A few nights ago, my son was falling asleep on my shoulder as I was reading Galatians 4:4-7. In brief, it says that God sent forth His son to redeem us so that we might receive adoption from God. Since we are now His children, God sent forth the Spirit into our hearts to cry ‘Abba Father’. We are not slaves, but heirs of God through Christ.
Time and time again, I am struck by the fact that God wants us for his children. It hit me especially that night because my son was so near, and it is continually a challenge for me to accept that God loves me even more than I love the precious child resting in my arms. God does not just want us as slaves or obedient servants from afar. He runs to us like the father of the prodigal son, and He wants us in His family.
Not only does St. Paul write that God wants to adopt us as his children, he also indicates what kind of father God wants to be when he uses the words, “Abba Father.” I have often heard that “Abba” is an Aramaic word essentially meaning, “Daddy,” or “Papa;” however, many scholars disagree with that. It’s not quite that informal, but it is a deeply personal term of love and respect within a family. It also seems amazing that it is the Holy Spirit in our hearts that cries out “Abba Father.” How rich that we are invited to be heirs of God and that we can participate with the Holy Spirit in crying out “Abba Father,” from our hearts.
We are taught that God is not passionate the same way that we are. We change almost by the minute, but God is not angry one minute then loving the next. He is always loving us. Very little warms my heart as much as my son saying, “I love you, Daddy,” and even though God is not more loving to us when we love Him because He does not change, it must bring Him delight to hear us say, “Abba Father, I love you.”
We are beginning the season of Lent. Like everything else in the Church, Lent is about training our hearts to love God. If I am really honest, I’d have to say, “Abba Father, I love you, but I also love donuts, and cookies, and pizza.” We could add how we love our possessions, tv shows, sports, and video games; we love our phones and tablets; we love gossip and arguments and feeling right; we might love drinking too much, unhealthy relationships, impure thoughts and images, and other destructive habits. Sometimes I ask myself, “In this present moment, would I rather have God or a donut (tv show/video game, etc).” That might sound ridiculous to you, but I really suspect that sometimes it is that simple. We often love our comfort more than anything else. We miss out on God in the present moment because we put something else ahead of Him.
This might sound like just one more thing to feel ashamed about, yet that is not the point at all. When we see our faults, we can be tempted to hide from God and others, but that is backwards. St. John Chrysostom says it so well, “The evil one upsets the order. He gives us courage to sin and shames us when we repent.” If we have not prioritized God in our life, let’s not hide. Let’s seek the joy of repentance, and learn to love God even more. Lent is not a time for more hiding; it’s a time to learn to love God more.
During Lent, we are asked to pray, fast, and give alms a little bit more. Some say that increasing prayer heals us toward God, fasting heals us by loving God more than our self and our comfort, and alms heals us by putting our love of God and our neighbor ahead of our love of money.
When we choose to pray, fast, and give alms, we can remember that we say to God, “I love you, but I also love…” Let us seek to set aside the buts, and more purely pray, “Abba Father, I love you,” in union with the Holy Spirit.
I’ll conclude with a quote from St. John of Kronstadt which says this all much more purely and succinctly:
“Let that which calms my mind and my heart be committed to writing that I may return to constant peace of heart amidst the cares of life. What is it? It is this saying, full of trust and power: ‘The Lord is everything to me.’ This is the priceless treasure, which if we possess we can be calm in every estate, rich in poverty, generous and kind to others in the time of wealth and not losing hope even after having sinned…” (Spiritual Counsels, p. 6)
May we all learn to pray, “Abba Father, I love you.
You are everything to me.”