There are many names for God in scripture. Let’s look at the one that Jesus used: Abba. Then let’s find your own special name for God to help heal your relationship with him.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:14-16 NIV)
My dad has a favorite memory about my childhood, which he likes to retell often. It was the day I became old enough to notice the man who was preaching up front in church. I stood up on the pew, pointed and exclaimed, “That’s my daddy!”
My dad was the pastor of a Protestant congregation. He beamed with pride at his little girl’s pronouncement, even though I had interrupted his sermon.
Unknowingly, I had preached my own sermon that day with those three simple words. As Abba-Father’s children, we have good reason to exclaim every single day, “That’s my Daddy!” If you’re not already doing this, let’s begin. It will make a difference.
Imagine that you’re sitting in church and the pastor finishes reading the Gospel passage and looks up at the congregation, ready to explain what you just heard. Suddenly the image of an elderly gentleman transposes itself over the pastor. The pastor is hidden completely. What you see is God the Father. You know it’s him. No doubt about it! Your innermost spirit recognizes him.
God himself has come to explain the Gospel passage!
His voice is calm, soothing, and gentle yet full of certainty. You can see in his face that he is yearning – deeply yearning – for everyone (even the small children) to understand what he is saying. You have never before heard the Bible explained with such clarity. How beautiful he makes the truth sound! Even the part that used to be difficult for you to believe as true, now you know for sure that it is true and you feel very blessed to finally see it from God’s perspective. You can’t help but smile and nod your head as the truth sinks in.
Your smile has caught his eye. He looks directly at you and returns your grin with the biggest, happiest smile you have ever seen. You can feel his gaze penetrating deeply into your soul. You know he can see all your faults, but he is still grinning with delight! He sees everything that is good in you and (you know this with all of your heart) he is very pleased with you.
As he turns back to the rest of the congregation to continue the homily, he winks at you.
Now you feel like standing up and shouting, “That’s my—!” Daddy. Father. Papa. Abba. What name do you use? Your choice can affect your confidence in him.
We have emotional attachments to certain names. Who was your favorite person during childhood – someone who cared about you, someone you enjoyed, someone who was safe and uplifting?
When you meet a new acquaintance with the same name today, do you automatically have good feelings about this person?
Who bullied you?
A stranger today with the same name might have to wait for you to process your inner distrust as you carefully watch for proof of goodness. Though this process might happen so quickly you don’t realize you’re doing it, it’s a normal psychological phenomenon.
At around the age of six, I stopped calling my father “Daddy” because it seemed to express a warmth between us that existed only in my wishful thinking. Nor did I want to call him “Father” because that sounded too formal, too cold and stand-offish, and my relationship with him was better than that.
What does the name “Father” feel like to you? What does praying to “Our Father who art in Heaven” do for your desire to feel closer to God? Does this name exude trust? The kind of trust that dwells in your heart and affects your behaviors?
Trust does not reside in your intellectual-thinking head where you know the truth about God. How much of your life – your daily decisions, moods, and words – gives evidence that you trust God? Trusting him so much that you would follow him across a dangerous highway while traffic is speeding toward you?
A prayer life based on intimacy with the Father
Many people don’t know that God is speaking to them every day in a fatherly way. Do you recognize when he’s hugging you and comforting you and is being everything else that we look for in a daddy?
Charmaine calls him “Papa God”. She says, “Some years ago I remember coming home very distressed from my job, crying out to him, and he scooped me into his bosom to comfort me. If only I could have stayed there! Recently, I asked him for a hug. I received it in the arms of a complete stranger. The next day, the Holy Spirit confirmed that this had been the hug that I had asked for.”
That’s my Daddy! And yours, too.
When I need a hug from God, I sometimes return to the throne room where I had first climbed onto his lap. Visualizations like this are very helpful, especially after prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit to anoint your imagination. I also visit my Divine Daddy in the visualization of a sunny, green field surrounded by colorful wildflowers. In this meditation, the Father is sitting on a quilted blanket on the ground. He’s inviting me to join him, and I do. He already knows what’s bothering me, so I snuggle into his embrace and let him hold me.
This is more than just a mental exercise. It’s very real. I’m sure of it, because I always feel better afterward.
When you imagine being alone with Father God, where do you go? What does the scene look like? The more details you add to what you visualize, the more effective the meditation becomes.
When you finish the encounter, do you feel more loved? Do you feel heard? Do you feel like you benefited from the experience? If so, trust those feelings. If you had been unable to force yourself to feel better before meeting up with the Father, you can be sure that the reason you feel better afterward is because you really, truly did spend time with your divine Daddy.
But what if you cannot imagine being alone with Father God? What if your attempts to meditate on and feel his presence keep failing? Remember that Jesus said (John 14:7 NIV), “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” So focus on Jesus and let him reveal the Father to you. Listen to Liddy’s story and see the Father in Jesus:
I recall when I was very young, probably in my teens, that I felt so unloved (in my family of 6, I was the 5th child). I was crying uncontrollably on my bed and I wished God would take me Home, I didn’t belong here on Earth. Then something made me turn and look behind me. There was the figure of Jesus with outstretched arms! And this wonderful peace filled me. He did not touch me or hold me, and when I looked again there was nothing. But this peaceful love enfolded me.
God as Liddy’s Father reached out to her through her relationship with Jesus.
One of the clues that God is speaking to you in a fatherly way is what happens when you feel heard. As you pour out your grief to God – your tears or your troubles – how do you know that he is truly listening?
To answer this, consider: Was your human father a good listener? And your mother and the priest in the confessional and others you’ve turned to when you needed to be heard? Could you approach each of them with confidence in their desire to believe you and understand you and listen to your heart as well as to your words?
If you can say yes to that last question, you probably have no difficulty feeling heard by God. You’re very blessed! Many who are reading this have not had the same experience. Yet.
God, of course, hears every word we say and every thought we don’t speak. He understands us better than we understand ourselves. And he sees it all through the lens of “the big picture” – the entire situation, including the needs of everyone who’s affected by it. He knows what’s transitory and he knows how to lead us into the eternal if only we would respond to his voice.
A very important part of being heard well is receiving well the responses that come to us. We learn to do this – poorly or appropriately – from our human relationships. If the father-figures in your life have genuinely listened to you and understood you, it’s likely that you find it fairly easy to entrust your heart to God and believe that he cares. And you behave accordingly.
The best possible scenario is when the person we’re speaking to is strongly connected to the Holy Spirit, actively listening to both the Spirit and to us at the same time. When that happens, we can trust that God will speak to us through that person.
But ask yourself this: Do you have any automatic distrust? A built-in protection mechanism that keeps you guarded in case the other person does not really have your best interests at heart? If you do, it’s affecting your ability to receive all that the Father wants to give to you and say to you through this other person.
Consider what it means to be truly heard. A lot of people seem to be listening to us, but if they become judgmental about what they hear, they have not listened well. When we feel misjudged after being open and honest, it’s because the person we’re talking to is listening more to his or her own ideas, faults, and presumptions than to us.
How has this affected your relationship with God?
Felisha, who says she never feels “the comfort of his closeness”, described her father as a good listener but very judgmental and her mother as extremely controlling and more judgmental toward her than to anyone else. When asked what her stumbling block is in her relationship with God, she answered with frustration, saying: “I can’t understand how a loving Father, seeing a child of his trying to reach him, would not bend down and pick her up.”
There’s a direct connection between how her parents “listened” to her and why she thinks that God ignores her when she reaches out to him. She did not learn what being listened to is really like. She says, “I know that God listens when I speak to him, but he is like one of those people we see on TV who waves away journalists, saying ‘NO COMMENT!’”
Judgmentalism creates a very wrong impression about God. God is, of course, the ultimate Judge. Psalm 75:7 (NIV) says, “It is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.” Saint Peter preached that everyone has to “give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5 NIV). However, if we think of ourselves as deserving of punishment even after we repent, we’ve forgotten why Jesus died on the Cross.
This train of thought is actually from the Devil. Satan is the Accuser, not God. Satan wants us to feel so bad about ourselves that we believe God can’t or won’t be gentle with us. Satan does not want us realize that God is, in truth, a loving Father who bends down into our sinful messes to pick us up and cradle us gently next to his heart.
Yes, Abba-Father is The Judge. But that does not mean he is judgmental.
Judgmentalism teaches that God doesn’t care about us nearly as much as he cares about laws and rules and regulations. Judgmentalism teaches that God does not hear our hearts, that he does not consider our motives, and that he does not notice how much we actually desire is to be holy even though we are sinning.
In reality, a good judge listens very well. A good judge takes everything into consideration. Psalm 119:137 says, “You are just, O Lord, and your judgment is right.” God is never judgmental but he does make fair judgments – more accurate judgments than any human can make. His heart goes out to everyone who genuinely wants to be lifted from sin. When he sees his child reaching up to him to be pulled out of her messes, of course he bends down to pick her up!
For our relationship with Abba-Father to be healed, we need to unlearn what judgmentalism taught us and learn how to recognize God the Father as the Good Judge. Then we will be able to proclaim with delight: “That’s my Daddy!”
Find your special prayer-name for God
We know that God is supposed to be completely trustable, but when your prayers are not answered, how do you feel about God (not think, but feel about him)? Do you feel abandoned? Ignored? Rejected? To whatever extent we feel this way about God, that’s how much we don’t trust him. And how do you suppose that makes him feel?
Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta (1865-1947), also known as the “Little Daughter of the Divine Will”, was an incredible mystic. Jesus told her:
I feel sad when they think that I am severe, and that I make more use of Justice than of Mercy. They act with Me as if I were to strike them at each circumstance. Oh! how dishonored I feel by these ones. … by just taking a look at my life, they can but notice that I did only one act of Justice – when, in order to defend the house of my Father, I took the ropes and snapped them to the right and to the left, to drive out the profaners. Everything else, then, was all Mercy: Mercy my conception, my birth, my words, my works, my steps, the Blood I shed, my pains –everything in Me was merciful love. Yet, they fear Me, while they should fear themselves more than Me. (June 9, 1922)
Remember, Jesus revealed God the Father through the way he treated people. Like Father, like Son. Re-read what Jesus told Luisa Piccarre, but this time recognize the feelings of Abba-Father.
Now think of a prayer request you’ve recently offered up to God. Imagine making the same request to the person who was your best childhood friend. Let’s further imagine that this person has been given supernatural powers. Knowing how good and caring your friend was to you, what do you suppose he or she would do with your request? And probably pretty fast, too, right?
Okay, so try nicknaming God with that person’s name. My best, longest childhood friend was Mary Cleary. It just doesn’t seem suitable to pray to God and call him Mary. It does help, however, to project onto God the qualities about Mary Cleary that I enjoyed so much.
It was my friend Mary who introduced me to the fun of bowling. “You’ll like it,” she told me.
“Let’s go!” I trusted her. I believed her. No question about it, I would enjoy bowling. So I asked my dad for permission and he told me, “No.”
Oops, my dad had disappointed me again. I felt personally rejected when he rejected my request. Making matters worse, he offered no explanation.
As a teenager, I had become bold when Dad’s responses made no sense to me. So I demanded to know, “Why not?”
Of course, he didn’t like this and responded with anger. I began to cry. Finally the truth came out: He said he was trying to protect me. He didn’t like bowling because he wasn’t good at it, and he was sure that I wouldn’t like it either.
Joe had a similar experience:
I’ll never forget when my father and mother forbade me from joining the Boy Scouts. My heart was set on it, but what my father didn’t understand, he didn’t permit. I blamed him for being an ignorant immigrant who never got to eighth grade. It wasn’t until much later that I realized the big picture: His love was protection from what he didn’t know and understand.
God as our Good Father wants to protect us, too, but unlike our human parents, God understands everything. When he says no to us, he’s taking into consideration the big picture – the whole picture. How it would affect our future. How it would affect others. Whether or not it will lead to sin.
We need to remind ourselves of this whenever we allow old wounds, consciously or unconsciously, to project onto God the limited knowledge of humans.
Happily, my dad changed his mind when he heard himself explain his reason for saying no to my desire to go bowling. And guess what! I enjoyed bowling very much despite all the gutter balls I rolled. If I had trusted my dad’s feelings about bowling, though, I would have felt discouraged by my low score. But because I trusted my friend’s enthusiasm for the game, I enjoyed it immensely. That’s what a best friend can do.
It’s taken me a lifetime to see Abba-Father as a best friend. Some grown-up daughters have a best-friend relationship with their dads. I can’t imagine what that’s like. If you have the same difficulty, it’s time to be healed from relating to Father God as if he were a disciplinarian who has limited understanding and limited compassion. It’s time to develop a relationship with him that’s a close friendship. A good friend doesn’t reject you over bad bowling. And this is the kind of friendship that the Divine Father wants to have with you.
It’s very healing to project onto God the loving traits of the best friends we’ve known. Did your friends understand you when you shared your deepest thoughts with them? Abba-Father understands you better than all others. Did your friends ever criticize you when you were open and vulnerable with them? Your Divine Father does not do this, but if there is something to criticize, he wraps you in his loving arms and invites you to improve without making you feel bad about yourself.
Did your childhood friends enjoy hanging out with you? What about the friends you have today? Why do they feel good in your presence? Abba-Father likes being with you for the same reasons.
Which friends have been strong supports for you? Like: “I’ve got your back. No matter what others think of you, I’m on your side.” Abba-Father is definitely saying that to you right now.
How do I know this is true? Because I rely on it! For example, whenever someone falsely accuses me or refuses to believe me, my first reaction is to defend myself. I want to argue in an attempt to change the other person’s mind. (A normal human reaction, right?) But I’ve learned that this rarely works. More importantly, I need to stop caring about what others think of me and focus only on what God thinks of me. Instead of trying to protect my reputation (which is what motivated me to argue) I should let Father God protect me.
When I turn to him and ask him to defend me, everything changes. God’s love fills me and this brings with it a peace that is inexplicable. Sometimes the other person hears or receives the truth from God that I had wanted to argue them into believing. But when they don’t, it doesn’t matter because God is comforting me. I visit him on the blanket in the field and tell him what the other person accused me of. I do this with insecurity, because I wonder if there is any truth to the accusation. “Maybe I feel defensive because I don’t want to hear the truth,” I tell him. “What do You think about me?”
And then, if there’s a wrong I need to admit and fix, Abba-Father reassures me that I am much more than this one sin or this one mistake. He reminds me of what is good about me, what the other person had failed to see in me. His perfect love fills the entire conversation.
I’m able to do this healing meditation because I’ve had good friends who defended me.
Making the connection between our friends’ loving traits and God’s is an excellent spiritual exercise. However, we can’t take this so far as to use their names when praying to God. That would sound silly and be too distracting. And yet, names are important. Think about how you feel when you contact an important person (a boss, the leader of your favorite ministry, the owner of a business you’ve sent a complaint to, and such), and you get a reply that includes your name — not in some formal way (like “Dear so-and-so”) but embedded in the message itself. It indicates that you matter. You feel connected.
God says to you, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1 NIV). When you summon God by name, what do you call him? Does it make you feel connected? And connected closely enough?
Remember what I shared with you, in Day 1, about why I could no longer call my father “Daddy”. The name didn’t fit because it felt too intimate, so I chose “Dad”. I considered calling him “Father”, but that was too formal. This carries into my relationship with the Divine Father. I can’t call God “Dad” because that totally projects my human dad onto him. The name “Father” seems too formal. And the name “Daddy” is tainted by memories of feeling disappointed in and disconnected from my dad. So, what name would help me in my relationship with God the Father?
What works for me might not work well for you. For some people, the name “Father” conveys loving respect while for others it makes God seem distant. A good step deeper into the Father’s heart is choosing a name for him that summons all the wonderful and perfect fatherhood that you long for.
What did Jesus call him during those private all-nighters of deep prayer? It seems likely that he called him “Abba”.
“Abba” was the Aramaic word for “father” in the traditional liturgies and prayers of the Jews whenever they referred to God in a family context. It did not literally mean “Daddy”; it had no connotation as a term of endearment or a child-like relationship with God. It was simply what sons and daughters called their dads throughout their lives.
The Gospel writer Mark tells us that Jesus used this name for the Father while agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane. In great emotional angst, Jesus called out: “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me.” And then he added, “Yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36 NASB). Since “abba” means “father”, it’s as if Jesus cried out, “Father! Father!” Interestingly, it’s only Mark who shows Jesus using the name Abba; what was Mark’s reason for pointing this out? What did he intend to teach?
One of the reasons why Jesus was killed is because he closely aligned himself to God the Father. He repeatedly emphasized that he came from the Father and did and said only what the Father wanted him to do and say. His opponents thought, “Blasphemy! Jesus is merely human like everybody else. It’s impossible that he could be both human and divine at the same time.”
In using “Abba! Father!” as the cry of Jesus, Mark wrote both the Aramaic word for “father” and the Greek word. His use of the Aramaic name “Abba” referenced the Jewish liturgies that Jesus had grown up with. By coupling this with the everyday Greek work for father, Mark was reaching out to both Jews and Gentiles, making it clear that God was the same God for both. And Mark was saying that God was not only the father of Jesus, he was The Father – the Father of us all.
This very pointedly asserts that God’s fatherhood was very important to Jesus, both theologically and in the family sense – including in the hour of his greatest emotional need. Look at the depth of trust this implies: “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”
When you pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, who art in Heaven….”, do you feel that same level of deep trust? I don’t; not automatically. But when I pray “Abba, my True Father, my Divine Daddy in Heaven….” what a difference this makes!
Maybe you’d prefer to call him Papa or Pops or Paw. Choose a name that is powerfully intimate for you, a name that does not remind you of your own human father unless he doted on you so much that he really was a good representation of the compassionate trustworthiness of God.
There are two more times in the New Testament when God is called “Abba”. Paul used it in Galatians 4:6 and Romans 8:15 to emphasize the special son/daughter relationship we have with the Divine Father who loves us so much that he adopted us into his family. It’s an adoption that gives us full privileges and inheritance. (We’ll get into this more deeply in a later chapter.)
In other words, God is trustworthy in a very fatherly way and in the best sense of the word “fatherly”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church helps us understand this (in paragraph 239):
By calling God “Father,” the language of faith indicates … that he is goodness and loving care for all his children…. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood…. He transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.
Meditating with Our Father
We can learn much about who God the Abba-Father really is by meditating on the words Jesus gave us when he taught us how to pray:
Abba, Papa, my perfect Daddy, the same Father who sent angels to minister to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane…
Who art in Heaven,
because You are divine, You are Creator of all, You fathered me, gave life to me and want to spend eternity with me, because Heaven wouldn’t be the same without me, and You long to enjoy it with me….
Hallowed be Thy name,
for Your very name is holy and You want me to call you “Abba-Father”, sanctifying the title of Father, teaching me and showing the world what true fatherhood is meant to be…
Thy Kingdom come,
because You have adopted me and honored me with the privilege of being Your prince/princess, generously giving to me the inheritance of all the valuables of Your Kingdom, and You desire that I live in this inheritance right now….
Thy will be done,
because everything You will is good and everything You desire for me is blessed…
On Earth as it is in Heaven,
because You care about every nuance of my earthly life, every moment, every problem I face, every person I meet, every opportunity to use the gifts and talents You have given me…
Give us this day our daily bread,
because You care about every hunger I have and You want to feed me with the nourishment that satisfies, purifies, heals, and blesses me. You want to give me Your Son, Jesus, Who is the Bread of Life, Who is teaching me to trust You more by making me rely only on You, one day at a time, moment by moment…
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,
because it pains You to see me enslaved to my sins and chained to the sins of others, since You want only what is good for me…
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil,
for this is what I truly want, and You as my Abba-Father want to protect me and strengthen me in the midst of the evils of this world. You want to rescue me through Jesus from demonic strongholds and influences…
Saint Francis of Assisi meditated on the nature of Abba by writing his own prayer inspired by the Our Father prayer:
O OUR most holy FATHER
Our Creator, Redeemer, Consoler, and Savior,
WHO ARE IN HEAVEN:
In the angels and in the saints,
Enlightening them to love, because You, Lord, are light
Inflaming them to love, because You, Lord are love
Dwelling in them and filling them with happiness
because You, Lord, are the Supreme Good,
the Eternal Good
from Whom comes all good
without Whom there is no good.
HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME:
May our knowledge of You become ever clearer
That we may know the breadth of Your blessings
the length of Your promises
the height of Your majesty
the depth of Your judgments.
YOUR KINGDOM COME:
So that You may rule in us through Your grace
and enable us to come to Your kingdom
where there is an unclouded vision of You
a perfect love of You
a blessed companionship with You
an eternal enjoyment of You.
YOUR WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN:
That we may love You with our whole heart by always thinking of You
with our whole soul by always desiring You
with our whole mind by directing all our
intentions to You and by seeking Your
glory in everything
and with our whole strength by spending all our
energies and affections
of soul and body
in the service of Your love
and of nothing else
and may we love our neighbors as ourselves
by drawing them all with our whole strength to Your love
by rejoicing in the good fortunes of others as well as our own
and by sympathizing with the misfortunes of other
and by giving offense to no one.
GIVE US THIS DAY:
in memory and understanding and reverence
of the love which our Lord Jesus Christ had for us
and of those things that He said and did and suffered for us.
OUR DAILY BREAD:
Your own Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
AND FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES:
Through Your ineffable mercy
through the power of the Passion of Your Beloved Son
together with the merits and intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary
and all Your chosen ones
AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US:
And whatever we do not forgive perfectly,
do you, Lord, enable us to forgive to the full
so that we may truly love our enemies
and fervently intercede for them before You
returning no one evil for evil
and striving to help everyone in You.
AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION:
Hidden or obvious,
Sudden or persistent.
BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL:
Past, present, and to come.
Today’s Exercise: That’s my Daddy!
Now write your own version of the Our Father prayer, and finish off each sentence with the exclamation, “That’s my Daddy!” For example:
Our Father, You are in Heaven where you see everything that is going on in my life, and because You care so much about me, You are working a plan for my benefit, not disaster.
That’s my Daddy!
Hallowed be Thy name. I worship You because You are holy.
That’s my Daddy!
And so forth.
By writing it down, it becomes much more meaningful. Meditate on it daily. Bring it to mind when you’re reciting the Our Father prayer in church where we go through it too fast for a deep meditation. Once your own version becomes so well known to you that it floods your worship when the recitation of the Our Father begins, you’ll automatically become cognizant of Abba’s nearness. And your heart will exclaim, “That’s my Daddy!”
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© 2020 by Terry A. Modica
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