Growing Up Unwanted

My abusive father made me feel unworthy of love — until I realized that God’s love gives me value.

I was at my childhood home one day a few years back when my mother brought my old toys down from the attic. She wanted to know, before she sold them all at a garage sale, if I wanted to keep any. I laughed and told her to sell them; I had no interest in looking at them. But she insisted I examine the toys.

Little did I know the impact doing that would have on my life.

*   *   *

Toys weren’t the only thing left over from my childhood. I also possessed a seriously negative self image.

Growing up, I knew that my parents hadn’t been planned to have me, and I never felt wanted.

Those feelings were reinforced on a near-daily basis by my abusive father. He was an angry man, and I was an easy target. He would repeatedly ask me questions like, “What’s wrong with you?” and “How stupid are you?” and “Can you do anything right?”

I quickly decided there was nothing about me worth loving. It was the only logical conclusion. My father was one of the two people who was most obligated to love me, and even he couldn’t do it.

*   *   *

When I was 20 years old I learned about Jesus for the first time. I investigated. I discovered that what I’d heard about Him was true. I accepted Jesus and what He did for me on the cross. But even still, I could not accept the fact that God loved me. I knew there was nothing about me worth loving.

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It became the biggest struggle of my life. I read verses about God’s love and compassion, but I couldn’t apply those verses to myself. God was a heavenly Father, and I already knew how a father felt about someone like me. As much as I wanted to believe that God found me loveable, I just couldn’t.

Until my mother brought my old toys down from the attic.

I looked through the boxes of LEGOs and Matchbox cars and action figures and then I saw it . . . a teddy bear. Well, not a teddy bear — my teddy bear. And it was a mess. My mother had sewn one of its ears back on, and stitches revealed that she had also done reconstructive surgery on its neck and back. It had a big scar across its head. It was missing fur around its eyes and on both feet.

I remembered this bear. When I was little, I loved this bear. I carried it everywhere.

I may have been beat up, pulled out of shape, ripped, and left with stuffing hanging out, but I was His.

I loved this bear, but there was nothing lovable, nothing valuable about the bear itself. As I examined it, I realized that, even brand new, it obviously hadn’t been an expensive stuffed bear. It may have cost a few dollars. If my mother tried to sell it at her garage sale, she wouldn’t even be offered a nickel. It wasn’t valuable, but it was to me back when I was a kid.

I loved this bear, but not because it was valuable. I loved it because . . . I loved it. I loved it because it was my bear. My love was not based on the bear’s value. In fact, my love made this bear valuable. My bear wasn’t significant; my love gave this bear significance. If my parents had held a yard sale back when I was a kid and asked me how much we should sell my bear for, I would have said a million dollars — and even that wouldn’t have been enough.

And finally I understood how God could love me when I wasn’t worth loving.

I realized the love I had for my bear is the same kind of love God has for me. It’s not the kind that loves because the object is valuable; it’s a love that gives value.

God knew me. He knew what I was worth in the beginning. He knew the damage that had been done to me over the years. He knew my current condition. But the most significant thing God knew about me was that I was His. I may have been beat up, pulled out of shape, ripped, and left with stuffing hanging out, but I was His. I may not have looked like much to anyone else, but I was His . . . so He loved me. And His love gave me value, significance, and meaning.

*   *   *

Becoming convinced that God loves me is a journey I’ve been on since that moment with my teddy bear, and I’ve been trying to get as many people with me on that journey as possible. Part of that mission has involved starting two churches designed for people who are very far from God. The one I currently pastor, Verve, is in the middle of Las Vegas. I even wrote a book — God for the Rest of Us — to convince people that God loves them, because . . . well, he does. And knowing that changes everything.

In fact, I think I can sum it up this way: when I accepted Jesus and what he did for me on the cross, it changed my eternity. But it wasn’t until years later when I finally accepted God’s love for me that my life was changed. And it has really changed.

He doesn’t love you because you’re valuable. His love gives you value. And his love will change your life, if you’ll just let it.

I want to tell you that God loves you. Maybe you know you weren’t planned for by your parents. Perhaps you had an abusive father like I did. It could be that you’ve made some major mistakes that torpedoed your self-esteem. Whatever it is, it’s left you feeling unwanted.

I want to tell you that God wants you. He loves you. He loves you even if you’re a mess and you don’t see anything valuable in yourself. He doesn’t love you because you’re valuable. His love gives you value. And his love will change your life, if you’ll just let it.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Vince Antonucci
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