“If I were Alice Cooper,” Luke thought, “I would sit on my porch, in full costume, snacking, while a cage full of live bats beat nervously against the bars. If I were an outdoorsman, I would take the opportunity to clean my hunting gear in plain view.” “But alas,” Luke thought to himself, “I am nothing more than a humble healthcare worker.” After reflecting and planning, here’s how Luke finally decided to greet his daughter’s first real suitor.
“One day, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to have a daughter that is just as beautiful, intelligent, and kind as my daughter. If that ever happens for you, then someday, you’ll know how I feel about my girl. You’ll want any boy who dates her to treat her with the respect and dignity that she deserves. So, young man, I’m going to ask you to treat my daughter that way…with dignity and respect. Do you think you can do that?”
To my knowledge, no biblical, or classical author has ever provided a formula for this archetypical moment in a dad’s life. In a sense, no such formula is needed. When it comes to the speech where a father articulates his expectations to his daughter’s boyfriend, every father’s instinct is the same: to transmit the fear of Jehovah into the heart of the young man. On a chilly, February night more than a year ago, Luke discharged his fatherly duty.
Measured in real time, the entire front porch conversation took less than five minutes. But if time could be converted into increments of psychological pain, then according to Luke’s daughter, at least two years were subtracted from the span of her young life. With eyes the size of dinner plates, she listened while her deer-in-the-headlights boyfriend provided the requisite assent with pre-verbal grunts and head nods.
For several months after this come-to-Jesus moment, friends would ask Luke what he thought of his daughter’s boyfriend. His typical response in the first few months: “He seems like a good kid, but he’s so quiet around me.” Several months later, Luke found himself saying, “My daughter really seems like she can be herself around him, but he’s still awfully quiet around me. I wish he would talk to me more.”
Somewhere in the midst of her shift to Senior year, a gnawing sense that his little girl wasn’t so little anymore began to insinuate itself into Luke’s consciousness. By little and by little, he came to see that his daughter’s feelings for her boyfriend ran deep. In the midst of a conversation with a trusted colleague and mentor, Luke shared his discomfort with the idea of his first-born daughter potentially being in love.
“Luke, you’re always talking about wanting your daughter to find her voice.” The wizened old mentor said. “Has it occurred to you that maybe she’s exercising that voice in caring for this boy?” It was Luke’s turn for a deer in the headlights moment.
Then and there, it occurred to him that, when you place the fear of Jehovah in your daughter’s boyfriend, perhaps he might not be in a big hurry to chit-chat with you. Along the same lines, he began to ask myself, “What have I been doing to reach out to this young man to make him feel welcomed and at home around my family and me?”
In this Sunday’s Gospel (John 14), Jesus promised that the Spirit of God would come and remain within us. What he did not say is that it would supplant our own spirit. Rather, each of us is some mixture of the indwelling presence of God existing right alongside, and in contact with our frail humanity. This strange alchemy of our humanity requires that each and every one of us become skilled in the art of discernment. When a desire surfaces regarding an important decision, the spiritually savvy person asks, “Where is this desire coming from?” Is it from that part of the self that is in contact with the divine, indwelling presence, or is it merely an artifact of my ego expressing fear, or seeking approval, status, pleasure, or power?
An important key to proper discernment was found in another famous Easter scripture in which two disciples were journeying to the town of Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35). While making their way, they were trying to make meaning out of their relationship with Christ, and with their own lives, after the remarkable events of the cross and empty tomb. While discussing these things, Jesus came, and walked alongside them. In the course of their conversation, and Eucharist-like meal, they came to see things in a whole new light.
It seems to me that, at least one of the meanings in this story has to do with what happens when people deeply share their hearts with one another. Frequently, Christ comes and stands in their midst. In the course of heart-to-heart dialogues with respected colleagues, friends spiritual directors, and counselors, we come to experience new frames of meaning, new insights for the journey, new life-giving ways to go forward.
It was in the middle of one of these “Road to Emmaus” kinds of deep dialogues with his colleague and friend that a new awareness surfaced within Luke. “I have been waiting and waiting for a seventeen, then eighteen year-old-kid (into whose heart I transmitted the fear of Jehovah) to reach out to me!” Luke concluded that it was up to him to do a little more of the heavy lifting in a relationship with this young swain. He came to see that to love his daughter, he needed to be more than a hurdle for this boy to leap over on the way to his precious girl.
Since his Road to Emmaus experience, Luke discovered that his daughter’s boyfriend is a thoughtful, sensitive young man with a deep sense of service. He is someone who prizes integrity. Luke came to see that this young man really did respect his not-so-little girl.
With whom could you go on a Road to Emmaus walk this week? Would you be willing to share from the depths of your heart with this fellow wayfarer? Could you trade in an old frame of meaning for one that brings resurrected living into clearer focus?