Because I grew up without a dad, I never truly understood what it meant to experience fatherly love. One of the things that was (and still is) hardest for me to grasp is how a father could ever leave his own child. But thankfully we have a Heavenly Father who has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us!
“For the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” —Deuteronomy 31:6
To be honest, this truth was really hard for me to wrap my mind around when I first became a Christian. I couldn’t help but question, “Is that really true?” It wasn’t until I was married and had children of my own that I truly experienced God’s grace and forgiveness in a very real and tangible way.
During my junior year in college, I accepted the love of God the Father and His gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, and gave my life to Him. But up to that point, I had not been living a good life. Coming to grips with my own sin, I confessed to my wife all that I was doing—the selfish life I was leading, the heartbreak I was causing her, and the lies I had told—and she showed me the most unbelievable love and grace. That was really the first time I had experienced someone loving me unconditionally for who I am, not for what I have done or accomplished. I hadn’t made it in the NFL yet, I had no money, status, or name to boast of, and yet she loved me and forgave me, without reservations.
This was the love of God, extended to me—an unconditional, merciful love.
“I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” —Psalm 52:8
In the NFL, our self-image tends to be very dependent on our performance. How we play can easily determine our attitudes, how we live, and how we interact with others, but since giving my life to Christ and coming to know His unwavering love for me, I’ve gained freedom from that mindset. Obviously I want to play well, but I know that I’ll make mistakes, and when I do, I know I’m still a child of God, loved and accepted. I’ve surrendered my whole career to God with the desire to serve Him however He wants me to. My purpose is a lot bigger than football or winning games, it’s about using this sport to reach people for Christ that I might otherwise not have the chance to influence. If there are other kids out there who don’t know what it’s like to be loved by a father, it would be a disservice to them—and a sin—if I passed up an opportunity to share Christ’s love with them. I have the chance to reach a fatherless generation to let them know that when I was in their shoes, God brought me through.
I love showing this type of endless love to my own three kids today. But that too was a challenge for me at first. I had never seen how fathers loved their children. Growing up, I had no man in my life that I looked up to that had children of his own. I didn’t hang out with dads; I never saw it. So when my wife and I brought our children into the world, we really sought after God’s counsel so that He would reveal to us what it meant to be parents—how to take care of our kids and raise them to love Jesus. Besides prayer and seeking God’s Word for wisdom, we also received a lot of help from pastors and friends who had great knowledge and experience with situations of all types when it came to parenting.
Now I couldn’t imagine not being a father. I love my kids so much and see so much of myself in them. I love seeing the crazy things that they want to do only to remember that I did the very same things as a child. I love watching my daughter practice her gymnastics and my son play soccer. And at the end of a long day, there’s nothing better than walking through the door and having my kids run at me at full speed, yelling “Daddy! Daddy!” I cherish these moments. I know there’s nothing that they could ever become or ever do that would make me stop loving them. It’s because of the unconditional love of my Heavenly Father that I am able to love my own kids in the same way.
Trey Burton is a Tight End for the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s a regular contributor to The Increase.
Check out Trey’s Increase profile here: http://theincreasefootball.com/author/trey-burton/
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