Maybe you're done with people. Maybe you've decided real relationships are a nice accessory to life, but ultimately not worth the pain.
Tonya was a gorgeous brunette with a pixie haircut and penetrating blue eyes. Spunky and sweet with an appetite for German literature, she had brains and personality to spare.
Chad was the class clown type with a spontaneous wit and unshakeable confidence. He possessed just a touch of street attitude, and his Asian heritage gave him a unique look that Tonya loved.
Chad and Tonya were high school sweethearts, and their closest friends thought they made a great couple. Even when she shipped off to college and he joined the Army, they stayed together. Finally, Chad mustered the courage to pop the question — and she said "yes"!
Tonya happily started planning a wedding. The groom-to-be headed to his base in Kentucky.
Now, to understand the rest of the story, you should know a few things about Tonya. Her Mom maintained very strict discipline: Tonya was perpetually grounded (even from church). Her Dad was so easy-going that he rarely said "no" to anything. Forgive me for the psychoanalysis, but I don't think Tonya felt loved by either parent.
You also need to know a few things about Chad. His folks probably loved each other once, but by the time he came along, their marriage was a mutually-beneficial cohabitation. Dad was a workaholic who was never home; Mom was there but unaffectionate. Chad learned to be popular to make people notice him.
There were some warning signs before the engagement came crashing down. Chad and Tonya shared a clingy, only-time-for-one-another dependence. They never hung out with other friends, yet Chad admitted later that he still never knew Tonya. Her feelings were an enigma. Chad's jealousy and temper were issues, too — once, he had to be physically restrained when he thought he saw a guy checking Tonya out.
But through the fights that defined their engagement, the couple stuck together. When Tonya was afraid of losing him and Chad's birthday was coming, she wrapped a bow around herself, handed him a card that said "open your present," and laid down on the bed.
It was her last-ditch attempt to make the relationship last ... but it didn't work. Soon afterwards, Chad confessed to cheating on her with a girl he'd met in Kentucky. Tonya finally told him to hit the road.
Chad almost immediately jumped into another relationship; he met and married Katie in less than a year. They had a son and a daughter together before things fell apart.
Then Katie discovered that Chad was hooked on internet porn. Later, he had a fling with a divorcee 10 years his senior. Chad started to see guys he'd never met dropping Katie off after her nights out. She finally left him with the kids and moved in with a new boyfriend.
As for Tonya, she was devastated by her breakup. She moved on to date other guys — supposedly, good Christian guys. One after another, they broke off the romances and left her alone. So finally, she got mad at God — how could he let her heart get ripped from her chest by one Christian after another? She started seeing an agnostic named David, got pregnant, and married him.
Today, Tonya has given up on God. She e-mailed one of her old girlfriends once: "If God doesn't care about me, at least I've finally found a guy who does." But for how long?
Chad and Tonya's story is true. Maybe you skimmed it and shook your head, wondering how two people could be so stupid. Or maybe you read the words with the uncomfortable feeling that they described your life.
Oh, it may be friends and family who kicked you to the curb instead of your exes. But you still try not to remember the time Dad blamed you for his failing marriage. You'd like to forget the moment somebody backstabbed you for the first time. Then there was the day you and your best friend had the big fight ... and as the dust cleared, you realized you didn't have a best friend anymore.
After that, you were done with people. You decided real relationships were a nice accessory to life, but ultimately not worth the pain.
Yet is there anything that could change your mind? Anything at all that would make you give authentic community one more shot; try again to know and be known?
The only way to really solve the problem would be to return to a time before the hurt. Personally, I have great memories of childhood — before the bullies of adolescence and backstabbers of adulthood. Being a kid had its drawbacks, but community was simpler then. You could count on a best friend who knew your name to say it ... and mean it. Forgiveness, humility and integrity came a little easier before you learned why people don't do these things.
Unfortunately, I don't have a time machine to offer for a trip to first grade.
Yet maybe there's one more option to find the courage for community — a dangerous one. If you could believe, really believe, that one person loved you without a shadow of betrayal, would that give you courage to seek community one more time? Would knowing you could come home to the arms of a faithful friend change anything?
Yeah, you've heard this pitch before. God loves you right where you're at; Kumbayah and pass the tissues.
But do you believe it? Clearly, Chad and Tonya didn't.
Try to imagine, just for a moment, that you're a kid again. Recess is the best part of your day and a new box of crayons is a rare treat. A cardboard box is enough to take you to Mars and back! But there is one big problem in your life:
When the 3 p.m. bell rings, you don't have a Mommy or Daddy to meet you at the door.
So many of us feel orphaned from relationships in our lives; now suppose you really are an orphan. You live with some people who are nice most of the time and keep food in your tummy, but it's not the same as what the kids at school have at their houses. You know that if you could find a Dad or Mom, everything would be different. You'd love better and live stronger ... because at least one person would always be there to catch you when you fall!
One day, just as you're sitting down to dinner at the group home where you live, you hear some big news. Tomorrow, there's a man coming to adopt one of the children from this house! The room is abuzz with anticipation.
Now, a few of the kids say they don't care; they like things just the way they are. But you're not so jaded yet. You're young enough to believe it could be you, and you go to bed with an incredible dream in your heart: Tomorrow, you might find a Daddy.
The next morning, the man everyone has been talking about arrives. He's tall and imposing; just a little scary — but he has a broad smile that banishes any uncertainty. He talks with all the kids in the house; even gets down to play with the girls' dollies and heads out back for a quick game of pick-up football with the boys.
You stand off to the side, but all the while, you're thinking, "Please, pick me ... please choose me as your very own." Your eyes reach out pleadingly, but you know he couldn't possibly want you. You can't throw the ball like Dakota or read thick books like Brandy. You're not a smart or good or handsome kid — never the one who gets picked for special things.
But suddenly, the man who came to pick a child is standing directly in front of you. You look 'way up into his eyes as he smiles and extends his hand, motioning for you to come along.
You wordlessly point at yourself — "Me?" He can't possibly be choosing you! But he nods and you step away from the group. He takes your tiny hand in his, and as all of the other kids look on with unfulfilled longing, you walk out of the house hand-in-hand. He has chosen you to be his child!
"What's your name, sir?" you ask timidly.
"Hmmm ... I guess I have a few," he says. "But why don't you call me 'Daddy'?"
You are amazed. "Daddy" is the one who the kids at school talk about tucking them into bed every night. He's the one who takes you cool places and pushes you really high on the swing! Your friend Taylor says Dads can fix whatever goes wrong, from a skinned knee to a flat bike tire.
You hardly dare believe you finally have a parent of your own.
The days pass quickly as you spend time with your new Daddy. You begin to realize that something is different about him; he's no ordinary man. He's much, much bigger than you thought at first.
One day he takes you to the beach, and you reach the sand just as the sun is going down. You watch the colors change and the red ball dip below the horizon. You know by now Daddy is more than just a nice man who cares for you. So you turn to him and ask timidly: "Daddy, is it true ... did you make this sunset?"
He looks down at you and smiles: "I did. Do you like it?" You nod in mute wonder, overwhelmed with the magnificence of your Father's world.
Then he musses your hair and says something even more remarkable. "You know, kid, someday all of this is going to be yours. This beauty, this joy and awe, this fleeting glimpse of eternity — you'll enjoy it every day for a trillion trillion years. One day, you'll join me in ruling a kingdom greater than any the world has ever known."
You look up at your Daddy and take his big hand in yours, so proud of everything he's made, and strangely humbled that one day you'll share in his heaven.
When you get home, you unpack your book bag and show Daddy your papers from school. He tells you he wants you to try harder in math, and you feel a little ashamed. But you understand — sometimes, Daddies have to discipline their kids to help them get better.
Yet he doesn't end with a rebuke. He takes one of your coloring worksheets from the stack of homework and hangs it up with a fridge magnet, telling you he's very proud of that one.
You're puzzled — the lines were really tiny on that paper and you couldn't quite stay inside them with your crayons; the teacher gave you a frowny-face. "Daddy, why do you like this one?" you ask timidly.
"Because on that picture, I know you tried your hardest," he says.
Nothing Can Separate
Later that night as your Daddy tucks you into bed, there's one thing bothering you. You know that even when you do your best, you can't be good all the time. Some of the kids in your group home talked about their Daddies hitting them, or calling them bad words that hurt more than the hitting. And because of their stories, you can't shake off a hidden fear that one day, your new Daddy will stop loving you and send you back to the home, deciding you aren't worth the trouble anymore.
So just before he turns out the light, you screw up all your courage and ask a question: "Daddy ... what makes you stop loving your kids?"
"Me?" he says. "Absolutely nothing."
"But what about when I do something really bad?"
"Nothing can separate you from my love," he replies.
"What if I can't figure things out in math and get an F?"
"Nothing can separate you from my love."
"What if I get hit by a car and die?"
"Nothing can separate you from my love."
"What about when I come home and it doesn't look like you're here, and I wonder if you went away?"
"Nothing can separate you from my love."
Your Daddy can tell you've run out of questions for now, so he gives you a kiss on the forehead and a big hug. But before he leaves the room, he sits down on the edge of the bed and looks you in the eyes.
"I love you, kiddo," he says. "I love you in good times and bad. I love seeing you seek after me; helping you and comforting you. I loved you before the world began, and I'll love you all the way through eternity."
Then he starts to leave the room, but before he goes, you have to say — not just because it's habit, but because it's the deep truth in your heart — "I love you, Daddy."
And he responds, "I love you too, my chosen one."
Just like Tonya and Chad's sad tale, just like your own narrative of broken relationships, this happy story is true. If you follow Jesus, you can call God "Daddy" because He's adopted you. It has nothing to do with the circumstances of your birth or how "spiritual" you are. According to Romans 8, God chose you to be his child and by faith you followed Him.
I'd like to finish Chad and Tonya's stories with a "happily ever after." The truth is, I don't know where they are today. It's my belief that they're still adopted by Jesus, but last I heard, that truth hadn't sunk in. And so they continue living only the losses and labeling of community.
Yet hope isn't gone, because the wonder of adoption by grace is standing in mute testimony to love. And so someday, Chad and Tonya may see the Source of Agape in a whole new way, and gain the courage to try one more time for something better as they contemplate God's unfailing love.
They've spent a long time not believing it — not really. Maybe you have, too. But if you ever allow it to seize your life, that won't be the end of your story. Instead, it's a new beginning — the beginning of a fresh start to community, and a much, much deeper relationship with the Friend that never leaves or forsakes you. In fact, you can call this Friend "Daddy" if you want, because nothing can separate you from his love.
That's what God is whispering to your heart. Do you believe it?
Copyright 2008 George Halitzka. All rights reserved.