Abba-Father delights in you because he knows your heart. He knows the good that is in your heart. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows his own presence within you.
Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp. For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory. (Psalm 149:3-4 NIV)
We understand way too little of how very much God delights in us.
Even when he is displeased with our behaviors, he knows that we are more than that. He is abundantly pleased with the redeemed saint who is temporarily hidden beneath our sin. Understanding this frees us to delight in his goodness. It frees us from the limitations we’ve projected onto our Father. It free us to accept his abundant generosity toward us.
It’s good that we are aware of our shortcomings and faults because it leads to repentance. But if we focus on how displeasing we are to God, we get stuck there. Our progress is thwarted in becoming who the Father created us to be. And the times when we are aware that he’s delighted with us are too brief, too few, and quickly forgotten.
We need to remember that the Father’s all-knowing awareness of us sees not only what is faulty and sinful in us but also what is good and delightful in us. Even while we are in the midst of a rebellious disregard of his Divine Will, if we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and if underneath the surface of our human frailty we desire to follow him and become like him, God knows. God sees. God celebrates all that is good in us.
Think about where the goodness in you came from. Everything that is good comes from God himself. This is why, when he looks at you, if you’ve received the Sacrament of Baptism and you’ve freely chosen to accept and embrace what Jesus did for you on the Cross, the Father sees his own divine grace in you. He sees his own presence within you. Therefore, how can he not delight in you?
Saint Rose of Lima (1586-1617) said,
If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace, how beautiful, how noble, how precious. How many riches it hides within itself, how many joys and delights!
Many people find it hard to believe that the Father is delighted with them. This is usually rooted in the discipline they received as children. Those who were hugged after punishments and were reassured of the parent’s love find it easier to know the Father’s delight. It’s more difficult for those who felt condemned more often than they were affirmed. Meanwhile, our Divine Daddy affirms us more than he condemns us. If there is anything that can be affirmed, he affirms it. He doesn’t fail to praise anything worth affirming. We just need to learn how to notice it and accept it.
To notice God’s affirmations, we have to: (1) first be able to dial into his goodness, his true nature. We can only do this after we’ve accepted how different he is from the imperfections of the humans we’ve known and we’ve delineated those differences (like you did earlier in this 30-day journey to the Father’s heart).
(2) We need to forgive ourselves for our own imperfections. If you find this too difficult, seek the help of a therapist or a mature Christian friend who understands what you’re experiencing. And start by forgiving yourself for not forgiving yourself!
(3) We need to forgive those who gave us wrong ideas about God’s true nature. Your forgiveness is a decision, not a feeling. Nor is it based on the remorse of those who have hurt you. Do you want to see them reach Heaven some day? Then pray for that as you forgive them and let go of your right to expect remorse.
(4) We need to have a good and consistent prayer life. Not memorized, rote prayers (these have their value but we must not limit ourselves to a formulaic relationship with God). A good prayer life includes conversational prayer. For example, start your day by chatting with the Father: “Good morning, Abba-Father!” Thank him for what he’s going to do with this day. Ask him to bless the day, and repeat this throughout the day as situations come up that need his divine touch. When you become aware that you’re constantly connected to God, and you find yourself talking him to throughout the day even in the midst of busy activities, it becomes natural to notice the Father’s affirmation.
Saint Anthony of the Desert (251-356) said,
The vision of the holy ones is not fraught with distraction: ‘For they will not strive, nor cry, nor shall anyone hear their voice’ (Matthew 12:19, Isaiah 42:2). But it comes quietly and gently that an immediate joy, gladness, and courage arise in the soul. For the Lord who is our joy is with them, and the power of God the Father.
(5) We need to accept the Father’s affirmation. It might feel like we’re not being humble, but the truth is that it is very humble to hear and know God’s affirmations. Remember this: True humility means acknowledging what God is doing in your life while seeing what is good in you because of his grace. It is not holy to condemn ourselves after we’ve been forgiven. If we’ve repented and we’ve received his grace through the Sacrament of Confession, and especially if we have followed this up with some form of penance (reparation), then there is no condemnation from God; therefore neither should we condemn ourselves.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:17-18 NIV)
The Father did not send his Son Jesus to Earth to condemn anyone. Sacrificing one’s life in order to condemn the person you died for does not make sense. Ask any soldier or police officer why they risk their lives. Only a psychotic person would endanger his life in order to kill someone he’s condemned. Our protective forces risk their lives to protect. That’s their top priority. And where did this character trait come from? Their Divine Father, of course.
Yet we feel condemned whenever we feel guilty about a sin. Why is that?
In Christ there is no condemnation
Most of us are harder on ourselves than we are on others. We expect more from ourselves. We demand more and feel horrible when we let ourselves down. At first, this seems right. Being scrupulous is holy. And we’ve learned that being easy on ourselves is unholy (it’s self-indulgent, rooted in the sin of pride).
We also know that it’s unholy to usurp God’s role and decide for ourselves what is sinful and what is not. (“I’m okay, I’m not really sinning.”). Well, good! God is delighted that you know this.
Usually the reason why people rationalize that their sins are really not sinful is because they’re afraid of feeling condemned, which translates to feeling unloved, which translates as proof that they are unlovable. But this is the voice of the Accuser, the Devil. Jesus taught very clearly that sin is sin, evil is evil, and holiness cannot be negotiated. He also set us free from condemnation by suffering and dying on the Cross.
If we fail to grasp what it means to be saved by Christ, it’s easy to believe that we’re never good enough no matter what we do. For some, this makes it impossible to forgive themselves. When we don’t feel happy about ourselves, we try to find happiness in how others treat us. Then of course we never get enough affirmation, and when you do get it, we feel embarrassed and unworthy.
When we sin, guilt confirms that we deserve to be condemned. When we innocently make a mistake, this too seems to confirm that we deserve to be condemned, and so we condemn ourselves for making the mistake when, instead, we should realize that our mistake is really just another learning tool. And when we suffer unjust, unfair, or unkind situations, if an inner voice tells us that we’re being punished, again we feel condemned.
The truth is: You were freed from condemnation when you accepted the idea that Christ sacrificed his life on the Cross for you.
When we sin, we are guilty of doing something evil, and when we repent, we return to the freedom gained by Christ. But too often guilt becomes shame. Shame is the feeling that we are evil, which is not to be confused with “regret” that motivates us to avoid committing the same evil again.
Guilt informs us that we have done evil, regret motivates us to avoid evil, and shame tells us that we are evil. Shame continues to condemn us long after we’ve been forgiven. Guilt tells us the truth about ourselves, regret invites us to grow from it, and shame lies to us and paralyzes our growth.
The truth is: There is no shame in realizing that we’ve sinned, because facing it frees us to become who we really are. Who are you really? Thanks to your baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit within you, you are holy! Your inner gem is holy (as you discovered on Day 14), and thanks to the Sacrament of Confession, the muck has been cleaned off. So, of course, the Father is delighted with you — even though you haven’t yet polished your gem to perfection. Only when we reach Heaven are our gems shining brightly, totally clean, perfectly polished.
We learn from life how to know God’s delight
Family vacations during my childhood involved four weeks of traveling across the U.S. by car. We saw wonderful sites: the Grand Canyon, Yosemite Park, the giant redwoods of California, glaciers and mountains and lakes and oceans. We had fun times on a dude ranch one year and on a houseboat another year.
This family history nurtured in me a fascination for God’s many and varied creations. I felt close to God the Awesome Creator when I stood at the base of a waterfall cascading from a high mountaintop. I felt close to God the fun-loving Daddy when I marveled at stalagmites and stalactites in caves.
What have you admired in nature and how has this aided your relationship to the Father?
My family’s vacations also instilled in me the value of expanding my awareness to the cultures and sites outside of my small, local world. My little world was little indeed. I didn’t even see people of other ethnicities. The three channels on my home’s black-and-white television didn’t help much to improve that limitation during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Then we went on a trip that took us through a city where I saw African-Americans for the first time.
“Look!” I exclaimed. “Chocolate people!” After chuckling at my naiveté, my parents explained what we were seeing. From that starting point, I grew up without being deluded by racism. I learned that everyone from every culture is a precious child of God with great dignity.
What funny experiences in your life taught you something about God?
When we traveled to the Grand Canyon and hiked along some of its trails, my dad’s love for adventure coupled with the parental fear of disaster (“Don’t stand any closer to the ledge than that!”) gave me an image of Daddy-God as fun-loving and adventuresome but also protective.
In what ways were you protected during childhood? Can you see God in those experiences?
These family vacations required many hours on the road. To afford them, we ate donuts and pastries for breakfast in the motel room. Then we drove until lunchtime, finding a rest stop with picnic tables and a playground so that I and my younger brother and sister could run and burn off our restlessness. Mom served us sandwiches and cookies. An hour later we were back on the road until around four o’clock when we’d find the next motel. We ate dinner in a restaurant and Mom shopped for the next day’s breakfast and lunch.
Many problems can happen on a long trip like that. At one of the rest stops, my brother Kurt took off his wristwatch, laid it down somewhere and then ran off to play. He didn’t remember it again until we were back in the car several miles down the road. So we returned to look for it. We wondered: “What if someone else found it and took it?”
Dad, anxious about losing valuable time, was upset about Kurt’s carelessness. I silently prayed that my brother would find the watch to redeem himself.
I’m the one who found it. I said to the Lord, “But I asked for Kurt to be the one who finds it.” In my heart, I heard his response, loud and clear: “You, my beloved child, were the only one who prayed for help.”
Remember a time when you tried to help someone by praying for them (or, if you didn’t have faith during childhood, you were hoping for them) and you were the one who ended up knowing the solution to the problem. Because you cared, God gave you the wisdom that was needed. This is evidence that the Father was very delighted with you. He celebrated your gift of caring. He enjoys partnering with you! Rejoice with him.
Saint Gregory Thaumaturgus (213-270) said,
The good man who gets wisdom from God gets also heavenly enjoyment.
However, these vacation trips weren’t perfect. They didn’t always teach me good things about Father God. I learned a few things that I later had to unlearn.
One day, heavy rains flooded the streets that we needed to drive through. My dad said he was afraid the brakes would get wet and fail. His white-knuckled hands on the steering wheel showed how worried he really was.
In the back seat, I silently prayed for protection. I didn’t pray out loud in case I’d be shushed. The rain soon stopped and the roads drained and the brakes stayed clear of the wetness. Finally relaxing, my dad said, “Well, I guess Terry was praying.” I did not feel complimented. There was no thank-you attached to his words. Perhaps he truly was appreciative, but my perceptions were skewed by my frustration that I was the only one with the reputation of praying for divine help.
This frustration increased back home. My dad lost his temper often, and I wondered why he didn’t turn to the Lord for help when he felt so stressed out. He was a man of God, a minister. Why didn’t he show “the peace that passes understanding” that I’d heard so much about in Sunday school? I wanted a daddy who would be a good guide for my spiritual growth but, by the grace of God, I sometimes understood spiritual matters before my dad did (such as the importance of praying for help during a rainstorm).
The problem is, he didn’t want to learn from a little kid. And when I became a teenager, my frustrations turn into rebellion, which turned into arguments, which turned into losing the argument and getting punished for sassing back.
This pattern caused me to feel repeatedly misunderstood. The father I longed for was often not what I needed him to be. So I doubted that Father God was someone I could turn to for understanding. And I became hyper-sensitive toward anyone who misunderstood me or disbelieved me or accused me of being or thinking differently than the way I saw myself. It sent me into an emotional tailspin until I met the real Abba-Father and learned how to listen for his voice telling me what he really thinks of me.
At first, this might seem dangerous. God sees our faults more clearly than everyone else. We know he can condemn us for a long list of what’s wrong about us. But that’s never the first thing he tells us — not if we have allowed him to adopt us.
He says, “You are my beloved child, with whom I am very pleased.”
He is also pleading, “Go and sin no more,” because he knows how much we are hurting ourselves by choosing to sin. He knows how much we’re damaging his other beloved children. He suffers the yearning heart of a father whose son or daughter has been separated from him. He is angry at what our sins are doing to us and through us to others.
But as I’ve said in previous chapters, he sees beyond the bad to embrace and encourage what is good in us. When Abba-Father looks at what is wrong in us, he also sees our potential. He looks at us through the lens of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, which we have embraced. He sees what we’ve been doing to improve. He is happy about every step we take in the right direction, following Christ and learning from him. He’s looking at who we really are, deep in our hearts, in our souls, where he dwells. He’s looking at our gem — the beloved child he created.
Sometimes people accuse us of a sin that we did not commit. Or of doing something worse than we really did. Or they condemn us for making an innocent mistake. In each situation, Abba-Father comforts us. He says, “I feel your pain. Come let me hold you on my lap, little one. Cry on my shoulder until your tears are done.”
If we try to comfort ourselves, we never feel comforted. Often self-comfort is attempted through self-justification. We tell ourselves, “What I did was understandable. I’m not to blame. I tried my best. It seemed right when I did it, and I still think it’s right, even though deep down I know it’s not.” We torture ourselves with self-doubt and self-recrimination at the same time that we’re telling ourselves that we did no wrong.
“I’m good!” we cry and never quite believe it.
Instead, if we let Abba-Father comfort us, healing begins. When we have such a good prayer life that we can hear him telling us why he is delighted with us, even when we feel bad about ourselves (especially when we feel bad about ourselves), we can focus our energies on handling the situation the way God wants us to.
We know we are good because the Father made us good. We know that Jesus took our sins upon himself on Good Friday. And the Holy Spirit strengthens what is good in us. With this three-fold dependence on God, we no longer need to prove our goodness to our accusers. We can be satisfied that God is satisfied with us.
Dancing with the Father
Ralph and our daughter, Tammy, used to go to father-daughter dances, a yearly parish event. Even when she was the oldest girl there, she was not too embarrassed to enjoy these “dates” with her dad. And Ralph was delighted that she wanted to go dancing with him.
I believe that our Divine Daddy wants to go dancing with us every day. Any sort of adventure that puts a smile on our face is a vacation with him. He knows that we need a break from routines and, when the difficulties of life are draining us, he wants to restore us by giving us a good time that leaves us with good memories.
We miss a lot of opportunities to go dancing with the Father simply because we don’t go looking for them. Maybe we think we must press on through the troubled waters until we reach the other side where we will flop onto the beach exhausted. Or perhaps we look at the to-do list and jump into the next thing that needs our attention without slowing down enough to pray for a play break.
When we were young, school days included recess because teachers understood that the interruption of serious study with some laughter-producing fun could improve students’ attention in class. Don’t you think God understands this even better? We all need recess! We all need time to play — and our Divine Daddy wants to play with us.
Did Jesus have playtime with the Father? As an adult? In the midst of his seriously important ministry? Surely he did! What do you think Jesus was doing as he walked on water during the storm? I imagine that he had quite a lot of fun with that. As far as we know, it was the first time he had done it. And since he was continually talking with the Father, I wouldn’t be surprised if their conversation went something like this:
Jesus: “Hmmmm, my disciples are halfway across the Sea of Galilee and a storm is brewing. They’re going to get scared real soon. Abba, I’d better catch up with them.”
Abba: “I’d give you a speedboat, but that won’t be invented for a couple of thousand years yet. It would freak them out if they heard you come roaring toward them with a powered engine at the back of your boat. Just start walking toward them.”
Jesus: “On the water? How awesome! Will my sandals get wet or will I be hovering slightly above the surface of the water? But hey, this is just as freaky. My disciples will think I’m a ghost.”
Abba: “Sure, that’s okay. We’ll use it to teach them something about faith. Let’s get going.”
Jesus puts one foot and then another onto the water and laughs: “Hahahaha! Those fish never saw anything like this before.”
Abba: “Look over there! I’m making a really big fish jump out of the water to entertain you. This is fun!”
Jesus: “Yeah, I saw that! It was a very colorful fish. You make very beautiful creations.”
Abba: “Thanks. Remember when the leviathan was formed? I had Jonah in mind when I designed that one.”
Jesus: “Hahahaha, a big wave just splashed me. The storm is getting worse. The disciples won’t see the humor in this — yet. There they are. They’re going to notice me soon.”
Can you imagine Abba treating you the same way the next time a storm brews in your life? It’s good to take time to have fun with your Father. Make a concerted effort to develop this kind of relationship with him. A good way to start is by thinking of his playfulness whenever you’re doing something that’s fun.
Blessed Karl Leisner (1915-1945) said,
Without the love of God and joy in my soul, I will accomplish nothing. With God, I will have everything in me! Give me the strength, Lord!
Today’s Exercise Part 1:
Play a game with Abba-Father
One of my favorite activities is to take a walk through the woods. Along the way, I look for interesting shapes in the tree branches. (“Oh look at that, Abba! It’s wonderful that You made it grow that way. If I were young again, I’d climb up there and sit on that branch and get real quiet and wait for a bird to perch near me.”) I smile at the wildflowers. (“Thank you, Abba! You grew those flowers there for me to enjoy.”) I notice that the clouds are tinged with gold. (“Hahahahah, that cloud is shaped like a fish! And so shiny!”)
Playtime with God is an important kind of prayer. Yet it’s so neglected. When we take time to pray this way, we get in touch with how much he delights in us. And in this, we receive healing. We get re-energized. We grow holier because, while we’re dancing with the Father, we can’t hear the devil’s temptations.
Blessed Giuseppina Nicoli (1863-1924) said,
Joy is a great remedy. I recommend it to you and I do so very enthusiastically…! Be joyful! I say it again: be joyful! When we are joyful, we are less aware of evil and are cured more quickly. Cast all your cares on God, He is the best of fathers and will look after you as well as possible.
Observe the beauty in nature that God has placed around you. He loves you so much that he gives you beautiful things to look at. They are signs that God is with you. Abba-Father gives you special treats every day to prove that he is attentive to your every desire, your every thought, your every worry, and all of your prayer requests. For example, imagine that you’re walking down a lane and you see a ray of sunlight shining through the dense trees. This is God giving you something enjoyable to look at, to bless your day, and to remind you that you are connected to him, because he cares about you so much.
Yes, my friend, God delights in you. Look for the many ways that he’s revealing this to you.
The Father’s hand is in every little thing that goes right and every big thing. Coincidental timing that benefits you shows that he’s involved.
Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you how much the Father cares about you. The more your personal relationship with the Holy Spirit grows, the more easily you will become aware that the Father delights in you. This is one of the many reasons why the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” (the fully enlivened personal relationship with the Holy Spirit) is an important part of a well-rounded Christian life. The Holy Spirit will increase your awareness of how much the Father is revealing himself to you through the things around you and in the circumstances of your life every day.
For the first part of today’s spiritual exercise, you’ll need to go outside. If it’s a sunny day with clouds in the sky, follow the instructions given in the next paragraph. If you cannot do this now, do it at your earliest opportunity.
When you go outside, sit down. Better yet, let your inner child control this exercise: lie down on the grass if you can. Look up at the clouds and study them. Imagine that Abba-Father is sitting (or reclining on the grass) near you. Play the cloud-image game with him. He designed these clouds. What shapes do you see in them? What do they morph into when the shape slowly changes? Make a fairy tale story with him from what you see.
If possible, stop reading now and go outside or look through a window to do this exercise.
* * *
The Father appreciates your goodness
Remember the gem that he sees in you. The next time someone gets mad at you — justifiably or wrongly — take time out to meditate on your Divine Daddy’s opinion of you. He approves of everything that is good in you. He appreciates the good that you’re doing. Even when you mess up, if you’re willing to admit it and rectify it, he wants to lighten the mood. He is eager to resume the dance.
When others get upset with you, what prevents you from being aware of how delighted Abba-Father is with you? Is it a long-ago parental voice scolding you, telling you that you’re not good enough to make God happy? Or maybe you were taught that God is always scowling at us, disapproving of us because we are sinners. It’s very powerful — and freeing — to identify the messages that we’re believing when we disbelieve that God delights in us.
There’s an important balance between facing our sins so we become holier and appreciating (without the sin of arrogance) how holy we have become.
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
We are all called and anointed to reveal the Father to others by imitating Christ. The fact that we fail at this repeatedly is far less important to the Father than the effort we put into succeeding. If today you are a little holier than yesterday, you are fulfilling the call to holiness. This is the perfection of Christian living. It’s progress, and that matters a lot to our Father. He cherishes every little footstep forward on the path of holiness. He is delighted with every little bit of effort and he dances over every big and difficult effort.
In the Bible, the word “perfect” is used to mean fullness. God’s perfect love is the fullness of love. God’s perfect timing is the fullness of eternity interacting with the clocks that we have on Earth. By the same standards, the fullness of your Christian life on Earth is a journey to the destination of Heaven’s perfection. Step by step. One day at a time.
There are a million reasons why we deserve to be condemned rather than applauded. However, when we think God is condemning us, if we’ve accepted what Jesus did for us on the Cross and our desire is to grow in holiness, then the voice of condemnation is not his. It’s the devil who’s the Accuser (re-read Day 11). And Jesus has given us the power to silence the Accuser. In Revelation 12:10-11 (NIV), we learn that if we have placed ourselves at the foot of the Cross to receive deliverance from our sins by the blood of Christ, we successfully triumph over the Accuser’s attack of condemnation.
Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony.
The Devil wants to distract us from the good that we do. Abba-Father wants to increase our holiness by affirming the good that we do. Even when he tells us what’s wrong with us, he tells us what’s right about us. He encourages us to be who we really are, the beloved child he created and adopted. He’s not pointing at the sins we’ve committed. He’s pointing the way out of it. He’s taking us by the hand to guide us to the path of repentance that leads to great rejoicing.
And the moment we step foot on that path, headed in the right direction (the heavenly direction), the Father dances. The angels dance with them. And the saints in Heaven join the party.
Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:4-7 NIV)
Today’s Exercise Part 2:
Think of a recent incident when someone got upset with you. What do you imagine Abba-Father would like to say to you that will affirm your goodness and renew your joy? Write it down in the format of a letter that he is writing to you. Start with, “Dear [insert your name] My beloved child….”
He’s not going to justify your sins. He’s not going to agree that you’re blameless. He’s not going to condemn the people whom you blame for the problems you’re dealing with. But he does want to build you up so that you can feel good about moving forward in holiness. Put his affirmation into writing. Feel free to imagine him saying what you long to hear him say but you’re not yet sure he is saying. If what you write does not contradict scripture and the teachings of the Church, it’s safe to assume that the Father himself is behind the words that come to you.
* * *
And now, your Divine Daddy wants to give you a special gift — “Love Notes” — that you can read to hear his affirmation whenever you need it. Here’s a sample:
Download (below) the PDF file called “Love Notes from God“. This document contains 16 healing and inspiring scriptures adapted into “love notes”. To use it:
- Print out all eight pages on colored paper.
- Slice each page in half to separate each love note.
- Fold each love note in half to hide their contents.
- Place them in a basket or decorative box and mix them up.
- Once a day or whenever you need to hear the Father’s affirmation, ask him to choose one of the love notes for you. Then pull one out and make it part of your prayer conversation.
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© 2020 by Terry A. Modica
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