She Needed Her Clown Disguise
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Handford
I'd known her for some time. (I'll call her Eleanor.) She was a tall, athletic young woman, a college graduate, earning a
living as a secretrary. We had spoken together several times, but always on a "new-acquaintance" kind of level. I felt I hardly knew her. But she had a wonderful hobby, one that seemed to me to be inconsistent with her reserved and quiet personality . Eleanor would dress up like a clown, and go into children's hospital wards to entertain them with her cute antics-juggling balls, pulling out an improbable number of scarves from her mouth, acting surprised when she pulled a live bunny rabbit out of her top hat.
My sister Joy asked Eleanor to tell about her ministry at a women's conference I was speaking at, so she came in her cute clown costume. After one of the sessions, as I sat pensively in a corner, she came up to me. She looked into my face, seemed to make a decision, cleared away my Bible and notebook, and plopped down on my lap. I hugged her and said nothing.
After a few moments of silence, Eleanor began to talk, at first in a low voice. She'd been reared in a dysfunctional home. She had deep questions about the Christian life. She needed to make some serious decisions, with serious outcomes. She needed clear, honest answers from God's Word.
We talked until it was time for the next session. Neither of us even noticed that she was still sitting in my lap. Neither one of us even noticed that we are talking to each other on a deep, foundational level of caring and understanding. Eleanor was able to share with me her deepest heart needs, and I was able to tell her from my heart what I thought she needed from God's Word. "I've so wanted to talk to you." But she'd never felt free to talk, until the day she wore her protective mask, her clown costume.
Oscar Wilde said, "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth."
I suspect this is true for most of us. We seem to feel we need to keep our guard up, that if people really knew what we were like, they wouldn't like us.
Proverbs 20:5 says,
The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters,
but a man of understanding draws them out."
Wouldn't it be good if we asked God to help us be "people of understanding" so others wouldn't have to wear a mask, a clown costume, to share their hearts with us?
There's a Scripture in Second Corinthians 3:17,18 that hints of this, that tells us to remove "the veil," the mask, covering our own hearts, so that people can see God's love in us.
"Now, the Lord is the Spirit,
and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is,
He gives freedom.
And all of us have had that veil removed so that we can be mirrors
that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord.
And as as the Spirit of the Lord works within us,
we become more and more like Him and reflect His glory even more."
Could She "Speak Truth" and Still Save the Friendship?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
She was a dear young niece, and her aunt (a friend of mine) was troubled because she was about to marry a young man the aunt knew was not yet ready for marriage. Beverly (I'll call her) was a trusted friend of the young man as well, and she yearned to help him in this time of life-altering decision. She felt he was perhaps too self-centered to be taking on the responsibilities of a home and family so soon.
Should she tell her niece about her reservations? If she did, would the niece find it unforgivable? Could she speak the truth and still have the intimate relationship with her that she'd enjoyed through the years? Would the young man be angered that she'd intervened? Was it even her business, Beverly wondered guiltily, to interfere in the lives of these two young people she loved so much?
"Well, yes," she decided, "I must. I have a responsibility to them both. But I'll ask the Lord to help me know exactly what to say, and when to shut up. I love these two kids too much to hurt them. God help me to speak the truth and still save our friendship!"
She did talk to each of them, separately. Nevertheless, they went ahead with their wedding plans. Undaunted, Beverly played the organ at the wedding and sent them on their way with a joyous recessional. And, of course, because she loved them, she prayed for them.
It turned out her misgivings were well-founded. The young man was immature. He found it hard to think unselfishly in order to keep the vows he'd made before God. But, since Beverly had been careful not to destroy the friendship while offering her advice, she was able to help them handle their conflicts. That friendship deepened through the years, and they thanked her again and again for "speaking the truth in love" when they really needed it.
Ephesians 4:14,15 says,
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro,
and carried about with every wind of doctrine,
by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness,
whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
But speaking the truth in love,
may grow up into Christ in all things.
"Speaking truth" without love will sound like jangling, critical noise. Truth can't be heard above the dissonance.
But love that doesn't "speak the truth" isn't true love at all. It's a kind of self-love that craves to be "liked," rather than valuing the welfare of the one we say we love.
Not easily done, is it, to speak difficult truth but with so much love that a friendship is saved? Beverly would tell you that it is certainly worth the risk. The lives of two young people were forever blessed because she dared to speak the truth, with profound love.
"If You Trust and Never Doubt"?
A Word of Comfort from Elizabeth Handford
In our last conversation, we talked about Charles Tindley's sweet Gospel song, "Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave It There." I hope you found great comfort in the idea that if you pray about a burden, then you need to leave it with God instead of picking it back up and taking it home with you.
But the refrain of Tindley's song has a line in it that troubles me. He writes,
"Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.
If you trust and never doubt,
He will surely bring you out,
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there."
If I "trust and never doubt, He will surely bring me out"? I couldn't possibly say that I trust and never doubt! Why, my heart is often full of misgivings! Sometimes, when I hear bad news, my first thought is not, "I can trust God about this." My first thought might be, "Oh dear, oh dear, what in the world will happen next?" You can't exactly call that "trust and never doubt," can you?
But when I go to the Scriptures, I learn that God wants me to talk to Him about my doubts. He says, "Present your case," like a lawyer argues before a court (Isaiah 41:21; 43:26; 45:21). He says, "Come now, and let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18). So He certainly isn't angry when I have doubts. He wants me to tell Him all about them.
And in this matter, the Lord Jesus is my best defense. "For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5). So when I feel sinful because I am filled with doubt, the Lord Jesus says, "I'm here to make it right with your Heavenly Father. You've got it made!"
The Scriptures record a beautiful incident that helps me understand this. A distraught father once brought his little boy to Jesus to be healed of epileptic seizures caused by a demon. He said to Jesus, "If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." (The story is told in Mark 9:15-27). He hoped Jesus could help him, but he expressed great doubt because of the enormity of the child's affliction.
With deep compassion Jesus answered his doubts: "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes."
Then the Scripture says, "Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!'"
And of course, we know the outcome: Jesus healed the boy and gave him back to his father.
I take heart from this incident in Christ's life: "Lord, help my unbelief!" My doubts will not keep me from seeing God's answer to my prayer, if I have only enough faith to ask. Doubts become sin only if I make wrong choices because of them.
Yes, take your burden to the Lord and leave it there, even when you doubt. God will "surely bring you out" just as He has always promised His beloved children.
Pre-chewed Worms and Pre-interpreted "Facts"
An Observation by Elizabeth Rice Handford
No doubt you saw the video of Nick Sandmann, a Covington Catholic high school student wearing a MAGA cap, at the Lincoln Memorial, facing an old native American clutching his drumsticks. The accompanying article called the teen-ager's behavior "monstrous." He was a privileged, racist white kid deliberately harassing a poor, defenseless old minority man. Those were the "facts," written by the reporter with the cameraman. The story went viral.
A parable (though true) with a moral (though far-fetched) comes to mind from a time when our children were young. It illustrates the danger of blindly accepting someone else's assessment of the facts without investigating them for yourself.
Walt was trimming the red tips in the back yard. As he threw a branch onto the discarded heap, he heard a chorus of loud, insistent cheeps. To his dismay, he discovered he'd cut down a cardinal's nest with three tiny babies in it.
You can imagine our children standing around that pitiful little nest, with their accusatory glances at their hapless father. The three little mouths were open so wide, you couldn't even see their heads, and their shrieking was demoralizing. "Don't touch them," Daddy said, "and maybe their mother will come back and feed them." But she didn't. The children stood around the nest disconsolately.
"I know what to do," ten-year-old Ruthie said confidently. "We'll feed them."
Mother shook her head. "I've never, ever, been able to save a baby bird, and many's the time I've tried."
Ruth blithely explained. "I'll go and dig up some worms, and then-" You could see the wheels spinning in her little head as she envisioned the next step, so she said hastily, "-and you can chew them up and then we'll feed them to the little birdies."
Hmmm. Me? Pre-chew the worms? I declined the offer, and of course the poor little birdies died.
But the image sticks in my mind. How often do I accept someone else's interpretation of the facts, their pre-chewed worms, instead of taking the responsibility to form a rational, true assessment of the facts for myself? God holds me accountable to dig out the truth, consider the facts soberly without prejudice and then act on what is right. Jesus said,
Do not judge according to appearance,
but judge with righteous judgment." Gospel of John 7:24
In other words, don't look at the facts through the lens of your own prejudices and experiences, or through someone else's distorted view. Judge with righteous judgment.
As you know, if you've followed the story, clear-headed investigative follow-up revealed that the truth was the exact opposite of what was reported. The old man was the activist; the young man his target. The reporter had assessed the situation with her own strong set of prejudices and distorted assumptions. We might have let her pre-chew our worms and take her assessment as truth.
Oddly, a columnist who had reported the "facts" wrongly wrote a full column correcting his earlier report. But he wasn't willing to give up his pre-chewed worms either. The last line of his column protested, "But there was still that smirk on the young man's face."