I was raised with a father and mother who loved my sister and me and were not shy about letting us know it. Does this mean they were perfect and didn’t mess up? They would each be the first to admit that’s not true, but as I get older and learn more and more about being a parent myself I can look back and see many instances of their love shining through. As a boy, I struggled immensely with fear to the point of hating nighttime and going to sleep because my mind would simply not turn off and I would lie in bed traumatized by the nightmarish images running rampant through my head. It was not uncommon for me to lay in bed and scream to the point of echoing through the house. To overcome these fears, my mother taught me, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.” For a brief period of life, I lived alone with my dad. We spent many days after school throwing frisbee in the front yard, flipping a paper football across the dining room table we had lined with masking tape for yard lines, or leaving the television screen turned on to prove to the other their previous high score playing Donkey Kong had been broken. I never realized until becoming a parent myself how tired mom must have been dealing with a scared kid night after night each night hoping maybe tonight would be the night he finally rests or how many other things dad could have been doing instead of spending time with me. I have been blessed by two wonderful people to call mom and dad.
Over the past week, through the writings of Anabel Gillham I have been reminded of the fatherhood of God. Prior to 2016, I was unaware of Anabel, but during that year I discovered a collection of writings from her and her husband organized into the Lifetime Daily Devotions reading plan in the YouVersion bible app. It’s a year long plan, so I followed the plan daily in 2017 and have since restarted the plan for 2019. Several of the writings for the year thus far have discussed the nature of God as a father, and recently I shared Anabel’s words below on social media along with the accompanying image:
Do you know what Abba means? It’s the Greek word for “Father.” It “approximates to a personal name,” kind of like “Papa.” It is “the word framed by the lips of infants” and by older children “expressing [their] love and intelligent confidence” in their father.* Jesus came, talking to God and about God. But He didn’t call Him Jehovah. Or Elohim. Or Adonai. Or El Shaddai. Or any other of the names that the people called God. No, Jesus came and called Him Abba, Papa, Daddy, Father.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus addresses God 43 times as Father. He took an awesome God, a fearful God, an unapproachable God, a God who was known to strike out when He was not obeyed, the God of the Old Testament . . . and He introduced us to a loving Father.
God is a loving Father and that’s what Jesus came to show us. He reminds us of this on multiple occasions by addressing him as such. To further emphasize this, he plainly tells us that us in Mark 10:15, “I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” To understand what Jesus was saying, we must clarify the phrase “like a child.” Here’s how Anabel describes it:
With no reservations, no preconceived fears or doubts.
“Looking up” to Him — from a child’s perspective. He is big and I am little. He is strong. I am weak. He will hold me in His arms. He will hold my hand. He will know what to do. . .
Ready to listen and to ask questions, but not to express her views or to argue with Him about His views. Giving Him the responsibility of caring for her. Indeed, expecting Him to care for her. Trusting Him to care for her. Reaching out to touch Him. Holding His hand for security and comfort. Resting in His lap. Putting her arms around His neck. Being excited to see Him and be with Him. Knowing that He is wiser than she is. Knowing that He is stronger than she is.
Although I was raised by two parents who loved me, I realize the images presented above may be difficult to visualize for those whose father (or mother) was absent in their life or who may have grew up in an abusive situation. Given the circumstances of such situations, I’ve often wondered why God chose the parent-child relationship to illustrate his love for us and our relationship. The one thing no one will ever have the power to change is his or her mother or father. Many children’s lives have been changed through the power of adoption or the way a step parent or foster parent may have stepped up and filled in for another’s absence and actually became a mom or dad, but, despite the manner we experience parental relationships, nothing will ever change the identity of our biological parents. I will always be the son of my father and my mother no matter who I would have called mom or dad. There is nothing my son or daughter could ever do to not be mine and cause me to not love them. I believe this unchangeable nature of the fatherhood relationship is what God is wanting us to grasp onto and it’s why Jesus came.
Jesus illustrated the father’s never ending love in the story of the prodigal son who asked for his inheritance prior to his father’s death, squandered the inheritance given to him, and returned home with his head buried in shame prepared to beg for a job as a servant only to have his father welcome him home with open arms and celebrate by throwing a feast. Although the returning son was fully prepared to forfeit his place in the family and anticipated having to do so, the loving response and welcome of the father assured him he would always be a son. The tragic part of the story lies in the reaction of the older brother who never left home, worked for his father for years, and out of anger refused to attend the party for his returning sibling claiming his father had never thrown such a shindig for him. I can only imagine the pain which pierced the father’s heart and sobering look on his face as he explained to his eldest son you have always been with me and all I have has always been yours.
Life as a churchboy is the life of the prodigal’s older brother. The words of Anabel are applicable to such a life:
How we have structured and formalized (and, in so doing, ostracized) the Father that Jesus wanted us to know! For our conversation with Him to be “pleasing,” we have been told we must “look just right,” assume just the right posture, be in the right place at the right time, say just the right things, use the prerequisite Thee’s and Thou’s — and that only then will He really consider honoring our prayers.
Catching glimpses of God as a loving father who would never stop loving me or deny me as his son and realizing he had already provided all he has through Jesus is what was ultimately the beginning of the end of my life as a churchboy.