Jonas, Charlotte and Simon Abner Photo by Alisha Abner
HEARTLAND | Chase Abner
Just over five years ago, my firstborn came into the world. My wife, Alisha, and I thought we were doing something noble by naming him Simon, hoping that would set a Godward course for his life since it originates from a Hebrew phrase for “he has heard.” Ironically, Simon strives to understand every conversation going on around him and asks me, “What’d you say?” about a hundred times each day.
Just 15 months later, our second came along. “Name him Jonas,” we said. “It’s from the Hebrew for dove. He’ll be a peaceful child.” Little did we know that in some contexts Jonas also means “destroyer,” making it more appropriate than ever. The same child who can give the sweetest, voluntary snuggles, is also the most prone to fits of anger that leave broken toys and scarred furniture in his wake.
Finally, there is 2-year-old Charlotte whose name we chose simply because we thought it was extremely cute. So far, she’s lived up to that expectation. The only problem is she has already learned to use it to her advantage.
I share all this to demonstrate that I’m a father to real, live kids. And though I’m enamored with them, they still suffer from the effects of the fall and, like me, are in need of the grace of God. As a matter of fact, that is my charge as their dad – to teach them how we are all utterly dependent upon the grace of God.
I wish there was a Bible verse that told me exactly how to respond when Simon asks me the same question 20 times in a row. I wish Jesus had preached a sermon on how to discipline Jonas when he throws toys. I wish God gave us step-by-step instructions on how to teach Charlotte not to be manipulative. But He didn’t.
He gave us something better…the Gospel.
Fatherhood is teaching me just how much better the Gospel is than the law, especially a parenting law. Rather than loving us based on how well we love our children, God loves us exactly as He loves Jesus. Rather than condemning us for the promises we break to our children, God keeps His promise to make us new. Rather than judging us by how healthy we keep our children, God gave His only son on our behalf.
I’m really glad that no one but God could see what was in my heart during the sleepless nights while Simon was an infant. We had prayed for this gift from God and welcomed him with tears in our hospital room. Yet in my sinful, selfish moments, I viewed Simon like a curse just because he was on a different sleep schedule than me. I found that the best way to soothe him was to pace through our Carbondale apartment singing hymns as lullabies. That was God’s design. He knew I’d need reminders in those moments of how He has loved me through the cross, so that the Gospel would again equip me to love my children at cost to myself.
One of the most comforting implications of God’s sovereignty is that all circumstances in the lives of His children, even the bad ones, are means of grace by which He is revealing His goodness to us. After all, as Romans 8:1 tells us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (ESV). So then, whatever God gives or withholds in our lives is meant to draw us closer to Him.
One of those gifts in my life is fatherhood. No experience has taught me more about my sinfulness and God’s goodness. I have seen how prone I am to selfish pride when I get something right. I have seen how judgmental I am when I see another parent’s failures. And yet, I’m secretly insecure because I often just don’t know if I’m getting one bit of fatherhood right.
In those wee hours of the night in my early fatherhood, Simon’s favorite hymn seemed to be “Down at the Cross.” It’s fitting because few things drive me to Jesus like my failures as a father. Because of His perfection, my Father accepts me as though I had never once been selfish or lost my temper. So to those who are right there with me, the hymn has this to say: “Come to the fountain so rich and sweet, Cast thy poor soul at the Savior’s feet; Plunge in today and be made complete.”
Chase Abner is IBSA’s collegiate evangelism strategist.