Bad Dad, Good Dad
Exploring Belief, 12th Sep 2016 no comments
How an unexpected sense of Christ’s presence gave Tony Hemmings the permission to express his anger and experience a Father’s love.
It’s OK. Thump him
It took a whole week on a prayer counseling retreat for me to have my first experience of the presence of the living and loving father God, even tho I’d been a Christian for 14 years (of the born again variety) and held various positions of responsibility in our church.
It came in the form of a vision – like a dream while you’re awake. There I was, a boy of about 8, waist high to my father, punching his belly and screaming with all the strength I could muster. I then felt what I can only describe as an awareness that Jesus was right by my side. It was as though he was encouraging and cheering me on, saying “It’s OK. Thump him. I’m with you. It’s OK to express what you really feel.”
It was such an incredible release, and I just couldn’t stop, there were so many years of pent up feelings to be released. But how extraordinary that, in Christ, my heavenly father was holding me in love as I was bashing the hell out of my earthly father. This wasn’t the sort of fathering I was used to.
My Dad was a deacon, elder and preacher, until senility overtook him. He was revered and adored by most to whom he ‘ministered’, but backstage, in the family, where he was entirely dysfunctional, there was so much hurt. He was abusive, controlling and emotionally cold. My counseling/therapeutic skills were developed at the kitchen table with my helpless and depressed mother as my first ‘client’.
The abuse, as I would describe it, included compulsory church attendance all my childhood twice on Sunday, with more meetings in between. For many years we were part of a House church that met in our home, so there was no escape. Under Dad’s merciless eye my obligations and obedience to his demanding, judgemental God were monitored and controlled with ruthless scrutiny. I felt I was being punished just for being myself. Dad didn’t know me, or love me, in the way I so needed him to.
It has taken years to learn what a love relationship with God and others can be, that delight, fun, and spontaneity are all part of the package. But I can no longer manage ‘church’. I can’t now respond to God under orders, or to a set formula. I can’t be told what I should believe and how I should express that belief. If I cannot be myself, with my whole spectrum of emotions and doubts, then I don’t do religion.
But what has developed for me latterly is a new spirituality that is not dependent on labels or mental constructs. Instead it’s more to do with an inner awareness of God, and a deepening response to the Spirit within, in the light of all I’ve learned. My wife and I no longer feel obliged to attend the same church every week, and have come alive as a result. I can now respond to the one who said “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly”, with joy and appreciation.
Tony Hemmings worked in BBC Television before training as a Relate Counselor and Conjoint Marital Therapist. He became Principal Therapist at the Kenward Trust for sufferers of substance abuse. He describes his spiritual life now as “moving deeper into the reality of the presence of God, moment by moment,” as he practices a more contemplative spirituality and continues to meet and talk with others seeking a new path to faith.