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As a father, I’ve experienced plenty of moments that every father dreads. I’ve watched my wife and newborn daughter almost die during childbirth. I’ve helplessly watched my 7-month-old son roll off of his changing table. I’ve had to let my 3-year-old daughter undergo surgery without me by her side. I’ve witnessed countless tumbles, scraped knees, cuts and bruises.
I’ve recently experienced another first: How do I help my college-aged daughter who is hurting?
I will always be Taylor’s daddy. As the Lord says in Jeremiah 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” I will always love that precious girl. She captured my heart from the moment I saw her 19 years ago. But in the past when she was hurting, I could pick her up, hold her in my arms, and kiss her pain away.
Nowadays, it’s just not that simple. Since Taylor now lives outside my home (she is a freshman in college), how can I best help her when she experiences great pain and disappointment?
Like so many young people these days, Taylor is an avid blogger. I just read her most recent post, and it broke my heart. Here is an excerpt:
Here is the question that has been spinning around and around in my mind these past few weeks. The question that has kept me from writing papers, from drying tears, and that probably had something to do with the 20 percent I got on a Biology quiz last week. (Not even kidding.) This question is literally starting to consume my life: Am I worth it?
Am I pretty enough? Am I smart enough? Am I skinny enough? Am I healthy enough? Am I good enough? Am I worth people's time, people's love and people’s encouragement? And my answer lately has been a big fat: I DON'T KNOW.
I have always asked myself this question, and logically, the answer is, "Of course you're worth it!" People have always told me I am, right? I mean that's what your God says is true about you ...
But when I've looked at what's going on in my life currently, there have been so many more things pointing in the NO direction. I mean, when I constantly have boys, employers, professors and peers all around me leading me to believe that I just flat out don't live up to their standards, and that I probably never will, can you blame me for starting to believe them?
As her daddy, I want to hold my little girl in my arms and weep with her. I want to tell her that everything will be OK. I want to explain how she looks through my eyes. I want to make her realize that she is worth it, that she’s pretty, smart, skinny and healthy – that she’s more than just good enough, she’s incredible!
But what does she really need from me? It seemed so simple back when she was younger and living at home. Now, to tell you the truth, I’m really not sure.
I’ll call my daughter later today and cry with her. I’ll listen to her broken heart. But I don’t think I’ll try to fix it and make her pain go away. And that’s hard for me.
I want her to feel better, no doubt. But more than anything, I want her to know the truth, and that’s not for me to say. Taylor’s heavenly Father is the real source of truth, and I want my daughter to hear His voice.
When we pray, we get to speak to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit – the Truth. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth (John 16:13). I want Taylor to read about who she is in Christ. The Scriptures are overflowing with verse after verse about the truth of who we were created to be. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), and since you are “precious” and “honored in my sight” (Isaiah 43:4). God said that Taylor was “made in his image” (Genesis 1:27), and that she is His “treasured possession” (Exodus 19:5). God’s Word says that my daughter is Christ’s “glorious inheritance” (Ephesians 1:18). But I really believe that she needs to hear these truths from her heavenly Father for herself.
My prayer is that my daughter will feel loved not only by me, but will seek out God’s answer to her question: Am I really worth it? My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart (Psalm 73:26).
For you dads with an older daughter, I could sure use your sage advice if I should be doing something different. How do you handle these things with your daughter?
Greg Smalley (@FocusMarriage) is a contributor for Dad Matters blog and the Executive Director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family.
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I understand. Our teenage son was recently diagnosed with adolescent depression. He is now in counseling and on medication. I am not making recommendations, but the medication does make a difference (It balances serotonin levels.). He was talking like your daughter but worse - talking about having no future and wishing he were dead. Your daughter probably just needs to talk with a trusted pastor or Christian counselor who can help her find a Biblical way to sort out her thoughts and feelings. Your instincts right now are correct - stay connected and love her. I'll include you and Taylor in my prayers.
"I want her to feel better, no doubt. But more than anything, I want her to know the truth, and that’s not for me to say. Taylor’s heavenly Father is the real source of truth, and I want my daughter to hear His voice."
What?! You have the power to comfort your distressed daughter, but you'd rather wait for God to do something? And what happens when all she gets from God is silence? For the love of Mary, man, get your head on straight and act like a father, not like some mystic waiting for an apparition to show up and do something.
I know that you asked for advice from dads.... but I wanted to share my comments and say that I agree with your thoughts! I have a daughter who is currently a Sophmore and living away from home. I had 18 years to plant God's truth into her heart. Now, as our relationship has grown, I've felt that it's the time for me to do more listening and encouraging, rather than preaching. (She already knows what I would say anyway!) I continue to be on my knees daily for her and she knows it. We can't shield our children from pain anymore or easily fix their problems.... but God can. He's big enough. He's the One we all desperately need and He wants to be the One we run to FIRST. As adults, our children need to grasp that truth and unfortunately it often takes intense pain to really experience His amazing comfort, power, and unfailing love. 1 Peter 1:6-7 "So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine." My heart's desire is for all 6 of my children to take hold of God's truth for themselves and to grow into people that trust wholeheartedly in Him. I hope that I can I share in their faith journey, but I know that I can't be their conductor forever.
But can't God talk to her through you as well? She may know what you would say, but that doesn't mean it doesn't help to hear it. My mom was always there to support me when I had tough times but it would have been pretty cool to have a dad that could have done it too. Daddies are special. God gave us relationships to support us. Just as the people in her life right now are causing her grief, there are people in her life that could also help.
I don't understand your response. Your daughter needs words of encouragement and comfort. I think you are taking the wrong tack by withholding those things in the hopes that your daughter 'hears God's voice'. God is fine for spiritual needs, but when someone needs a hug or a shoulder to cry on, that's what we're here for. Please think seriously about this.
Be encouraged that you are impacting her more than you will ever know. Simply knowing that you love her and support her and I'm sure are praying for her is so valuable. I am a forty year old woman who grew up without that, but I still remember a hug and feeling of support my stepfather gave me when I was 17 and feeling very discouraged one day (he wasn't one for hugs or soft words normally, but recognized that I had been crying). One day she will tell you how much you've done for her and even then, you won't know how invaluable your love and support and her wonderful upbringing has been for her life.
You are correct that Scripture does not return void and you are correct that the Lord is and will answer your daughter, but the point is she needs to be in a place she will hear and listen. My advice is to set a day(s) aside doing a project along side her that will have purpose, something she is good at or cares about. Don't mention the painful topic while with her, simply be active together. Allow the activity to answer that she does matter, she is good at things she cares about and that she can answer her worth by herself through doing purposeful things anytime she feels like it, therefore she is in control of something that God can use to answer her inner value questions.
As you have so astutely reminded us (and her at the same time) without actually saying it, her answer to that question will ultimately be determined by where her foundation, and thus her value, is found! If she chooses to seek her value in those people/things that are telling her lies about her worth, even though they're lies, she'll believe them. If she turns to the foundation and value that I would venture to say (and it's clear in the latter part of your article) you and her mother (as well as others who) have truly and to the best of your ability unconditionally loved her throughout her life, then I'm sure, as are you (despite the pain and tears), that she will know that she is of inestimable worth. I'm sure you understand this, knowing all that you and your family have done regarding relationships, I believe this 'testing' of her faith and who she is will prove to be a tremendous help, even through the pain and tears (probably because of the pain and tears). She will come to know who she is, whose she is and just how unbelievably 'worth it' she really is! Praying for you and God bless in Christ!
In your article, you said, "I want" many, many times. Perhaps Taylor has grown up rarely being able to say what "she wants" in the sense that what she wants matters and has worth. The book Love is a Choice by the doctors of the Minirth Meier New Life Clinics helped me develop a sense of worth. They write, "A solid, nurturing, stable family became the God-given pipeline to happiness, long life, and a clear understanding of love and of the heavenly Father." You are the pipeline, not another Bible study, so the truth you want her to know is for you to say. Yet her statements matter — let her know that her thoughts and feelings have worth, and therefore she has worth, and perhaps then her pain will begin to go away. The chapter on Lost Childhood may apply, as may their observation that this must be dealt with before a person can grasp God's love.