In one of the autobiographical stories by Scottish veterinarian James Herriot, he describes how he courted a beautiful young woman named Helen. Jim was impressed with Helen’s kindness toward her aging and lonely father, whose wife had died some years before. Jim then reminded his young male readers that, when they consider a woman for marriage, they should take a passing glance at how she treats her father, because that is how the woman will treat her husband someday. Jim’s instincts were right, because the kindness, respect, and skill that Helen had given to her father were brought into her marriage with Jim.
Our relationships with our parents, and particularly our fathers, are especially important. There are two main reasons. The first reason (which we’ve explored in a previous chapter) is that God has made fathers the head of the home and He has made them responsible for their daughters in a special way. The second reason is that some aspects of the father-daughter relationship are similar to some aspects of the husband-wife relationship. For example, our fathers are our God-given authorities. If we cannot respect the authorities to whom we were born and who gave us life, how can we respect the authorities whom we marry? Furthermore, our husbands are likely to be just as fallible and frustrating as our fathers in some way. Our current reactions to our fathers set up a pattern for our reactions to our future husbands.
I know that fathers are hard to live with. I know there may even be some cases where fathers are simply not safe to live with. I can understand that, and I am deeply grieved that significant barriers stand between these fathers and their daughters. However, in the vast majority of cases, the rule applies far more than the exception. Are we judging ourselves as critically as we judge our fathers?
We may see something as a problem when it is really not a problem, or when it is a smaller problem than we imagine. Looking back, I realize that I have been oversensitive at times about my father’s habits. We should ask ourselves: Is this truly a significant issue? Does it show a bad character or is it just annoying? Is this a sin issue or not? And, if so, how can I appropriately deal with it while continuing to honor my father?
I’ve had some struggles with this myself. My father is not a perfect man and I am not a perfect daughter, so the two of us together can make a head-butting team! When I was going through a difficult time in my relationship with Dad, I thought hard about why the relationship with my father was going sour. After being honest with myself, I realized that I had not treated him according to the criteria of Biblical love and I was therefore disrespecting him, even when I didn’t realize it. I finally asked myself: Was this how I wanted to view or treat my husband? Was I practicing as a daughter the attitude that I would want to show as a wife?
No matter why we “have issues” with someone, we can’t change other people. We can (and should) pray for them, but we can’t fix their end. The only thing for which we are responsible is our response to the situation. Do we respond in a way that demonstrates love or in a way that demonstrates lack of love? Is this the way we want to respond to our husbands’ idiosyncrasies and faults someday? Is this the way we want others to respond to our failings? Do we believe we can respond in a Biblical and loving way in our marriage relationships without practicing in our current relationships? If we don’t practice on the hard cases, how will we know the capabilities of true love?
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.