Matthew 6:9 “Our Father which art in heaven …”
Every child has a very important developmental stage where the need to communicate is different. Imaginary friends are a psychological and social phenomenon where a friendship or other interpersonal relationship takes place in the imagination rather than external physical reality. Having an imaginary companion is common in preschool and beyond. According to a 2004 study by University of Washington and University of Oregon psychologists, by age seven, 65 percent of children have had an imaginary companion at some point.
Most of us have an imaginary friend directly related to the personhood of a father, and I can prove it.
The first word we speak is usually “dada”. The first lesson boys are taught is to “be a man”. But for many, the concept of a father is lost in imagination. It is perhaps the angst of waiting for someone to come pick you up on the weekends who never shows up; it could be the thought of toxic relationships due to no example of love; it may be no understanding of self due to the silent voice of a father. For whatever the reason, many of us transfer that relationship into an imaginary friend with the Father of fathers, God. The beginning of the Lord’s Prayer is often known by heart but never understood fully in the mind. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name” is usually rhetorical and not literal for many. To pray to a spiritual Father when we have no concept of a natural father is, at best, hard. So as opposed to learning this personhood, we create an imaginary image no further off than the one we made for our absent fathers. We wait for Him to do what we want and not what we need. We blame Him for what men did or didn’t do in our lives. And we don’t expect much from Him because our anticipation and faith has been crushed.
But that is not how this ends.
Whether your father was absent, distant in the home, or otherwise impaired, we cannot live with imaginary friends forever. It has to become real. We must deal head on with what we grieve so that we don’t miss out on a real relationship with The Manufacture of our souls. Fathers have a charge from God to establish, protect, support, and speak possibility into certainty. We have to forgive ourselves for the bondage of un-forgiveness with our earthly fathers, and have genuine conversation with our Heavenly Father. It is after we own our ignorance that we gain insight. Once you allow Him in, you’ll find that He alone is the prototype to fatherhood, not man. In the space of absenteeism, you find that God is an ever present help. In the space of brokenness you find that He is the Healer and Repairer of the breach. And in the space of pain, you find Him to be the greatest consolation a human can ever feel.
Perhaps your earthly father didn’t get it right. Understand that he gave what he knew. Sometimes not knowing how frightens a person, and they run from their rights. When we release people from the expectations in our imagination, we gain the truth of growing as we are going. If your father is alive, pray for him. Forgive him. Honor him. Give him to God so that the Manufacturer can reset and restore him. The end doesn’t have to be the end. God can send you surrogates who are dedicated to being what your natural father could not. Once we close the door of imagined perfection and let go of expectation, we open the door of options. And God LOVES options! Your imagination is a great place, but it can be quite lonely. Release and live. Learn God and you learn the grace of growth.
To my incredible father, and to fathers everywhere, I say thank you. I appreciate you. I love you. Happy Father’s Day!
Cleo Dailey, III is a minister, freelance writer, and author who has written for several city and nation-wide publications. He is currently releasing his newest memoirs this summer while studying to obtain a degree in both English and Clinical Psychology in Peoria, IL.