiny, plastic ladybird bag which contained one thing: a photo booth strip of two photos of me and my Dad that had been taken in the bus station the previous year. (He had the other two). I had my two photos in my hand and was staring at them wondering if I would ever see my Dad again.
The violence continued at home with my Mum’s boyfriend and, when I was 6, we ran away in the middle of the night to stay with a friend in Chipping Sodbury. Mum got a job in Bristol and that’s where we settled. It wasn’t long before my Mum married again but my stepdad did not treat me like I was his own daughter and when my sister came along, the difference in treatment became very noticeable. I still saw my own Dad. He’d come up from Somerset on the coach and pick me up for a few days, but again, he wasn’t always reliable. I have a clear memory of waiting on the stairs with my coat on and suitcase packed but he didn’t turn up. After a phone call by my Mum, the coat came off and the bag was unpacked. At the time I didn’t understand what had happened but as an adult, I assume he had been on some kind of bender and had forgotten he was coming or maybe he was sleeping off a hangover?
I don’t really know why, but my stepdad’s lack of emotional connection to me began to rub off on my Mum and she also became distant. I didn’t really feel part of the family and spent many nights crying myself to sleep.
After deciding to move house and being gazumped 3 times, my Mum and stepdad found a house in Hillfields. We moved in when I was 15. The first time I walked to the bus stop for school, I saw a girl standing there who I knew. She wasn’t someone I was friendly with but we got chatting and eventually became best friends. She invited me to her house and I was welcomed into her family. Her Mum and Dad were lovely and I often ate there and stayed the night. I spent more time there than at my own home and certainly felt more loved.
The whole family were Christians and every now and again they would invite me to church. I always politely declined until one day I thought, ‘why not?’. The church was as welcoming and loving as they had been. I was now a part of a church family as well as my friend’s family and although home life didn’t improve, I now felt I belonged somewhere.
Once I married and moved out, my relationship with my Mum improved but it wasn’t until I was 31 that things with my stepdad got better. Before that, he would go upstairs every time I visited and if I was there for tea, he would plate something up for everyone except me. If he was buying takeaway, it would be the same: something for everyone apart from me. The change in 2001 was instant, literally overnight, and can only have been a move of God. We now get on really well and he is very loving and supportive, as is my Mum. I thank God for that.
My own Dad found God after nearly dying of alcohol poisoning when I was in my early twenties. His Dad had been one of the founding members of the Pentecostal movement in the UK and I’m sure he was leaping around heaven at the news! Two of his immediate family, who he had no doubt prayed for while he was alive, had been saved. He remained a recovering alcoholic until he died 6 years ago. I thank God for that too.
Even so, the upshot of these difficulties with father figures in my life is that I found having a relationship with Father God difficult. Jesus was who I turned to. He was ‘friend’, ‘brother’, ‘saviour’, ‘Lord’ and having a relationship with Him was easy. It took me decades to figure out why I didn’t turn to the Father, just to the Son but I worked through it, with prayer, counselling, ministry and time spent with God until I felt everything was sorted.
That was until I was reflecting on Sunday’s service and why the line ‘promise keeper’ effected me so much during the worship. I was talking to God about it and it hit me right between the eyes. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt that I could rely on God, that he was a ‘promise keeper’. Where I had been let down by other father figures in my life, He was always going to keep His promises. He was always going to show up. He was never going to let me down.
For the longest time, I felt that I couldn’t ask God for anything for myself. I could pray for others but I believed He wouldn’t answer prayers for me because I hadn’t been good enough. I still had this notion that God could be capricious; that he punished wrong doing with the removal of nice things. There were no presents for naughty girls.
I was overcome with the realisation that I could come to God for my own needs. That His promise was for me as well as everyone else. It sounds strange that I even thought I couldn’t before, but it was just a given in my previous way of thinking. Father’s were not to be relied upon because they let you down. Don’t ask because you’ll only be disappointed.
Well. God is not in the habit of disappointing us. He is faithful and just (Deuteronomy 32:4), not one word of His promises fail us (1 Kings 8:56) and we can can ask for anything in His name (Mark 11:24).
I’m still working with this revelation and seeing what it means for me...what it will look like in my walk with God but isn’t that part of the point of our relationship with Him? That we grow and mature; that we are challenged and respond; that we reflect and explore, all within the boundaries our loving Father provides?
Is there an area in YOUR life that God is prompting you to reflect upon? Why don’t you explore it with Him and see where it takes you.