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God’s Gift of Restraining Love

a young girl crouching on the rocks beside a creek

By Danny Barnhill

I leaned over a wooden picnic table shaded by an old Elm tree and layered peanut butter and jelly onto slices of bread. Laughter from our group 50 feet away told me they were more interested in the creek than the sandwiches. 

A scream filled the air. My heart fluttered. I dropped the spoon and raced down the embankment toward the water.

In the middle of the mountain stream stood my 33-year-old son, Gabriel, and my 11-year-old niece, Lexi—two of the people I love most in the whole world. 

White water crashed over and around the rocks beneath their feet. 

The younger wobbled. The older held her hand and strained to stay upright. 

The roar of the flow was so loud it was hard to tell if Lexi’s scream had been from fear or excitement. 

I wanted to rush to them—to be with them. But instead, I restrained myself. 

I paused. I watched. I listened. 

a young boy independently playing on the rocks beside a river, demonstrating his parents' restraining love

Gabriel had his first lesson with me on “walking the rocks” when he was five years old. Twenty-two years later, Lexi was the new pupil on the boulders. 

With each student, I scanned the rocks around us for a path forward that wouldn’t get our feet soaked. I held their hands and taught them to maintain balance on the rocks inches above the rushing water.

Step-by-step, stone-by-stone, we would pick our way across. When we reached dry ground, we celebrated with high-fives and bear hugs.

Today, my two trainees were on their own.

Gabriel led the way across the obstacles. He pointed out stones just above water level, yet close enough for Lexi’s short legs to reach.

He encouraged, chided, and laughed at the top of his lungs while prodding Lexi to keep going—a delightful picture of restraining love. 

I smiled and coached from the sideline. And when they were safe on the other side of the creek, I cheered. 

You would have thought they’d won the World Series. 

Though this was a delightful picture of restraining love, the magnitude of the moment came with the difficulty of my restraint.

A Christian father and his two young children walking on the rocks across a creek, demonstrating God's restraining love

Choosing Restraining Love

As I recall the emotions of that day watching Gabriel and Lexi cross the raging water, I wonder if our heavenly Father may have felt similarly. Yet, He was restrained by His love for us.

God had a plan to send His Son into our world for a long, long time before that special day arrived. 

Imagine what it was like when Jesus said goodbye in Heaven. Did the excitement of the Father’s plan outweigh the tension of the moment? 

When God dispatched an angel to shepherds in the field to announce Jesus’ birth, I wonder if our Father watched with tearful eyes and a big smile. When the heavenly choir burst out in song, I wonder if God sang along. 

His long-awaited plan was now in full swing. 

The city of David, the star, the manger, the shepherds, and the Wise Men—all according to God’s perfect plan. 

Years later, as the young Jesus played outside with His brother, James, or His cousin, John, I wonder if His heavenly Father kept a close watch. 

When Jesus fell to the stony ground, as boys are apt to do, how did God react? I wonder if His heart compelled Him to reach for the lad’s hand. I wonder if His Spirit shouted to Mary’s heart, “Go quickly!”

a young boy sitting on a large rock in the middle of a river

We can only imagine how it might have been. 

But when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, His Father was in attendance. On that day, God let His feelings be known: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17 KJV).

Three years later, Jesus hung dying on a Roman cross. 

Since He had no sin of His own, He took our sin—yours and mine—upon Himself. He paid the penalty for our sin with every drop of His blood flowing down that rugged tree. 

His Father must have been in attendance there, too. Watching. Waiting. Listening.

God the Father had made thousands of angels available to His Son. At the slightest whisper from Jesus’ lips, they would have rescued Him. 

But Jesus restrained Himself. 

He did not call on the host of Heaven. He chose to suffer in agony and pay the penalty we deserved. 

As His Father looked on, the pressure to rescue His own Son must have been great. His heart wrenched within as Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46 KJV).  

Yet, God restrained Himself. The Almighty, All-Powerful Creator whose power brought the universe into being and whose breath gave life to a molded body of clay. 

The One who parted the sea, brought water from a desert rock, and commanded the fire, wind, and rain now demonstrated His greatest display of strength—by restraining Himself.

A young brother and sister watching the sunset across the ocean as they enjoy God's love

The Father’s Deep Love

Nothing could have prevented God from stopping His Son’s death. No one could hinder Him. 

No power in Heaven or Earth could stop Him from what He chose to do—yet, something did. 

What could motivate our awesome God to stand by and do nothing that day? 

Only one thing: LOVE. 

John summarized the answer for us, echoing from his writer’s quill down through the corridors of time for over 2,000 years:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16 KJV


The only source of power and strength capable of restraining a God like ours.

Love compelled Jesus to abandon the splendor of heaven, be born in a stall, and lie in a manger. 

Love convinced Him to pay the full cost of our sin. He looked ahead to the joy He knew would come when sin was removed, and we were united with Him.

Love held back the Father’s rescue of His Son so His plan for our redemption could be completed.

LOVE. Restraining Love.

Danny Barnhill

Danny utilizes decades of singing, teaching, and speaking the gospel message into his newly discovered passion for writing. He crafts inspirational stories and biblical narratives as he seeks to touch hearts and lives and exalt the Savior. Danny and his wife, Susie, have been married for 44 years. They make their home in coastal South Carolina. Their son, Gabriel, and his wife, Jordan, blessed them with the most beautiful grandson in the world, Michael.

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