By Joni Shankles

My daughter came into the world with her heart bent toward her Daddy.

As an infant, she tracked the sound of her Daddy’s voice and responded to his antics with infectious laughter. When she could walk, her feet followed his steps and kept her close to his side. When she could talk, my daughter’s focus on her Daddy became more evident, especially in the questions she asked.

My daughter’s toddler and preschool days were punctuated by questions like, “What is Daddy’s favorite color?” or “Do you think Daddy will like what I made?” It seemed that each day she awoke with fresh motivation to create something that would make her Daddy smile.

But by far, her most repeated question was, “When will Daddy be home?” Never truly satisfied with my answer, she adopted the afternoon habit of positioning herself in front of our living room window, face pressed to the glass, watching and waiting for the sight and sound of Daddy’s truck pulling into the driveway. When we moved to a house whose windows did not have a view of the driveway, she learned to identify her Daddy’s return by the sound of the garage doorknob turning. Hearing the distinctive “click”, she would shout to her little brother, “Daddy’s home!” and run to the top of the stairs, squealing and jumping with joy when her Daddy came through the door.

Adorable, right?

I didn’t always think so.

Though I responded outwardly to the never-ending “Daddy” questions with smiles and help, inside I was asking a question of my own: “What about me?” After all, I was the one who left grad school and the world of academic achievement and recognition to spend twenty-four hours a day in anonymity as a stay-at-home mom.

Where were my hand-made drawings and original dances? Where was my recognition for potty-training two stubborn humans successfully, teaching letters and colors, mediating sibling fights, and dodging potential dangers, like cutting up grapes into little pieces to prevent choking and a call to 911? Let’s face it: nobody was jumping up and down with delight when I came through the door with clean, folded clothes!

I was coming face to face with this reality: Parenting reveals the hidden condition and motivations of your heart. Mine was more of a mess than I ever realized. Resentment and jealousy began to creep out of the shadows and plague my thoughts.

One day, as I watched my daughter melt into her daddy’s arms at the end of her long wait for his return, a whisper pierced through my jealous heart. It was Abba, my Heavenly Father, gently asking this: “What if you searched for me the way your little girl searches for her Daddy? What if you made me the focus of your day? What if you found rest and delight in my embrace instead of your achievements or recognition?”

These questions held no condemnation, just a loving invitation to reorient my days, to choose to focus on my Father.

Something fundamental shifted in my messy heart that day. Learning from my daddy’s girl, I began to live for an audience of one, my Abba, and to focus my days on pleasing Him.

And a little child will lead them….

As my focus changed, I stopped looking inward so much to ask, “What about me?” I stopped looking outward to ask, “Am I appreciated?” And I began to look up more, asking, “What does my Father say about me?” and “How can I please Him today?”

I began the journey of learning how to live the life of a beloved daughter, the life I watched my little girl enjoy. For me, this meant I began to learn to:

  • find my identity my Father’s love rather than my achievements
  • seek my Father’s approval rather than others
  • ask what would make my Father happy today
  • release my family from the unreasonable demand to recognize my acts of service

I am on this journey still.

My daddy’s girl is an adult now. She still lights up when she sees her daddy. But even more importantly, she is defined by the love of her Heavenly Father and seeks to please Him in all she does. We are on the same journey now, encouraging each other to live out Father-focused days.

Will you join us?

Having shared this personal story, I am acutely aware that, for many, talk of fathers may bring painful reminders that the safety and security of an earthly father’s love was or is missing in your home. Maybe your dad filled the air with criticism rather than kindness, or his anger was more tangible than love, or he simply wasn’t there. Maybe you have a friend whose experience this describes.

No matter what kind of father you have, this truth is for you:

Your heavenly Father has more power to define you than your earthly father.

Turn your heart toward Abba. You are His beloved daughter. Focus on Him. He loves you with an everlasting, perfect love. He is the good father you’ve longed for. He will never leave you. He can be trusted with your heart and with your days.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” 1 John 4:16 ESV

“So we make it our goal to please him…” 2 Corinthians 5:9 NIV

How would your days change:

  • If you made your Heavenly Father the focus of your day?
  • If you were to seek to please Him instead of others?
  • If you found your identity in who Abba says you are instead of what you do?
  • If you chose to rest in His love and delight?

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