The Bible refers to God by many names; but, it’s Jesus who refers to God by the most intimate and affectionate of names: Abba. "Abba" is an Aramaic word that doesn’t directly translate into English. There simply isn’t a word that accurately communicates the profound intimacy and depth of relationship expressed in the word “Abba.” The closest we can get to it in English is "Dad" or "Daddy".
I know many people who find it difficult to embrace the idea of God as father. It’s nearly impossible for them to embrace the idea of God as Abba, or Daddy. They don’t necessarily have anything against God; many of them are desperate for Him. They struggle with God as father because of the heartache, betrayal and suffering they’ve experienced from the “fathers” in their lives.
I know this because I am one of those people. The pain my father caused and the damage he did still echoes in the empty spaces of my life.
It’s been 10 years since my father died from complications related to AIDS. He was diagnosed in 1987, a time when many of his friends were dying within a year or two of diagnosis. By the time my dad told me he was gay, I already knew. My dad showed me he was gay long before he told me.
When I was 14, my dad took me to Atlanta to see a three-game series between the Cubs and Braves. He did a lot of business in Atlanta; but this trip wasn’t about business or baseball. Whether he intended it or not, it was about my dad showing me he was gay.
On our first morning in Atlanta, we went to breakfast at a restaurant across town from our hotel. Our server, Dwayne, was obviously gay—which, by itself, wasn’t a big deal. What threw me was how much my dad and Dwayne knew about each other. I was confused as to how my dad got to know, and be known, by someone so far from home.
Like many 14-year-old sons might do, I really struggled with my dad being gay. Honestly, the hardest thing wasn’t that he was gay. What caused me the most pain (and counseling sessions) was the extremely unhealthy way he showed me he was gay.
It wasn’t just a breakfast introduction to Dwayne. Later that day, my dad took me to a park where he wanted to “show me something he’d discovered”. The images from that day are as clear to me now as they were that Saturday morning. My dad took me to a cruising spot where gay men went to “hook up.” We slowly made our way down a street where at least a dozen cars lined the curb. As we passed each car, the man inside opened his door, or his trench coat, to reveal what he had to “offer.”
That was the day I lost all trust in my dad.
After my parents’ divorce, I lived with my dad and his first real partner. They brought a lot of drugs, people and parties to our place, which made it impossible for me to be a regular teenager. When I was 17, I woke up to a note that simply said: “Had to go … I’ll be in touch.” They had become so indebted to a particular drug dealer that they “skipped town” for fear of their lives. I was angry and alone—but, mostly, I was relieved that they took all of their toxic drama with them.
Over the following three years I heard from my father only once—the day he called to tell me he had AIDS. I got stoned with friends.
By the time I was 20, I had rediscovered Jesus and began to wonder if my dad was still alive and where he might be. There were things I wanted to say; needed to say.
The summer before our wedding, my wife and I drove from Minnesota to Florida to find my dad. It wasn’t easy; but, we found him. I’ll never forget the look of shock and joy on my dad’s face the moment he saw me. As we embraced, the anger and pain I’d been feeling slowly began to fall away. That was the day I began a new relationship with my dad.
Over the next 10 years, Kara and I were intentional about being in my dad’s life. We visited him two or three times each year and we made it a point to stay with my dad and the partner he would spend the rest of his life with. We came to love them both very much.
My dad knew that Kara and I were followers of Jesus. He also knew we weren’t there to judge him, and that we were definitely not there to attempt to "heal him of his gayness”—something some of our "Christian" friends believed we should have attempted. They thought we were condoning “sinful behavior” by staying with my dad and his partner. For them, homosexuality was an issue. Homosexuality would never be an issue to us again; the issue was just my father.
The 10 years I had with my dad were a gift. Tears were shed, regrets were shared, honest words were spoken and forgiveness was extended. Forgiving my dad released a huge burden of guilt, shame and regret from his shoulders. It released emotions I’d been carrying for years; emotions that were becoming malignant to my soul and relationship with God.
I still have scars that remain and pain that lingers in the empty space where my dad should still be. However, in that new relationship with my dad I discovered a great gift: freedom. Some massive chains of past hurts had been broken. I began to discover God as “Abba” and I began to experience the relentlessly tender way He loves me.
Whatever heartache our “fathers” have caused us, Abba pursues each of us with a relentless tenderness. Do you sense it?
Todd Morrison is a writer and speaker who has spent over 15 years serving the local church. Todd lives in the Seattle area with his wife, Kara, and their two daughters, Gracie and Sophie. Check out his blog.