Somehow I had avoided singing Good, Good Father in church, until yesterday. Which is a good thing, because I have a very complicated relationship with that song.
On one hand, I hate the song with the power of a thousand burning suns for its utter schmaltz.
On the other, I think it’s a pretty sloppy theologically.
On the theoretical third hand, I know that on some level, somehow, a whole lot of people relate to it deeply, and I don’t want to be that guy.
Yet on that metaphysical fourth hand that nobody likes to talk about, it is a reminder of a very dark period in my life.
I’m gonna skip past the first three hands without much comment, because you can find blog posts about them all over the internet. But about that fourth hand…
You’re an Absentee Father
The Tomlin version of this song hit big right as I was going through a bout of depression. And I’m not talking about the normal depression I’ve dealt with virtually my entire life. This was some really bad shit.
And every time this song came on the radio, I would cry out to God in my distress. Just like the Psalmist and every preacher and Sunday school teacher and worship song had taught me to do.
And God did not answer.
This went on for months. It got to the point that I couldn’t listen to Christian radio anymore, because it made me so angry.
God was not a “good, good Father” to me at that point in time. He was, at best, an absentee father. At worst, He was an abusive asshole father.
So what does a good Christian boy do with that?
Well, at the encouragement of my dear wife, what I did was, I finally started seeing a therapist in addition to my normal psychiatrist/medication regiment. And my therapist and I worked through a lot of not-fun stuff. Really dark stuff I had kept buried for far too long. Things got slowly better until, after about a year of therapy, we had a breakthrough.
For the past six months, I am happy to report that I am the healthiest I have ever been.
I’m also happy to report that I can now listen to Good, Good Father on the radio without wanting to throw things. I can even (apparently) stand awkwardly in church while people around me sing it.
Lastly, I’ve identified what it is about this song that that was rubbing me raw:
I’ve seen many searching for answers far and wide
But I know we’re all searching for answers only You provide
Let me ask you something: is this really what a good father does? Does he hoard up answers to keep his children groveling to him for “answers only he provides”? Or does he want his children to grow up, to know for themselves what is good and right?
I think we all know the answer, but lemme just go ahead and say it: A good father doesn’t keep his kids perpetually co-dependent. That’s not love. Yes, a good father will protect his young children when they are vulnerable and defenseless. But more than anything, what he wants is for them to grow up and stand on their own. To be able to know and find the answers for themselves. To be kind and loving people that make a difference in the world. To become good fathers and mothers themselves.
Dark Night of the Soul
I will not get into all the nasty stuff my therapist and I dug through, because frankly, it’s none of your business. 😛
But this is what my “dark night of the soul” taught me: that I am not damaged, that I am not defective, that I am not broken. (At least, not any more so than you are, or anybody else on this planet.) It taught me that I am capable of giving and receiving love just fine, all on my own, without any extra “help” or “answers.” Because it was already in me. It is how I was designed.
But Wait, There’s More
And then there’s this: Is it really true that this good, good Father wants us to depend on just Him?
Or does He want us to lean on each other?
What if…stay with me now, but what if this good Father wants us to know that we are “never alone” not just because He is there, but because of everyone else He has put around us?
This is the other thing my “dark night of the soul” taught me. Because I didn’t get healthy all by myself. My wife and my therapist and several other people I’m close to loved me and helped me get there. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fun, and it sure as hell wasn’t just me and Jesus. Finally getting some help wasn’t a sign of weakness.
We’ve been feeding people unhelpful gobbledygook. We’ve have taken “trust in the Lord” to an unhealthy place that abdicates our responsibilities, to ourselves and to each other.
Everything does not happen for a reason. You are not uniquely fucked up. It’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to lean on other people to get through it. As a matter of fact, it is essential. It’s what those other people are there for. It’s what you are here for.
We are in this together.
Let Me Be Clear
Now, I’m not saying you should stop singing this song if it speaks to you. And I’m fully aware that I am reading my experience into the lyrics, that I see things there that are more implied than stated explicitly.
But I am asking you to think about what you’re singing, and urging you not to just mindless repeat what they play on the radio. Because these words? They get into you, and they get into the people around you. They matter.
So, to be clear:
You are precious just as you are. In the words of the prophet Gaga, “God makes no mistakes.” You don’t need a whisper in the dead of night to tell you that, and you don’t have to rely on a private word from your good, good Father. It’s written all over the Book, and it’s written on your heart. And if you don’t believe because of that, believe it because I’m telling you right now: you are worthy and capable, just as you are.
If I have forgotten to tell you recently, please accept my apology. In the words of the prophet Kelly Clarkson: “People like us, we gotta stick together.”