My youngest daughter just came out of the hospital and my eldest got sick afterwards. I took a back seat and reflected on how much I love these two girls. I believe my heart towards my kids is just a faint image of the Abba’s heart toward me. I have been reading The Abba’s Child by Brendan Manning for weeks now. This is one of the books that have such depth that the reader needs to slow down and ponder on the words. He explored the human heart’s natural inclination towards self-rejection, indifference and brashness.
Manning is no stranger to self-rejection. According to him, for years he was an impostor and a Pharisee. He puts a brave and put-together face in front of people but when he’s alone he is broken and depressed. He couldn’t seem to find the joy God promised to all who believe. He was like this for years until he finally understood the Abba’s heart towards him. He learned many things. I will share here three of the things he found about the Abba’s heart.
- Acceptance. For years, Manning showed a false self to people around him. He needed to look okay and be okay. He lived in fear. Impostors like he once was are preoccupied by the need to be accepted and approved. He demands to be noticed and recognized. The Abba wants to accept us in his arms. Manning says that even Christians are very much prone to self-rejection. He quoted John Eagan, “We judge ourselves unworthy servants and that judgment becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We deem ourselves too inconsiderable to be used even by a God capable of miracles with no more than mud and spit. And thus.. shackles an otherwise omnipotent God.” He is not brash towards imperfection. He knows us. He accepts us for all that we are. He sensed his Abba saying, “Acknowledge and accept who I want to be for you: a Savior of boundless compassion, infinite patience, unbearable forgiveness and love that keeps no score of wrongs. Quit projecting onto Me your own feelings about yourself.” Manning encourages us to “Come out of hiding.”
- Tenderness. Manning defines tenderness as what awakens within the security of knowing we are thoroughly and sincerely liked by someon. He posed this question: “Do you honestly believe God likes you, not just loves you because theologically God has to love you? If you could answer with gut-level honesty, ‘Oh yes, my Abba is very fond of me,’ you would experience a serence compassion for yourself that approximates the meaning of tenderness.” His heart is most tender and sensitive to us all. He notices each word and act we do for him. It puts tears in his eyes. I experience this tenderness towards my daughters. I am not hard to please when I see them doing little acts to put a smile on my face. How much more my God? There may be hard hearts that we couldn’t please no matter what we do, but not God. He is impressed by a heart that is willing to do the hard thing just to act in love. I experienced this and man, it’s hard. But I realized God is not after the result of the act I have sown in love. He is after my heart. He is tender towards my willing heart. I do not need to run after results or mind perfect performance. He is easy to please, he is tender at heart.
The awareness of being sons and daughters in the Son dawns deep in our souls, and Jesus’ unique passion for the Father catches fire within us. In the Abba experience, we prodigals, no matter how bedraggled, beat up, or burnt out, are overcome by a Paternal fondness of such depth and tenderness that it beggars speech.”
- Safety. Safety is elusive to a perfectionist heart. According to Manning, the compulsive, endless, moralistic self-evaluation makes it impossible to feel safe with God. Manning’s journey taught him that he only feels safe with God when he feels safe with himself. “To trust the Abba who ran to his wayward son and never asked any questions enables us to trust ourselves at the core.” The Abba does not ask us to be perfect, he asks us to be humble. In the world, it is difficult to come open about weaknesses and mistakes. But not with Jesus, he is the same God who drank a glass of water from the Samaritan woman, the one who wrote on the sand when a woman was about to be stoned and the same God who embraced Peter when he betrayed him. He has never changed in spite of the changes in the world’s standards on morality. He is the same rabbi who washed the feet of his disciples. He is safe. He is ready to listen to you and embrace you.
Heart speaks to heart. As our hearts beat in rhythm with his heart, we come to experience a graciousness, a kindness, a compassionate caring that surpasses our understanding.
As I was reading Manning’s book, I realized that far too often it’s easy to see God as a Savior but not as an Abba. It’s easy to project our own feelings towards Him whose immeasurable love has always been available to us. It doesn’t matter to him what we do, what we look like, how successful we are or how much people like us. I like what theologian Edward Schillebeeckx said, “What matters is how your life looks when you hold it up to the light of the gospel of the God whose nature is to love of all humankind.”
The gospel – the love story of a perfect God reaching out to an imperfect human. How does your life look like in the light of this gospel? The Abba is reaching out to you – He accepts you. He is tender towards you. He is safe.
Come out of hiding.