Healing from Father Wounds by James Wilson

At Gateway Church in Austin, James Wilson shared on a New Year, New You!

When a new year draws near, many of us associate this time with an opportunity to start anew. But often we fail to first explore and acknowledge the roots of the issues that rob us of the freedom we are seeking. How can we look to our pasts to ensure we create strong foundations for our future?

With your family, roommates, or life group, work through the Message Next Steps:

New Year, New You Next Steps

Watch the message James Wilson shared:

Here are the message notes from James Wilson:

A new year gives us the opportunity to start afresh!

We need to see ourselves as God sees us so we become who He created us to become.

An Orphan Mentality

Unfortunately, many of us act like orphans, because we FEEL like orphans.

Maybe you had no parents, 1 or even 2 parents at home, but you didn’t really feel seen or known, so you’ve felt and lived like an orphan to this day.  But whatever your family situation was, God has made us His children. And as I’ve discovered, not truly understanding my identity as a Son or your identity as a Daughter of the Most High God, led to so many broken ways and destructive patterns year after year—patterns or ways that at this time of year, we often make New Years Resolutions trying to change—yet what first needs to change is to stop believing and acting like an Orphan.

In my younger years, this Orphan Mentality caused me to feel like I had no one to talk to, no one who understood me, so I just began to talk to my journals. I would create entire fictional worlds to live in because I felt that I knew no safety, I decided to create it.

Even as a poet, I still enjoy character development in story and one day in researching a specific character I ran across these traits of an orphan.  I’ll just give you the ones that popped up in my life which were nowhere near fictional. See if these relate to you:

  1. Orphans have a tendency to play the victim and use prior misfortunes as an excuse for present circumstances.
  2. Orphans don’t trust authority.

Ok lets unpack this last word…authority …  my authority wasn’t trustworthy so rebellion and defiance became my norm.  Scripture has a lot to say about authority such as;

1Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.- Romans 13:1-2

Scripture calls us into submission of those placed over us… authority…but when we reject authority it brings life w/ no consequence.  No consequence makes us inconsiderate of our actions and those actions causes people to push us away.  We get pushed away and we are back on the first point here which is orphans have a tendency to play the victim and use prior misfortunes as an excuse for present circumstances.

This is how I lived my life, as an orphan in a vicious cycle of woe is me and the world was against me.  Addictions were my safe haven and it is almost impossible to fit in anywhere else in society when you’re an addict except…with other addicts. This fueled my idealized goal, which was to belong.

You see the cycle here right?

Does any of this sound familiar?

You could’ve had no parents, one or both and could be carrying some of those same traits. Your father might have been physically present but emotionally distant and never seemed interested in you.  Maybe it was your mom who was so committed to taking care of everything…but…you. Maybe both parents were home but you still felt unseen, unheard and sometimes unloved.  Because…being an orphan is a mindset…a mental trap intended to keep you from living out God’s purpose for your life. In a world filled with humans being disappointed by (and disappointing) other humans, we feel that sense of orphan-hood. It causes you to look at life through a lens of depravity and we see ourselves as operating from a spiritual and emotional inadequacy instead of see yourself as the masterpiece you are.

The good news…. God knew we would feel this way.  In a conversation Jesus was having with His disciples he said:

I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.”

Jesus was promising them a Helper, the Holy Spirit.  He was saying this to the disciples, who had already built a relationship with Jesus AND felt a sense of abandonment when he first died, then appeared to them briefly, only to have to let go of him again.  He was saying, ‘don’t worry, I won’t orphan you, I will send my Holy Spirit to be with you forever.

Here’s the full verse;  

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth…he lives with you and will be[c] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. – John 14:16-20

This is a great truth—in Christ, You are NOT an Orphan.

You know how this sounds to an orphan though, right? How often have we had someone make us a promise to be there and they let you down, repeatedly, so something in the back of our minds hears a promise like that and the Orphan questions.

I remember one day I was listening to the radio and when the Jackson 5 sang “I’ll be thereeee”… I said out loud “really Michael? Will you? You’re like 9 years old”

The Orphan mind expects to be let down, abandoned, even by God. But living with this mindset causes us problems, and God doesn’t want you to live with an Orphan mindset.

This was a very real problem for me.  As a society, this is a very real problem for us. Fatherlessness is tearing our society apart and it’s keeping us from our true identity in Christ as a son or daughter.

Here’s a staggering statistic, according to thefatherlessgeneration.wordpress.com:

  • 43% of US children live w/o their father
  • 90% of homeless and runaway children
  • 71% of teen pregnancies
  • 63% of youth suicides all come from that 43%

Fatherhood.org is an entire website geared toward correcting the problem of fatherlessness in America. It says that according to the census bureau “24 million children live w/o their biological father in their home and consequently, there is a father factor in nearly all social ills facing America today”.

So, if you’re a present father, an absent father, hope to be a father, born from a father, or you are alive and breathing this is a problem that touches you.

Maybe you’re listening as a single mom like my mom but I’m here tell you some good news for all of us.  God is not just Father for you but also for your child.  I’m evidence and proof that the Father of God and Family of God can turn all this around and He always intended to.

Abba Father

Scripture depicts many different names used to describe God. They reveal HIS characteristics, but for today I’d like to unpack one of His most significant names.  Significant to me because this characteristic is the primary one I’ve sought after.  It’s the name out of all of His names that propelled me toward and carried me along my healing journey from orphan to Son. The name I call out on when I’m at my lowest and hurting in places I didn’t even know I could feel… Abba.

  • Abba was and is a word most often used when a child was speaking to their father. Jesus came to show us God as Father.
  • 15 times in the Old Testament God is called Father, but with Jesus
  • Father is the Most Used name for God—165 times
  • Jesus uses the Greek term Father, for God, and He teaches us to do the same.
  • Abba, the Aramaic term, carries the idea of both respect and endearment that signified the close, intimate relationship of a father/son or daughter.
  • Abba comes the closest in translation to Daddy.
  • Children rely on their Abba wholeheartedly with a childlike trust.
  • It’s a word found only 3 times in the entire Bible and only by two people who had very deep relationships to God.
  • Jesus on the cross cried out “Abba all things are possible for You”
  • Twice by the Apostle Paul talking about the Spirit of Adoption that allows us to cry out Abba Father and once more where he notates that because of Jesus we can now cry out Abba Father.
  • Each time it is used it is in reference to crying out.  It’s in our worst times that we want to cry out Daddy, help me. 

We aren’t hung from a cross, but we all have something inside of us that calls out for a Father/a Daddy. It’s founded in your identity because you are created in His image and it’s because of this that we have a bond to God the Father that no one can break. 

Father Wounds

I remember when I was in the leadership development program and I would watch how Robb, who wears many hats here but for this story, he’s the director of the program, how he greeted his daughter.  He’d always kiss her so lovingly on the cheek.  I used to watch and wish I had it.  Well…one day Robb hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. I think it was a little wetter than expected because in my imagination I remember him going “uh” as he shook his head.  That moment pointed out to me that Robb is his children’s abba and not mine.

But for us all as God’s children, we all can cry out Abba.

In our society people often mistakenly attribute daddy issues to women, but God showed me how deep that wound is for me as a man. Wounds that have had me hung up for most of my life and I didn’t know it. Yeah, I’ve written poems about the sadness of growing up w/o one and the effects of it on me as a man but what was happening is God was growing me as His child. My understandings, my feelings, were evolving and I began to understand and feel this absence. I now wanted to truly feel like a son to a father.

Those father wounds kept me from connecting w/ men truly. It kept from letting men into the deep places in my soul. It’s caused me to isolate myself from them and to blame them the minute something happened that I didn’t like. It kept me very guarded and on edge. First thing a man did that upset me or hurt me, I was out! Even if not physically, I was making a list and referred back to it when it was time to judge him for all of it. It made me angry when they didn’t respond to my texts, phone calls and emails. It’s this bitter little twinge that hung on the tip of my fingers that drips like cold syrup. It was in my fingerprint and I never could really wash it off. It made it harder for me to forgive men and take responsibility when it came to them. It made me too sensitive and caused me to overreact. I dealt with every man in my life through the cracked lens, glasses which I wore from that were trampled on by my earthly father.

When a person feels abandoned, angry and afraid, our primal instinct is to panic.

Our primitive inclination for survival kicks in when we feel threatened, even when the threat is viewed through a skewed vantage point.

God wanted to heal that view and give me lenses of love. HIS LOVE.

This is a wound that we cannot hide. We need to expose it and let God heal it.

My journey from Orphan to Son has been a long one and God’s taken me through many rivers, valleys, mountaintops, etc.  It’s been countless sessions of therapy, inner healing and just late-night dinners and crying sessions with trusted friends who I could pour my heart out to. It’s been wrestling with angels in the middle of the night, long stays in the wilderness and facing down my most feared and intangible opponent. You don’t always know when you’re in it but believe me you feel it.

Let God Heal Your Father Wound

To move from Orphan to Son or Daughter, watch for signs of your longing for Abba—don’t run from the father wound, let God heal it.

Here’s what I mean by signs.

One day in my life group Larry hugged me.  His beard brushed against my face and something happened deep inside of me. He hugged me again and I felt it again and just left feeling strange.  Later that week I went to see the shack.  From the moments, the opening credits rolled, I began to tear up.  Movie hadn’t started and I was like “hold on James, stay strong”.  It wasn’t long into the movie that I begin to weep… that ugly cry. I had snot running down my neck and everything. Where the people around you don’t know what to do or say because everyone is sooo uncomfortable.  It was after I left and went home in a stupor that I realized what was happening. I wanted to be hugged by a true Father. I was longing for my daddy. I didn’t know what it felt like to lay my head on a father’s chest and sigh and cry. I never even knew I wanted to know.

God intended parents, fathers, to represent His strong, tender love to Children. If that didn’t happen for you, there’s a wound…when we hide the wound, it festers, it doesn’t heal. To heal the Orphan Mindset, you can’t run from the pain, you must face it and grieve it—but not alone–Your Abba is with you—as you let God tear off the bandage that hides the wound, yes, it will hurt—but He can heal it. When you feel that deep sadness like the one that ambushed me in that movie—don’t hide it, let God heal it as you look at it and grieve it with him.

Hear God’s truth, “Yes, you experienced loss and abandonment, and just like I was there then, I am here now to heal it, so you don’t keep living as if I’m not.”

Healing Comes in Community

So if you are serious about healing you can’t do it alone. The first thing you do is expose it to God and invite Him in.  When I did this, things began to change.  The changes looked nothing like I expected. Because the more I showed Him, the more He seemed to come closer to me.  I could feel His comfort and His gentle love as

God directed me towards my second step which was to pursue healing.

I submitted myself to counseling and prayer – prayers that at the time would eerily answer those questions that I was posting to God deep into the night.  Counseling sessions where she began to fill in the missing pieces of my soul and also eerily answered those questions.

If you’re serious about healing, you have to submit yourself to these.  The restore classes too helped me greatly.  This showed me that I wasn’t alone in what I was going through and what I was going through didn’t disqualify me as a son.

God began to show me different places where I experienced hurt and cracks in my identity and like the loving Father He is, He simply poured His love in. I kept thinking that if I showed Him or anyone else for that matter, the really bad stuff, then I’d be exiled. My orphan lens kept perpetuating that belief. 

So I did the unconventional thing, leaned into that fear, went against that voice and began to expose more of my hurt but not just to anyone.

A Trusted Few

I took my third step. I exposed my hurt to a trusted few with the help of Jesus. People kept telling me about life groups but orphans don’t want to be in life groups.

Orphans live in this broken dichotomy. Remember that cycle I mentioned earlier, orphans don’t trust anyone but they are dying to belong to anyone.  I found a life group, a few of them actually, and I planted myself into community and I grew closer to God and to those people in my life.  I learned the only way to have real love and acceptance is to be the real version of yourself.

  • Ask God to send you the people but be open to these people being nothing like you expect them to be.
  • Each of them will give you another added step to your journey and serving a different role of a collective depiction of family.
  • Draw close to them and they will continue to point you in the right direction on your journey of healing to move from orphan to son or daughter.

Scripture paint a very clear picture of God as a Father and teaches us how he can become such a Father to all of us and reassures us that God never intended for us to live apart from family.  That’s what I gained in my healing journey – not just friends turned family but God also continues to heal the cracks in my lens that prevented me from seeing the love of my blood family. We were predestined for family through Christ Jesus.

John 1:12 says: 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God

When you say “yes” to Jesus, we become God’s children; and since you are his child, you are an heir.

Act Like Abba’s Child

When I wrote this I remembered watching the Royal wedding and I noticed how Prince Harry walked a lot like Prince Charles.  From his mannerisms to his gait and that’s when I realized that inheritance is far more than just money and things.

God intended for us to inherit His traits and his love for all people.

For us to resemble Him in everything we do. After all, we were created in his image. Like children of parents, we share some of God’s spiritual DNA. Which is why in order for us to experience the benefits of his Fatherhood, we have to first experience His spirit.

…We too are heirs of God. Think about that—if you have accepted his forgiveness and leadership offered through Jesus—he gives you new life, born of His Spirit, He adopts you as his child.

1 Peter 1:3-5 It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation.

God always intended us for adoption through Jesus and not family estrangement.

John 1:12 tells us “all who received him and believed in his name he gave power to become children of God”.  

Jesus is our gateway to adoption, freedom, to the Holy Spirit and to our Abba Father.  And walking by faith is how we gain the Power to Act Like His children—in the Freedom, Innocence, Playfulness, Creativity and Joy we may have lost.

As you walk by faith—trusting His Spirit’s inner promptings, He will teach you to be FREE like a Child again.

While in the Leadership Development Program here at Gateway, I was moved to NextGen for one of my cycles.  While I was in Nextgen watching the kindergarten through 5th graders worship, it occurred to me that I had no idea what it felt like to jump around and rejoice like that.  To be free like a child.  With respect to my introvertedness coupled w/ my melancholic temperament, I had no memory of what it felt like to dance and be joyous–to just be a child.

My prayer became “daddy, let me hear the music as a child”.

One Sunday when I was feeling brave I decided I was going to “dive in” so for a split second I had this crazy idea to just act like a child… but I had to give myself this little pep talk and go “alright James, you got this…” and I gave a little jump off the ground…and said to myself “whoaaaa James, that’s enough for today. Save some of that for later”.

God used Nextgen in a powerful way, not only to redeem me as a son [who started to experience joy like a child], but also to redeem my sense of self in that I had value in a leadership role over a child. That I could not only be a son but I would make a great father.  Some of you need to realize the same.

God wants to heal you of those parental wounds, teach you to recover what was lost in your childhood, so you can be a great parent, great role model, great leader.

But you have to let him take you there… BUT HOW?

Ask God to guide you towards healing and when He shows you, be willing to follow.

God will guide you into your Freedom, Creativity, Playful, Joyful, Innocent self He created you to be.  That’s how you lose the Orphan Mindset and become His Child.  Where you can find rest and safety.

For me one of the hardest to swallow in being a son was a new concept for me.  Discipline.

Now depending on the filter you have for discipline you may or may not see discipline as a positive but children who are not disciplined and have a lack structure grow up w/ a lack of respect for themselves and authority. Remember my orphan traits.

Growing up I wanted discipline, I wanted boundaries, I wanted to know someone cared about what would happen to me in the streets and come find or even stop me. Parents, discipline is a good thing. It’s a LOVING thing.

Proverbs 3:11-12 says My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.  

To overcome the Orphan Mindset, we must submit to Abba’s Discipline.

Hebrews 12 says it this way; 7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.

The Greek word discipline in Hebrews 12 is Paidea (Pi-dea) which simply means child-training. Discipline is not just punishment, it’s training, guidance, correction—which is not always pleasant.

For me, it was through His loving discipline that He continued to direct me where I should go.

  • He allowed me to have to face the consequences and own my life.
  • To stop blaming and playing the victim and accept the fact that I was causing things to happen to me.
  • That I was causing people to respond to me the way they did.
  • His loving corrections were teaching me that He loved me far too much to let me continue living and being the way I was.
  • His guidance helped me see myself as His son and not an orphan.
  • In return I continued to submit myself to this correction instead of run away.

Here’s what I mean when I say that. Towards the end of the Leadership Development Program I encountered some hardships and hurts that God is still using to correct me. So, there was a 360 survey that went out where you get anonymous feedback on how you’re showing up.  Well, mine came back with some unexpected responses like I’m confrontational, passive aggressive, etc.

That orphan mentality rose up quick in defense but I had to remember that I have a new lens. The lens of a son… so I went back through those same steps.  I took it to God, very angrily albeit, and laid it before Him.  “God this hurt me, is this who You say I am?” His only response… “My son you are loved.  I then took it to those trusted friends with the same question. “This hurt me. Is this who you say I am?”. Their response, because they love me too much to not be better was “yeah, in some ways James, you can be this way.  But it’s not the fullness of you are.  You are loved and you are a son!”

God used these friends of mine to correct me, to guide me into a deeper intimacy and truth with Him and them. That orphan James wanted so badly to run away and nobody would’ve blamed me but the son James knew that sons and daughters don’t run.

We stay and lean into fear and pursue healing.

We accept our Daddy’s discipline and grow from it. 

I had to own my part in this mess. To orphans, Abba’s discipline is unwanted but to a child who knows they are loved by their daddy, it is welcomed.

If any of this resonates with you, please do not be dismayed for there is hope for us all.

God wants nothing more than to come into right relationship as our Abba Father. What you need to know is there is something so much better than a new years resolution… to live as a New Creation… as Abba’s child….don’t go another year as an orphan.

It doesn’t matter what your earthly father’s depiction of what a father should be, God wants to re-father you and show you how His child should walk through this life.

Know that on this side of the journey, once you’ve accepted Christ and taken your rightful place as an heir you’ll see life through a new lens.

Battles to blessings, mud to masterpiece, giants to God, broken to beautiful.

You’ll know nothing can keep you from your Daddy’s love. Not death, nor life, nor angels, nor demons, nothing present or coming, no height, depth or any created thing will be able to separate you from the love of Abba, Father which is in Christ Jesus.

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