Listening in with Michael Card & Brennan Manning
- Friday, August 13, 2004
The love of Abba is tender. Tenderness is what happens when you discover you’re liked by somebody. If you communicate to me that you like me — not just love me as a brother in Christ, but really like me, then you open up to me the possibility of liking myself, accepting myself, loving myself. The look in your eyes banishes my fears and my defense mechanisms like sarcasm, ridicule, name dropping, giving you the appearance I’ve got it all together.
My friend Ed Farrel up in Detroit goes on his two-week summer vacation to Ireland. The reason is his favorite uncle is celebrating his 80th birthday. On the morning of the great day, Ed and his uncle get up before dawn, get dressed in silence and go for a walk around the shores of Lake Kilarney. Just as the sun is about to rise, his uncle turns to the rising sun. Ed didn’t know what to do. So he’s standing beside his uncle, shoulder to shoulder for 20 full minutes, not a word exchanged. Then his 80-year-old uncle goes running, skipping down the road; and he’s radiating, beaming with joy. Ed catches up to him and says, “Uncle Seamus, you look really happy.” He says, “I am, lad.” Then Ed says, “You want to tell me why?” And the old man says, “Yes, you see, “ and then the tears wash down his face, “my Abba is very fond of me.”
If I asked the reader right now: Do you believe Abba likes you — not loves you because, theologically, Abba has to love you. Abba loves you by the necessity of His nature. If I asked if you really believe He likes you and with gut-level honestly, you could reply, “Oh yes, Abba is very fond of me,” there would come a relaxedness, a serenity, a compassionate attitude toward yourself and your brokenness.
Michael: You have that prayer as a “breathing in, breathing out” exercise. Could you describe that to us?
Brennan: Yes, it’s a prayer I had asked an old nun to pray, who had been sexually abused by her father when she was 5 years old. Then at 9 years old, her virginity was taken. At 12 she knew of every kind of sexual perversion she had read about in a dirty book. She said to me: “Do you have any idea of how filthy I feel? I’m filled with so much hatred of my father, hatred of myself.”
I prayed with her for several minutes for healing. Then I asked her, “Sister, would you be willing, for the next month, to go to a quiet place every morning, sit down in a chair, close your eyes and pray this prayer over and over: ‘Abba, I belong to you’? At the outset, you say it with your lips; but then your mind becomes conscious of the meaning and then, most importantly, in a figurative sense, you push your head down into your heart so that now, “Abba, I belong to you,” becomes what the French call a crie de couer, a heartfelt cry to the depth of your being, establishing at the beginning of each day who you are, why you’re here, where you’re going. It’s a prayer you can pray walking across the street, driving your car, watching television, eating a meal, sitting in church. When you do this, literally dozens and dozens of times a day, you can, as Jesus says in Luke 18, “Pray all day long and never lose heart.”
Well, I asked the nun if she would try, and she said, “Yes.” And two weeks later, I received the most moving and poetic letter I’ve ever gotten in ministry. This old woman described the inner healing of her heart, the complete forgiveness of her father and inner peace she had never known before. And she ended her letter this way: “A year ago, I would have signed this letter with my real name in religious life, Sister Mary Genevieve. But from now on, I’m just Daddy’s little girl.”
Michael: Her image of God as her father had been healed. We all come into this, trying to relate to God bound up with the relationships we had with our earthly fathers. That’s got to involve healing. Obviously, this woman is an extreme example, but my father was a doctor — a wonderful Christian man, a gentle man but very busy and very performance-oriented. Like so many others, when I tried to relate to God, I thought, “Well, God is a person who’s probably too busy for me. God is a person who probably would only accept a straight-A report card from me.” I think that’s why, when I read "Lion and Lamb," that business of healing the image of my father completely changed my life. That’s the process that happened to this nun. And that’s a process that most powerfully happened to you.
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