NOTE: I originally sent this to my email list on Sept 4, 2022 and have since had requests to share it, so I republished it here. I hope it encourages you.
My father was buried this week.
That statement’s not as loaded as it sounds. You see, we didn’t know each other, my father and me.
We’d spent time together on a handful of occasions in the 50 years since he left my mom — left us — to start another family.
But we didn’t know-know each other.
And I’d made peace with his absence decades ago. As a college sophomore— after years of writing to him, longing for a response— I’d made a pact with myself: if he doesn’t respond to my next letter, I’ll stop initiating contact. No hard feelings; it’s just too painful to continue putting myself out there and hoping he notices me.
He didn’t respond and, in what may have been my first truly grown-up moment, I let go.
Of reaching out.
Of needing his approval.
Of hoping he’d love me the way I wanted him to.
Since then, we’d been in sporadic contact; we’d even spent some time together in person. But my boundary was firm: he had to initiate, and I would be free to reciprocate.
His role was more Flaky Out-of-State Uncle than Father.
So I didn’t expect his death to make me sad. Or angry. Or relieved.
But it did.
- Sad for him that he’d died alone.
- Angry that I’d never told him how much his absence hurt me— and now I never could.
- Relieved that I no longer had to hope for his love or approval.
That last bit — the relief — surprised me the most.
Because I thought I’d already let go of my need for his approval.
But it turns out, that’s a really hard thing for us humans to do.
How ‘bout you?
How often are your feelings of self-worth tied to the approval of another human?
Perhaps it’s a relative.
Perhaps it’s someone who doesn’t even know you very well.
Perhaps, as in the case of my dad, it’s both.
Maybe you tell yourself their opinion doesn’t matter, but you still carry it hidden in your heart.
You’re not alone.
Many of us harbor deep wounds or feelings of unworthiness based on another person’s behavior toward us.
But here’s the thing: that person will go to the grave some day. And when they do, they can’t approve or disapprove of you. It’ll be impossible.
In light of my father’s death, one thing I know for certain: I spent too much of my life force hoping for the approval of someone who didn’t even know me, someone who was mortal, like me.
Psalm 118:6 reminds us: “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (NIV)
I’d always interpreted that verse from a physical perspective— as in, “do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28a, NIV). Now I see it from a different vantage point.
“What can mere mortals do to me?”
If my dad’s opinions— or my beliefs about his behavior— can no longer harm me now that he’s passed, could I have avoided being hurt so much by them when he was alive?
I’ve spent the past few days wondering if other people hold too much sway in my life as well.
Perhaps you’ll find the questions I’ve been asking myself useful, too:
- Whose mortal opinions are still hiding in my heart?
- What story from my past includes someone in a starring role they haven’t earned or don’t deserve?
- What beliefs am I holding onto that would no longer hurt me from the grave?
The person your feelings of self-worth are tied to? They will pass away some day, and their opinions will mean nothing.
How might you remind yourself of this fact now, so that their behaviors don’t affect you as much in the present?
Psalm 118 continues:
“The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans.” (Psalm 118:7-8, NIV)
My Friend, may you remember — today and always — that your value comes from God, not from a mere mortal.
Jehovah created you in His image, He knit you into being, He’s counted the hairs on your head, and He’s promised to protect you. (Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139:13, Luke 12:7, Psalm 91:14)
Let’s me and you agree, here and now, to stop letting mere mortals determine our worthiness.
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