For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit. (Romans 8:14-16)
As my previous blog post would suggest, I’ve been thinking about prayer, about what it means to pray and where to start when it comes to connecting to the Spirit of God. The life and teachings of Jesus suggest that we refer to God as “Father,” which makes sense if we believe that Jesus is God’s son and that we are all adopted into God’s family as his children. It is comforting and familiar imagery. It gives us language to talk about God’s love and provision, God’s discipline, wisdom, fidelity and care.
But there are times that it can be hard for me to make the God-Dad connection. It isn’t that I don’t know what a dad is supposed to be or do or say. It isn’t that I grew up in a home where my father was absent or abusive or difficult to access. Quite the opposite. The reason I sometimes have trouble seeing God as my father is that I already have a father (and I think he’s pretty great). My notion of fatherhood doesn’t always make sense in conjunction with my construct of divinity. My concept of “dadness” is pretty situation-specific. For me to picture God as father is to see God with a perm and a Bill Cosby sweater, God in a suit coat carrying a brief case, God with a glove and a baseball cap. It is God in a t-shirt and shorts trimming trees and mowing the lawn, God in the driveway washing my car or in the basement assembling a futon.
I can call God “Father”. I can view God as a parent. But Dad? Daddy? I’ve already assigned those names to someone else who isn’t God.
And yet this is exactly what Romans 8 and Galatians 4 suggest: that we refer to God with tender and childlike intimacy.
“Abba,” is a term of endearment. It’s the equivalent of “Daddy” or “Papa,” one of those names that you reserve for the most precious of moments and situations. “Abba” is a term of love. It is a term of trust. It is the term that Jesus uses when he is in Gethsemane begging that God might find another way for the salvation of humankind (Mark 14:36 ESV/NIV).
I believe that God is father-like, that God is that tender, that loving. I believe that God is as caring, knowing, invincible, and good as I grew up knowing my own Daddy to be. And I’m beginning to realize that I like this about God. Because as I’ve gotten older, my dad has become more human. He’s become a little more real and a little less perfect. And though I am out in the world, fully-launched as an adult, I am still very much in need of parenting, and at this point, I’m thinking that only God is up for that task. Only God can be there in all of the moments that I need to cry and confess and be reassured that I am still loved.
When I was in grade school, I was rather “crafty.” One Father’s Day I hot-glued a scrap of fabric to a mason jar and used puffy paint to scrawl the words “Love Notes for Daddy” in pastel-colored paints. I then filled the container with little scraps of paper, each of which bore a memory or note of affection. Recently, my dad has been re-reading them and sending them to me in e-mails and text messages.
“I love being ‘Daddy’s little gurl” says one.
“Even if you feel small or unimportant compared to some, I think you’re the GREATEST” reads another.
Initially, I was touched by the fact that my dad still has the gift and that it currently sits on his dresser. But as time went on and the notes continued coming, that gesture of remembrance began to mean more. I started remembering who I was when I wrote the notes in the jar. I remembered soccer games and family dinners, the security of being ten years old and the safety of my father being the only man who held my heart. In short, I began to remember what it meant to be a daughter, and I began to realize that this might be a missing piece in my prayer life.
The flip-side of viewing God as father is that it allows and teaches me to view myself as daughter–as child, as dependent, as beloved and instructed and cared for. God is holy and other, unfathomable and mysterious. But God is also caregiver and healer, comforter and defender.
Last week someone broke into my car and stole my new laptop. (The amount of shame and stupidity I feel at the fact that I allowed this to happen is something I can’t discuss right now). The shock of it sent me into crisis mode–the shaky, uncomprehending, I-don’t-believe-that-this-is-reality sort of crisis mode (I firmly believe that no one should make decisions in such a condition). As soon as I could muster the wherewithal (somewhere in the middle of my commute home), I called my dad. I started crying midway through my second sentence. It reminded me of all of the other times I’ve had bad news to share, news that I hadn’t even processed myself. Being all the way in Nebraska and not terribly adept in computers or Bay Area crime reporting, there wasn’t much he could do to help and I could tell that it was killing him, that more than anything he wanted to teleport to me and make everything right.
He could have tried giving me advice. He could have attempted to make up a solution he didn’t fully understand, but instead he did something a little less likely and a little more helpful. He called a man he hadn’t spoken to for years, someone he had reason to dislike but who would likely have a solution. It took humility and courage. It took my dad being a dad–doing anything to find an answer. I can’t help but think that God would do the same. That he’s that kind of father–the kind who makes uncomfortable contact in an effort to help me; the kind who is both humble and resourceful, who tries to think of all the options.
It is this image that sticks with me when I sit in my car, stand in the shower, or lie in my bed asking God once again to care for my needs and listen to my heart. “Please, Papa,” I’ve started saying. “I know you know what I want. I know you know what I need. Please, Papa, help me. Please, Papa show me. Please, Papa hear me.” And somehow knowing how much my own father loves me reassures me of how much God does. It reminds me that it’s okay to admit my own shortcomings and mistakes. It’s okay to ask for advice, to confess my incompetence, to disclose my longings and my doubts.
I still do not refer to God as “Daddy” (I may as well call him “Ron”), but I am re-learning how to see him as father. I am learning to see myself as his daughter, as the child I’ve always been. And as I continue to explore that relationship, I better relate to a God who is my father, who may be the only one who sees me for who I really am.