Liza was raised by her father in a small rural farmhouse. Her childhood memories of him were pleasant and she knew that her daddy cherished his daughter.
At thirteen, Liza began to explore her world independently of her father. There were no real good-byes when she moved away from him, only less and less time spent together and eventually there was minimal contact between them. Other things now occupied her time and her heart. Her father would often call or stop by, just to talk, but Liza was too busy to set aside time for him. Infrequently, she would call and ask him for his help or for his blessing on her plans, but the conversations were brief and the relationship became more and more distant. She eventually stopped reading his letters and answering his calls, always promising herself that one day she would make up for all the lost time.
Liza hoped that her dad would see how productive and successful she was and be proud of her. This, however, was only an assumption of his desire for her because she was too busy and too tired to go to him and find out what he really thought. When she saw her brothers and sisters and heard them speak of their closeness with their father, it caused her to feel inadequate, so she would then work harder, and try to be a better person. This improved how she felt for awhile, especially when she saw that she was accomplishing far more than her siblings. An overwhelming fatigue would then settle on her, however, and she would see her father’s approval as a burden and she would wish that he wasn’t a part of her life at all. She was so torn inside. She recognized her desire to feel his approval, yet she also felt guilty for neglecting him for so long.
Liza’s siblings would tell her of her father’s spoken love for her. They told her of the joy with which he spoke of her and how he longed for their reunion. But with so many people and things occupying her time and energy, Liza was sure that she could never begin again, let alone maintain, any lasting relationship with him.
Over time, Liza became more and more frustrated. She began to have moments of desperation when she would question everything, including whether she may had lived her entire successful life in error. She’d find herself looking with envy at her brothers and sisters who had accomplished far less than she yet spoke with such joy about their lives and about their father. They saw themselves primarily as their father’s kids, and though these were all her siblings, they were certainly different than she was. Liza began to see that her identity and value was wrapped up in her goodness and achievement as a mother, wife, worker, and friend. When she saw herself as good or successful in these various roles, she would feel better, but the standard for “good” seemed to keep changing, even inside of her and she’d again find herself lacking. Could it possibly be that all of her effort and energy had been misplaced? She sure didn’t feel the satisfaction she thought she would from all she had done. What was the purpose of her life? Wasn’t it to be a good person, resulting in her happiness and fulfillment? Isn’t this what she learned in church? She worked so hard at living well but it had brought her to a very empty, lonely place. Could she call her whole journey a failure? If she did, it would be death. Death to all of who she was.
Could it be that what she longed for was a close relationship with her father? Could it be so simple? Would it be sufficient? Did her siblings have something worth considering? Could Liza abandon all she was for the sake of knowing him? Did she have to? The questions kept coming, from somewhere, leaving her feeling vulnerable and confused. She hated these feelings. Could her father even fill this emptiness in her? She didn’t know. But she did know that her current pursuits were leaving her very tired.
One sleepless night, Liza pulled out a stack of unopened letters from her father. They had been received over years, and she always intended to read them, but there was never enough time. As she began to read, she was struck by her father’s clear, heart-felt affection toward her. Could it be true? Still? Maybe when she was younger, but not now. Surely his affection toward her had changed after all of her years of indifference. Even if she did go to him now, certainly he would no longer care about her and he’d certainly be angry. As she continued to read, she noted his frequent invitations to call or stop over. She saw his promises to help her any time, in any way. He offered his presence in any circumstance. He offered his tools, his equipment, his ear, his protection, his counsel, and his comfort, all expressed with a gentle love that was so foreign to her and yet so attractive. It sounded like he meant it and that it didn’t matter how or when she came to him. It sounded like he simply cared for her, as she was, and that he neither expected nor even desired anything in return.
Liza began to believe that it may be true, this love for her, even now, from a father that perhaps never stopped loving his daughter. As she dared to believe, through her silent tears, she felt something she hadn’t felt for a long time. Peace… and hope. These were only words until this moment. She sensed a light and a warmth, that was difficult to describe. Then, she heard the sound. A faint tapping on her door. She looked up through the window and she saw his face, searching, for her? She slowly opened the door but she couldn’t face him, as she felt ashamed after all of her neglect. He gently touched her and lifted her head and she looked into his eyes. He saw her, he knew her, and yet … his eyes were so warm, so welcoming. She felt his heart for her. This, his obvious love and joy over her would be her new treasure. Nothing could ever compare. Then he said her name and nothing else mattered, and she cared no more about how long it had been, how good she was, or how poorly she had behaved toward him. She cared only that her father loved her dearly. Was it true? At this moment, in his presence, there was no doubt. This, his unconditional love, was truly the most beautiful thing she had ever experienced. All things were as new, and nothing would ever be the same. She led her father to the table and began to share about her journey. She told him everything, the joys and the sorrows. She shared her heartaches, and her failures, as well as her desire to know him again. He held her, for a long time. She knew she had come home. Nothing had changed, and yet everything had changed, because she was again his. She would now always be his. There was no one she would rather be, than his daughter, living in his continual presence, knowing his unconditional, all-forgiving, tender, tender love.
Over the years, Liza’s memory of that night and the profound grace in her father’s love for her, remained clear. She continued to walk with her father and she remained grateful for his devotion to her. At times, however, her devotion toward him waned, especially when she would focus on her goodness or achievements, rather than on his affection for her. When her heart began to leave her father, the light and warmth that she knew in his presence would fade, replaced by an insecurity and loneliness that would soon drive her back to him, apologizing for her wandering. She learned that it was in her best interest to stay close with him, and he proved this to her over and over, in counsel, in protection, and in companionship. She knew that, in fact, this was life – to know, and to be known by, her father. Life was not to grow in character, or to be good, or to serve others, or to seek happiness. Liza had tried all of them, and had forsaken them for a treasure, a treasure of more value than life itself. And He … is enough.
Perhaps you are in a place similar to Liza. I have been there, more than once. Her story is our story and her hope is our hope. Our Father and Liza’s Father are one, and knowing Him remains this life’s greatest treasure.