Your Parents Do Not Define You

By Kathryn Gibbs

I sat there watching her during church; a little girl wide-eyed and filled to the brim with joy, sweetly standing on her father’s lap. She threw her arms back in pure bliss, anticipating the moment her dad would gently catch her in his arms. Sure enough, he did. I smiled from a few rows behind while looking at them because a few minutes before, I had asked God in prayer to show me just how much I meant to Him as His daughter.


He knows that the image I have of a father is not the same image He holds as a good Father-as the most perfect, Heavenly Father. It was as though God was reminding my heart in that moment: Trust that I am always with you, wanting to hold you close to My heart, here to catch you when you need the security and peace of My love. 


Blessed Mother Teresa said, “Love begins by taking care of the closest ones-the ones at home.” Every child looks for a home of belonging and love in their parents’ hearts. No matter what the age, children long to know: Mom, do you see me? Dad, do you love me? Do I make you proud? Do I matter? I started asking myself those questions as a teenager when my dad left and I lost the presence of a good dad at home (in fact, over 20 million children in the Untied States do not have fathers physically present at home-so engaged, loving fathers really do matter and deserve to be recognized).


Just as God whispers, I think Satan whispers even softer, until we gradually accept thoughts that seem true, right, and normal. I subtly started to believe that there was a lack within me-accepting lies that questioned if only you were more lovable or if only you were worth it. Notice that I named those as lies though because there are no “if”s about my worth.


There are no “if’s” about your worth either as a beloved child of God. The only requirement that God puts on His love is whether you choose to let Him love you and if you are willing to let His grace work within you, just as you are, in all of your mess. For the ladies, you can breathe in God’s truth for you when He says, “Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you” (Matthew 9:22). For the guys striving to be men of true strength and virtue (or questioning what that looks like), find rest in what God told Christ and tells you always, when He says: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).


I know how hard it must be to really believe these words but someone’s inability to love you in the way you deserve or need them to love you is not a reflection on you or anything you lack; you are not defined by anything other than your immeasurable worth as God’s beloved daughter or son.  


As hard as it may be, you have to find your worth in the One who has loved you first (1 John 4:19). Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15) and I think an honest prayer is turning to God and asking the same question: Who do you say that I am? How do you love me? How do you name me as your own when I don’t know how to name myself? I think God the Father is most proud when we can be dependent on Him as His children. The God who is with us only wants one thing: to give us Himself and His infinite Love so that we might be able to give ourselves back to Him. Jesus comes to us so that we can have a life of abundance, which also means knowing that we are abundantly loved by Him.


We glorify the Father by letting Him in because receving His love within our own imperfect hearts means loving the imperfections of other’s hearts, including what is often limited or hurting. When we ask Jesus for the grace to love well from His own heart of mercy, the doubts behind “can I do this?” or “will I be okay?” seem to lessen. We finally reach a place where we are able to give of ourselves, just as Christ gave of His whole self on the cross and continues to give of Himself in the Eucharist, for our own sake.


So what can you do for yourself and for the people in your life who have loved you with a less than-unconditional love? You have the beautiful freedom to forgive and heal the struggles that hold your heart down because God did not create our hearts to hold onto that which breaks them. I would be lying to you if I said reaching out to my dad recently and going to see him after years of separation was easy or painless. However, hiding hurt deep in your heart is like leaving a wound open and untreated-eventually it infects your capacity to love and be loved. Thankfully though, the Church is a field hospital for sinners, which means that Jesus is always ready to mend the open wounds of our hearts, especially through the Sacraments and prayer.


One of my prayers was, “God, I don’t know if I can do this but I know that You can so I will let your grace do this for me.” I definitely did not “have it all figured out” but whatever you lack, God gives in grace because He is faithful. Forgiveness is not about denying that any pain occurred-but it does deny the lies that say you are less than. Forgiveness is also not about excusing any hurt you have experienced-but it does excuse you from becoming a life-long victim to someone else’s hurts.


If you are struggling with a parent or a loved one, ask the Holy Spirit to fill any tension or division with His presence of love (the same presence that unites God and His Son). Before I left to see my dad, I prayed that the Holy Spirit would give me the gift of courage to be brave because God can work wonders when we say “yes” to being most uncomfortable and inconvenienced. As Saint John Paul II said, “If He asks much of you, it is because He knows you can give much.”


Also, pray for the gift to understand as God understands, which brings about mercy and compassion. Compassion-translated in Latin to compati, which means “to suffer with” or enter into someone’s brokenness. Maybe, we all struggle to love well at one point or another-some because of a pain hidden in the past, others because of a self-image still in search of Christ. You should pray for those people in your life, especially in your family, because they have their own wounds to heal but those wounds are not yours to carry into the future.  Be patient with God and gentle on yourself. The truth is: you are not and never were the forsaken; you have always been called the Father’s beloved.


P.S. You are enough.

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