I wrote this article more than seven years ago, when my dad was still playing tennis most mornings and seemed invincible. Now he is dying. On Wednesday I will fly to L.A. to see him, perhaps for the last time. He has not seen a doctor in 45 years, yet it is clear that he has Parkinson’s and maybe something else. He is not well. He is in bed more than 20 hours a day, he shuffles along using the furniture and walls for balance and he has fallen silent. It is sad to see a man, who played tennis so well that I was helpless to return his serves, unable to stand upright.
Although he has not left the house for a month or more, he holds fast to his hope that he will be healed by Christian Science. I believe he is dying and am praying that he will come to the end of himself and cry out to Jesus.
Please pray for me as I travel, June 3 to 10, and enjoy this piece which was originally published in Virtue Magazine. It seems especially poignant to me now and was never more true.
I wasn’t raised in a Christian home. I was ten before I heard the gospel for the first time when a school chum invited me to her Sunday school. I’d been to Sunday school a handful of times before, but this Sunday school was different. It was held in a small garage behind an old house–a relic from the days before the church owned the property. My friend and I sat in the old garage, carpet at our feet but the garage door still visible straight ahead. I remember listening to the thin, gray-haired lady who led the singing up front. She talks about God like she knows Him, I thought. I had never heard anyone speak of God in this way. How could this be? I wondered. Could anyone really know God the way they knew their mother or father? Their brothers or sisters?
After that first Sunday, my older sister, Laurie, and I attended Sunday school in the garage every week. But it was some time before any of it began to make sense.
Laurie gave her life to Jesus first. By that time, my mother and my younger siblings were coming to church, too. One Sunday after church we were waiting for Patricia in the car, when suddenly she appeared, her face streaked with tears. As she climbed into the back seat, I asked her why she was crying. She told me that she had asked Jesus into her heart. To me it was another mystery and when she tried to explain it, I couldn’t understand. Although I’d been coming to Sunday school with her all these months, it still seemed to me as if I stepped through Alice’s looking glass each Sunday, entering a strange and exciting, but bewildering world.
It wasn’t long after my sister’s conversion, that my Sunday school teacher led me to the Lord, too. Eventually, my entire family: my mom, my younger brothers, and my younger sister gave their lives to Jesus. Everyone that is, except my father. While the rest of us went to church he stayed home Sunday after Sunday. When we asked him to go with us, he politely declined.
After my mother’s conversion, life at home changed dramatically. My mom stopped drinking and smoking, and my parents no longer held parties that kept me awake half the night. Dad was undoubtedly convicted by my mother’s life-changing encounter with Jesus, because he stopped drinking and smoking, too. But as the rest of the family grew closer to God, he pulled away. His final step away from us was one we never expected–he joined the Christian Science Church.
The rest of us were dismayed. We were confident in our new faith. And quite certain that he was wrong and we were right! Why couldn’t he see that? We argued with him, we badgered, and we begged. He responded by becoming more and more involved with the Christian Science Church.
A widening rift divided our family–Mom and the five kids against Dad. My parents’ relationship had never been harmonious. Both were deeply wounded. My dad expressed his fears by dominating us with his rage. My mother was the victim, quietly bearing his rage–and slamming cupboard doors.
When my parents became church-goers the raging war settled into a simmering truce. Our home life was outwardly more peaceful, but we lived separated from each other in a demilitarized zone filled with land mines–that could explode at any moment.
It was easy for me to make Dad the villain and to dream of the day when he would come to know the Lord. From my childish point of view, I was certain that his anger would magically, pouf! disappear the moment he gave his life to Jesus. I blamed my father for everything that went wrong. Wasn’t he the one who made our lives miserable?
Within a few years of my conversion, we stopped arguing with Dad about his religion and stopped inviting him to church–except when my sister sang a solo or we performed in a musical. My father became less hostile, and there were only occasional flare-ups that ravaged the wounds in all of us.
When I was seventeen I left home, never to return again, except for short visits. Years passed and I grew up, married, and had a family of my own. My faith in Jesus also grew and with that growth came a deeper call to obedience. I began to forgive my dad and to see my anger toward him from God’s perspective. It was grotesquely ugly, and there were times that I was ashamed of the way I raged at my own husband and children.
One night in particular, I had one of those moments of sharp insight that I believe only comes from the Holy Spirit. I had just raged at my own family. As soon as the angry words were out, I was overwhelmed with shame. I ran upstairs and threw myself across the bed crying. Suddenly I saw my father in a new light. How isolated and alone he must feel! I began to grieve the agony of his separation from his family and from God. I cried for several hours knowing that I was feeling the pain God feels when we harden our hearts toward Him.
It was humbling to realize I could be just as brutal as Dad–even though I was a Christian. My anger was something only the blood of Jesus could heal and redeem.
Slowly, my relationship with Dad began to improve. Part of it was my growth, but part of it was Dad. He was kinder, gentler, more in control of his temper than he’d been when I was young. With God’s help, I began to accept him–not just an uneasy truce, but a genuine acceptance that springs out of love, forgiveness, and humility. When my parents came to see us in Virginia we tried to respect Dad’s desire to be faithful to his church by letting him use our car to get to the local Christian Science Church.
Last year, God began calling me to pray for my father again. I had stopped praying years before when I found it impossible to sustain prayer without hope. From my point of view, it seemed like nothing had happened no matter how hard I had prayed.
Now God was whispering to my heart, calling me to pray again. Could I find fresh hope thirty years after I had first come to Jesus? This time I knew the call was from God. It was His sovereign work, not mine.
I began to pray earnestly each night during our family prayer time. I was asking God to deliver my father from the strongholds of the enemy, to open his eyes to see his need for a savior, and to bring him to faith in Jesus.
Two months after I began praying, reports about Dad began to filter in from my brothers and sisters. Dad was struggling with his temper again. At Christmas he repeatedly lashed out at my brother’s wife. The situation became so tense that my parents cut short their visit and returned home.
Mom was too loyal to complain, but when I asked her, she confided that Dad had been difficult lately.
Then my father began calling me to discuss my recent career change. Although he’d never voiced it, I knew it was hard for him to understand why I would I give up a career that had money, power, and status to be a struggling freelance writer.
“With your background as a scientist, you really should be writing science fiction,” he told me on the phone.
“But Dad,” I said surprised, “I don’t even like to read science fiction!”
When I told him I believed that God was calling me to write, he became angry. “You’re too self-willed, too stubborn to ever recognize the will of God!” he insisted. After a few minutes, we both hung up, but he called back almost immediately to read me a section from the Christian Science book, Science and Health. “People become blind to the will of God when they are stubborn,” the passage proclaimed.
The spiritual battle was heating up. But this time, I knew that battle wasn’t against my dad. He wasn’t my enemy (Ephesians 6:12). I wasn’t going to stop loving him and praying for him when he was difficult. I was going to persevere in prayer even if it wasn’t easy.
Finally, I called my sister and asked her to fast with me one day a week. We are asking God to free our father from spiritual bondage and draw him “out of the kingdom of darkness into His marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9
As we fast, God has given me a picture of what is happening. I see a large concrete cistern, stark gray, and completely enclosed. I am kneeling before the cistern hammering at the rough gray surface with a small hammer. When I fast, the blows make cracks in the cistern. With each blow, black vapor wafts out of the cracks.
As the weeks of fasting stretch into months, I am seeing the hammer of prayer break first a small, then a larger hole. Dense black smoke continues to seep out. I believe that God in His mercy is using our fasting and prayer to break down the walls of the cistern so that the light of Jesus can shine into my father’s soul.
Today as I write, my stomach is growling. But when I am tempted to eat, I think of my dad. God has replaced the resentment, judgment, and bitterness I felt for so many years with a burning love. I want him to know the love of Jesus, the freedom of God’s forgiveness, and the peace that only God can give. That’s why today, I am fasting for my dad.