When my children were very little, they loved to celebrate their daddy’s birthday.
We would head down towards the Branson, Missouri area, stopping short of its crowds and busy streets to stay in a small town called Rockaway Beach, in one of those classic old motels with multiple little white cottages. Kenny’s Court was its name.
We’d get a room right by the pool, spend hours swimming, wandering through local flea markets, riding go-karts, and playing skee ball. Our beds in the cottage were more often than not strewn with toys and classic children’s books like Blueberries for Sal and Jamberry as we spent hours playing and reading over Labor Day weekend.
And then would come the birthday!
Each year while the kids were very small, there never was a variance from a certain set of sweet, required rituals. I’d bring the homemade chocolate cake recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook binder. (Yes, in the age of getting recipes via Google and Alexa, that sounds very old school. It was!) The kids would help with the mixing and frosting. They then would gleefully cover the cake with re-igniting birthday candles!
Their dad still collected stamps back then. The kids would put new stamps in an empty pantyhose package to disguise what their present was and he would act shocked that he was getting pantyhose yet again for his birthday. They would fall back on one of the beds hopelessly giggling crushing their homemade cards with the hearts, childish spelling, and daddy stick figures.
We had our share of problems and dilemmas as a family, but those were the sweetest of days.
This same daddy has grown quite a bit older. The two little ones now have five small children of their own between their two families.
Daddy, these days, is known simply as “papa.”
And the sweet times go on – still this good man builds obstacle courses, pretends to be overwhelmed by booby traps made for him, draws detailed treasure maps, and challenges them all with difficult math problems, even the littler ones. They love him, climb on him, and drive him to far more napping than he ever did in the past!
I was thinking of all these memories in light of the special day we celebrate this weekend, honoring our fathers.
My mind turns to my husband, my late father, and to other fathers I have observed. I have been thinking about how precious the place of a father in our families is; how necessary, how valuable, good men are. So many are fatherless in this day. Their father is gone, abusive, or a stream of men have passed through their lives. How we need to encourage and bless those men who love and stand by their families. How we need to encourage and mentor those who are less able at the role. Those who are fatherless need the hole in their lives filled.
Mostly, I am thinking about the One who shows us what perfect fatherhood is about because there is only one Perfect Father. And we’ve been invited to call Him Papa both by the Holy Spirit and through the example of Jesus. I love this simple version of the NIV, and its rendering of the words of Romans 8:14-16:
Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. The Spirit you received doesn’t make you slaves. Otherwise you would live in fear again. Instead, the Holy Spirit you received made you God’s adopted child. By the Spirit’s power we call God Abba. Abba means Father. The Spirit himself joins with our spirits. Together they tell us that we are God’s children. (from the NIrV)
As many know, that word Abba is the Aramaic word which is similar to our word Papa. Because of the Spirit, I am invited, you are invited, to call God Papa, just as Jesus called him Abba or Papa.
But this invitation isn’t about just using a particular word. It’s about understanding all that’s given us in such a tender naming.
God, who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent could have asked us to call him anything. We could be like those who have felt or feel that it is utter sacrilege to speak or write his name.
It could be that way for us, and yet, we’ve been given the name Papa to say when speaking to Him and of Him.
For me, it has been a blessing and a struggle to do this. I had a rocky relationship with my own father at times. But there’s more to it than that. Like many Christians, my forward growth has been a rocking back and forth between Law and Grace. “You’ve adopted me by the Spirit. I’m led by the Spirit. Christ died for me.” At points, tossed by circumstances, I have been able to recite the doctrine as head knowledge but not been convinced in my heart. If I am honest, I will admit this rather than pretend to have it altogether. My attitudes and actions have revealed my “not quite being there,” that is to the “Papa uttered from my heart” place. At moments I have fought Him, still trying to earn His love, resisting and resisting what has been so freely given for me and to me through Christ and the cross. Like so many, growth has been learning to trust unconditionally.
He has said, “Come sit at my table, “Mephibosheth” (the name of King Saul’s lame grandson, treated so kindly by King David, his lameness being covered by the king’s table). It has all seemed too good to be true! But time and spiritual growth have helped. God has helped. He enables us to stop trying to win His love, and instead, to receive it.
This is why the name Papa is so supremely fitting. He loves and He loves and He loves us. He protects us. He gives wisdom. He blesses. He encourages. He praises what’s good. He appears not to notice what is wrong, waiting for immaturity to wither and die as He calls out the gold in us. He helps us in ways that we cannot see. Most supremely, He gave us eternal life through His Son.
And He dances over us. He laughs at our enemies, scripture says.
The idyllic summers I spoke of above are a lovely human memory. The love of a good human father is a faint echo of the vast love of the heavenly Father. Nothing can compare to the love of our Papa in heaven.
My prayer on Father’s Day is that we would have a greater ability to see and receive the Father’s love for us. And may we, by our words, hearts, and actions bring all the world to Him.
“How great is the love the Father has given us so freely! Now we can be called children of God. And that’s what we really are! The world doesn’t know us because it didn’t know him.” 1 John 3:1 NIrV