My own Dad has never been one to waste words, very likely the direct result of living with five women for at least two decades. His closed-mouth ways worked in his favor: whatever did come out of his mouth tended to get our attention.
We loved Dad fiercely not for what he said, but for who he had demonstrated himself to be time and time again. “Salt of the earth.” Someone who could be counted on when it really counted. Supremely loyal and unassuming — always a little surprised to discover just how much he is loved. (The same is true of Craig, come to think of it.)
Now, some children aren’t that fortunate. Some fathers (including both the physical and spiritual variety) are so flawed and broken, they overburden those around them with demands of unquestioning trust and endless admiration. They never quite let down the image, which only reinforces the feelings of isolation and self-doubt.
This kind of devotion isn’t love. It’s idolatry.
Now, some fathers possess such amazing abilities, it’s hard not to be a little star-struck. God bestows all manner of gifts on people with breathtaking generosity, and not always in proportion to their faithfulness. As an Evangelical Christian, I witnessed horrifying examples of individuals in public ministry who used their God-given gifts to manipulate and control others for their own benefit. (Frankly, these experiences made me a tad skittish about getting too close to charismatic Catholics.)
Over time, however, I came to understand the difference between authentic charisms and the sham variety. In particular through reading Msgr. Raniero Cantalamessa’s Sober Intoxication of the Spirit, I came to understand how the virtues of humility and detachment liberate a person to put himself fully in the service of God, and how the twin virtues of submission and obedience provide a necessary hedge of protection around the one who has been entrusted with extraordinary gifts.
Padre Pio. Catherine of Siena. Teresa of Avila. Faustina Kowalska. All of them were criticized and censured during their lifetimes. All submitted fully and freely, allowing themselves to be silenced and hidden away without counting the cost to themselves. And in time, all were not only exonorated but elevated to sainthood because of their wisdom and holiness.
Some of the most important lessons we will ever learn, can only be grasped while hidden away in the dark, humbled and stilled (whether by our own doing or through outside forces). Only then can the Father strip away the mask, and begin the process of pruning and healing.
For those who are in the public eye, this stripping process must be doubly painful and humiliating . . . and yet, there is really no getting around it, not if we truly want to grow in perfect love. “If you are going to be used by God,” wrote 19th century Scotch-Presbyterian minister Oswald Chambers, “He is going to take you through a myriad of experiences that are not meant for you at all. They are meant to make you useful in His hands.”
And so, in the words of another great Christian contemplative, Amy Carmichael (to the tune “Faith of Our Fathers”) in her classic hymn “From Prayer That Asks”:
“From prayer that asks that I may be sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fainting when I should aspire, from faltering when I should climb higher,
From silken self, O Captain, free Thy soldier who would follow Thee.
From subtle love of softening things, from easy choices, weakenings,
Not thus are spirits fortified, not this way went Thy Crucified.
From all that dims Thy Calvary, O Lamb of God, deliver me!
Give me the love that leads the way, the faith that nothing can dismay,
The hope no disappointments tire, the passion that would burn like fire!
Let me not sink to be a clod; make me Thy fuel, O Flame of God!”
Copyright (c) 2011 Heidi Hess Saxton