Anxiety was ever-present in my home growing up, but it always escalated each afternoon before my dad came home from work. This was the time when my mom, brother, and I made sure everything was perfect—house and rooms clean, dinner prepared, etc.—and tried to become small targets to avoid his anger and punishment.
We never knew what mood he would be in or what would set him off.
I remember one time we were out on the pool deck and my younger brother accidentally let a beach towel drop in a puddle of water. My dad exploded at him in a rage.
Under the imminent threat of the paddle (which was oddly painted with little flowers and kept in a special drawer in the kitchen), my brother he did what both of us had learned to do to escape punishment—he lied and said I had dropped the towel.
I was punished instead, but such scenarios played out often in our family, and I’m sorry to say that my brother took my punishments as often as I took his.
The Legacy of Anger
Like many who grow up with angry fathers, I never wanted to be like my dad.
Unfortunately, this led me to avoid learning how to deal with my own anger. I developed a pattern of trying to stuff my anger or numb it with hard exercise, alcohol, and other distractions. Inevitably, the pressure would build until the anger burst out of me.
The deeper problem was that the beliefs that had formed in me through my dad’s angry punishment fueled anger in my life.
If I made a mistake, or had a lapse in judgement, I was conditioned to expect that disproportionate punishment and negative consequences would surely follow.
Thus, the moment I felt blamed for something, however minor, my fear of punishment would trigger and I would react in anger.
A Losing Battle
Years ago, I was on a new hotel jobsite and we were walking the rooms to inspect the quality of the drywall before we installed our primer.
Our crews had already primed one floor of the south wing (about thirty rooms), but our inspection revealed that the drywall finish was substandard, so the priming was as well.
The general superintendent, who was about my dad’s age, began yelling at me, telling me that since we had primed the walls, “we had bought them,” meaning our company would have to fix the problem.
All my old feelings of shame and rage came to the surface as his anger increased, and I found myself fighting the urge to cry.
This superintendent then radioed the drywall foreman, who came into the room and they both started blaming us for the problem. I exploded, yelling and doing my best to intimidate by force of my will.
The drywaller quickly backed off and agreed to fix his problem so we could continue with our job.
As he left, the general superintendent smiled at me, slapped me on the back and said, “Well, good to see the painter has a backbone.” For him, that communication style was normal business. I, on the other hand, was an emotional wreck and ultimately left the job for the day.
I had carefully crafted my life to never let that rage out, and when it did come out it scared me and others.
The next day I found the drywaller and apologized.
He didn’t know why I was apologizing, and said, “That kind of @#%^ happens all the time, no sweat.”
But even though that kind of behavior was normal in the world of construction I knew it wasn’t who I wanted to be. I just didn’t know how to change my internal culture and remove the beliefs and triggers that kept me stuck in a losing battle with fear, anger, and punishment.
Meeting the Father
Wm. Paul Young, author of The Shack, says, “It took me fifty years to wipe the face of my father off the face of God.” I think this is a struggle for many of us, and it certainly has been for me.
For so long, I took as God’s truth the lies my dad had drilled into me—that I was bad, the worst of the worst.
There was never any question that God was and always would be angry at me. Strangely, it was easy for me to hear about others’ mistakes or failures and extend them God’s grace.
But I never believed that grace could be mine—until the day I made what I felt was the biggest mistake of my life, and the punishment I expected never came.
It was through this experience that the belief system I had lived with my whole life finally cracked and began to crumble. I embarked on a journey of inner healing and reconciliation with the Father that began to replace my old anger-driven relational culture with a culture of love, trust, safety, and forgiveness.
I discovered the truth that the Father had always believed the best in me and loved me as His child.
I also learned that fear, anger, and punishment were tools He would never use to lead me as His son.
And even though I am still in process, over the last twenty years I have gradually shortened the cycle from when I am afraid and tempted to turn to anger and the moment when I turn to Him and remember the truth that I am loved, safe, backed, and believed in.
Becoming restored to the Father brought restoration to my relationships with myself and others. I learned to calm my mind with worship songs declaring the truth of God and His love for me.
As I grew more secure in believing that I was “unpunishable,” as my friend Danny Silk says, I was able to stop feeling and reacting to perceived blame and start creating a healthy connection in my personal and business relationships.
My goal is that my relationships will continue to be transformed by the steady removal of the fear of punishment from my life.
The fear of punishment is something we all have to deal with at some point on some level.
We all have wounding from our imperfect families and past relationships that have shaped our beliefs and produced anger and fear-driven dynamics in our relationships with ourselves, others, and God.
But the beautiful thing is that God is after our hearts. Our distorted lenses can’t wipe out the truth of who He is or how He sees us.
When we encounter His perfect love for us, we discover that our fear is no match against the force and reality of that love.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18 NIV)
Nothing revolutionizes us like getting set free of the fear of punishment through the love of God.
The person I am now and the relational culture I get to experience look nothing like the anxiety-filled home I grew up in.
I have learned and am continuing to learn how to practice vulnerability in the safety of close relationships, and as a result, I am surrounded by friends who have proven over and over to be trustworthy and bring incredible strength to my life.
Today, I encourage you to step toward the Father and ask Him to encounter you with His perfect love for you. May He set you free from the fear of punishment, heal you from the wounds of fear and anger, and empower you to build safe, loving connections with Him, yourself, and others.
Join the 10-Day Identity Challenge
As part of this journey into God’s love and identity in Christ, I have put together a 10 Day Identity Challenge Devotional for you. You will dive deep into uncovering areas that might be still under wrong beliefs and orphan mentalities. You will also be empowered with courage and power to become the man or woman of God you were always meant to be.
So if you want 10 days of emails filled with the truth about who you are in Christ, you can simply sign up below and jump right in to Day 1 which is “Recognizing the Orphan Identity”.