Some years ago now, Tim and I joined friends for dinner at their home. The couple with whom we were dining had three young daughters. Sometime during the evening, the youngest of the girls became quite distraught over some wrong her sister had inflicted upon her. She came wailing to her father.
A tall man, the fella bent down on his knees before his daughter and said: “Could you speak to me without emotion, please?”
I didn’t burst out laughing at that exact moment, but over the years I have enjoyed more than one fit of giggles over that scene.
As the mother of three girls myself, I knew asking an offended or hurting child to speak without emotion was like asking God to make it rain silver dollars. There’s a chance he could do that, I suppose, but it’s a ridiculous request from the onset.
Some years later, I was sent to cover a story in which a girl who, either because she was drunk or perhaps just being rebellious, had stepped in front a train. She shouldn’t have lived but she did. Was it a miracle? Her dad sure thought so. He told me how he had been praying for God to deliver his daughter from her rebelliousness. He just never imagined that God would use a train to steer his daughter back to the narrow way.
Narrow it was. That father had difficulty maneuvering his daughter’s wheelchair down the hallway to her room. She couldn’t do it herself. Even after months of rehabilitation, there was very little she could do other than chirp from her wheelchair: “I love you, Daddy! I love you, Daddy!”
I asked her father if it bothered him to see his daughter that way, stripped of emotion and her previously strong-willed personality.
“No,’ he said. “I thank God I have my sweet daughter back.” And by sweet, he meant compliant.
Those two fathers have been on my mind a lot lately as I try and maneuver my own way through a space that seems alternately both so familiar to me and so foreign, threatening even.
People I love deeply, people I thought loved me deeply, appear like complete strangers to me. I know there is something familiar we once shared, a friendship, a kinship, but I no longer recognize them in an intimate manner and they no longer recognize me in such a fashion.
They keep insisting that they prayed to God and he answered their prayers and sent a man for such a time as this. The way that father suggested God had sent that train to barrel down upon his misguided daughter.
And I keep wondering who is this God of theirs who would send someone so cruel, so callous, so heartless? How could a man who mocked the disabled, called forth hate upon the free press, lied repeatedly about anything and everything, demeaned and debased women to their faces and behind their backs – how could this man be God’s answer to the earnest prayers of his people?
Some call me on the phone. Some send me private messages. Some call each other and whisper about me behind my back. They tell me that they are praying for me, praying that I turn to God, trust him. Everything will work together for the good, they murmur. I recognize that there is something good in them, a familiar and enchanting kindness that makes them reach out to me.
But I also see that there’s a part of them that wishes for me to be stripped of my strong will. My speaking out frustrates them. They are put off by my unwillingness to accept what they believe is God’s best for me, what they believe is God’s best for all of us.
What they really, really want is for me to behave like that young girl – parroting the empty words of “I love you, Daddy. I love you, Daddy.”
They mistake my refusal to do what they desire as an act of rebellion against God; when in reality it is because I do know God, do know his character, do trust in Him that I cannot, will not concede that a vile and vulgar man was sent by God to lead us. I can no more accept that than I can accept the notion that God answered a father’s prayers by sending a train to run over his willful daughter.
That is such a twisted view of God and who we are in relationship to Him.
The God I know to be true has humbled himself before me, before you, like that dad on his knees, so he can look straight at us as he implores, “Tell me what’s the matter, honey. I’m listening.”
As we suck back the sobs, he reassures us, “It’s okay to cry. I would never want you to speak to me without emotion.”
Because the God of all Creation created us to care deeply, to love fiercely, through blinding, sometimes raging tears for each other, and for this wild and wonderful world He gifted to us.
No. Tears are never a sign of our frailty, but rather a sign of our humanity.
When we demean, degrade, dismiss, deny, and yes, smugly mock those that we consider “less than” we are at our weakest.
As a people.
As a family.
As a society.
And as a nation, divided.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of AFTER THE FLAG HAS BEEN FOLDED (William Morrow).