Yesterday, I posted the foreword I contributed to Jonathan Edwards’ book, Left: The Struggle to Make Sense of Life When a Parent Leaves.
Left is a raw and riveting series of reflections on life in the wake of parental abandonment. Those who have been through similar circumstances will find in Jonathan an articulate voice for this particular pain. Those who have not been through this experience will find a window into how best to minister and serve their friends from broken families. (You can order the book in print or on Kindle.)
Today, I’ve asked Jonathan to stop by and answer a few questions about his experiences that led him to write to this book.
Trevin Wax: Jonathan, this is a gut-wrenching book to read, and I imagine it felt that way to write it. What compelled you to tell your story in this way with this honesty? Why is it needed?
Jonathan Edwards: I wanted to be open about my struggles and every little detail I felt and experienced when my dad was around, as he was leaving, and after he left. I missed him when he moved out but it wasn’t just a general, “I miss you.” I missed him in every circumstance and was aware that he wasn’t around when he should’ve been and when he wasn’t at certain things he should’ve been.
I wanted children and adults who have gone through the same questions and hardships to know that yes, someone else is asking the same things and wondering around in the same confusion. It’s so weird thinking that the word “dad” isn’t in my vocabulary and it’s not a word I use or have used on a regular basis for 10 years. That’s different. That’s not normal. That’s hard. I wanted the honesty to convey real hurt and like-minded struggle for those that wonder if other people are in the same situation they’re in.
And you know, I feel like this kind of honesty is needed because we need to talk about it. We need to talk through the little intricacies in our hearts that no one knows about. We need to bring light to darkness. We need healing to invade every broken piece of our heart. And that comes when we are honest with ourselves and honest with those around us. It comes when we say, “I’m 29 years old and I miss my dad” It comes when we say, “I’m 16 and I sit in school wondering why my mom left me. I feel like I got traded for something she thought was better.” We ought to open up and be able to say, “I’m hurting and I wish things were different, but in this I will trust the Lord.”
Trevin Wax: Many people have experienced divorce in some way, whether parents who split and have children affected, or children whose parents have left. What does your book do for people who have suffered the loss of a parent in this way?
Jonathan Edwards: My hope and my prayer is that it shows them they aren’t alone. My prayer is that it will lead them to some form of healing. Whether they are holding on to anger or bitterness or apathy, I hope the book would allow them to let go of those things by grabbing ahold of the Savior.
It’s hard to trust and love and value Jesus the way Scripture calls us to when we are holding on so tightly to other things. Things that, truthfully, are actually holding onto us and gripping us.
I love seeing comments or getting emails about people who have made their way through the book and come out on the other side with lighter load than they started. For them to see Christ in such a way that they release bitterness and anger and turn and offer forgiveness. For them to truly believe God the Father is nothing like the parent that abandoned them.
Just the other day I received this text from a friend:
“My mom told me she wants your book. Her dad left her mom while my mom was in college. It still affects her to this day.”
It’s stories and confessions like that that are my prayer for what this book will help people through and to by the working of the Spirit.
Jonathan Edwards: Man, the theological complications are huge. And these are the things that I didn’t realize until I was older. These are the things that people don’t actively think about because these complications happen slowly. We stop trusting God. We don’t believe that He is working for our good. These are things I still struggle with.
Growing up, I was so scared of my dad and so confused by his leaving. As this continued to eat away at my heart, I began to have the same questions about God. I was scared of him. I was hesitant to talk to him or ask him for things because I thought he’d get mad. I thought God would find a reason to leave me too. I thought God wouldn’t love me for who I was.
It wasn’t until 2010 that I was able to call God Father. This was something I dealt with for so long. I didn’t call Him father because it was a concept I was cloudy on. I didn’t know how to think about God in a way that I didn’t think about my dad.
The family is so huge in God’s economy. It shows us love and sacrifice and deep affection. It shows care and concern for each member, bound by family ties. At least it should. How we understand our own families affects how we understand God’s family. If our family is not a place of comfort, support, love, affirmation, and safety then we will have to battle hard to believe that God’s family isn’t that way. The gospel, that Jesus died in our place, won’t make sense. If our family hasn’t shown us a shadow of that sacrifice, we will refuse to believe it.
But I believe most importantly, when we struggle to forgive and we hold onto anger and refuse to offer forgiveness, we aren’t completely understanding the gospel. The gospel says, as Paul writes in Ephesians 2, that we were all children of wrath. This was all mankind. We all were unrighteous. We all were with sin. We all were following the desires of our wicked hearts.
But God, because of his grace and his kindness, offered us hope and saving through the sacrificial death of his Son. The gospel is that Jesus died in our place and that we all equally need the salvation he offers. When I understood that, I began to think differently about my dad. I realized that the way he sinned against me and my family was no different than the way that I daily sin against God. And I realized my sin against God was so far worse than my dad’s sin against me.
And there it is: sinner first, sinned against second. Thinking this way radically transformed my heart and how I was able to forgive my dad. It radically transformed my understanding of the gospel. And before that, I realized I actually didn’t fully grasp the weight of Ephesians 2 as it pertained to me and my dead soul.
Trevin Wax: Say someone comes from a home where their parents loved one another well and provided them with a biblical view of marriage. (That’s my experience.) Why should someone who doesn’t have divorce in their background read this? How is it helpful to them?
Jonathan Edwards: I think it will give them a real and honest look into the experiences faced when growing up with only one parent. It will help people who don’t know anything of this reality to care for and better understand their friends and co-workers who are living and battling this right now.
David Horner, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC, said that everyone knows someone who needs to read this. And I believe that’s true. Coming from a home wrecked by divorce or not, there’s something in here for everybody because I think this will help in how we care for each other. It will help people get a glimpse into other people’s lives and their brokenness.
I truly hope this allows us to love Christ’s church better and serve Her more sacrificially in how we walk alongside those that are hurting; to fight with them through their battles, even if we haven’t fought the same battles before.
Trevin Wax: You dedicated this book to your mom. Tell me a little about that and why.
Jonathan Edwards: My mom is honestly the strongest, most encouraging, and godly person I know. She is incredible. The way she mothered my brother, sister, and me through every difficult circumstance was such a powerful testimony to her dependence and trust in the Lord.
I only tell a few stories about her in the book, but there is an endless list I could pull from; stories that show her steadiness and her reliance on God’s strength. She has shown me what it truly looks like to love and value Jesus above all things. She told me earlier this year how waking up at 5:00 a.m. to spend time with the Lord until 6:30 just wasn’t allowing her the time she wanted and needed so she was going to start getting up earlier. I laughed when she told me and I told her she was crazy. But it’s little things like that. She sends us Scripture almost every morning so it’s the first thing on my phone when I wake up.
I will say one more thing about her. She asked me, either in 2009 or 2010, if I was praying for my dad. I said no. She responded by telling me that if we as a family weren’t praying for him then nobody was. She proceeded to tell me that she prays for him, my dad, the man who left her, every day. That blew me away and at the same time convicted me to the core of my soul. I don’t know where I’d be without her. This book would be very different if it weren’t for her. And that’s why I wanted to dedicate it to her, her faithful life of living for the Lord, and her being grateful to Him for all He’s done for her.
Trevin Wax: What have you learned about yourself through writing your life down and sharing it through this book? How have you personally been shaped and affected by the absence of your father?
Jonathan Edwards: It’s shown me that I notice a lot more things than I think I do. It’s shown me that a lot more things affect me than I think.
When writing this, it was crazy for me the details that I remembered and the smallest of things that vividly remember. From the t-shirt my dad was wearing when something happened, to the sheets that were on my bed when I would hear him yell downstairs. I’ve learned that those memories and those feelings haven’t gone away. I still can feel those moments of terror or sadness. Those moments of anger and confusion are all still so real to me.
But through it all, I have learned just how much I still love my dad. I’ve learned how much I still feel for him and miss him. And I’ve learned that I truly have forgiven him. There are always times where there’s a heart-check and you’re really tested to see if you have truly given forgiveness to someone. That’s what the book did for me, in a way. It was a heart-check. It allowed me to reflect when I wrote that I loved my dad and forgave him and let the past go to truly ask myself and pray through if I had honestly forgiven him. And coming out the other side it was refreshing and such a wind of release and freedom to know that I do, in the deepest parts of my being, forgive him and love him.
To the second part of this question, there is so much about me now that is a result of my dad not being around. I feel like the biggest thing is that at 29 I still feel like a kid inside. I still want hugs and I still want to feel protected, like someone is going to fight for me and protect me from “the bad guy.” I crave affirmation from older men. And really, men in general. I want to know that I’ve done a good job or that someone is proud of me. That was something I never heard from him, and I talk about that in the book. But all of that is still there. It comes and it goes, but it never leaves completely.
Relationally, I fear a lot of the time that friends will leave and find a better friend. I think the fear of being abandoned again by someone, friend or family member or co-woker, is crippling at times. I have to fight hard against that. I have to pray and depend on the Lord that He be sufficient for me and He, through his Word and fellow Christians, dispel that lie from my mind. But it’s hard. It’s a daily fight. But man, am I so thankful for grace and the things He has done in me and taught me over the past 21 years!