A Word of Grace – November 12, 2012

Note: Two word of Grace articles have been posted this week since we didn’t post last week while we were away in Texas for the recent C.S. Lewis Retreat at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas.

Monday Grace

Dear Friends,

There are few things more poignant or difficult than the relationship of parent and child. It can build character and empower dreams. It can overload expectations and crush with disappointment. It is a sacred relationship because it is there that our heavenly Father plants and grows love in and between his children. Conditioning that love on performance can lead to chasms that no human can span and broken hearts in those who try. The way home for a parent or a child can require an invisible bridge constructed of faith and prayer and careful steps taken on the rocks and logs of grace in unexpected places. Sometimes there is no reconciliation, but Jesus, the Son of God, reaches out and takes hold of us when what should have made us strong, breaks us instead. This is what this story is about.

. . .The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:17

He was the fifteen-year-old eldest son of power. His family, for three generations, had given leadership to two cities. His father was a tall, virile handsome man, a”man’s man,” a successful surgeon, a pillar of the congregation, the medical staff, and the country club. His mother was a tall, cool, blonde beauty of refined manner and great style. He and his three younger siblings were poured out of the same physical mold.

This was not, however, a family that rested on its physical and material blessings. The father embraced a conservative Christian faith that placed him at the head of the household and inspired him to move from the easy comfort of suburban Southern California to a small town in New Mexico. There he believed he could rear his children in protected privilege in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. A staple of their morning worship were the Scripture texts assigned for memorization, one to each child. If they could not be recited perfectly by evening there was no supper for the lazy or the forgetful. After all, “Man does not live by bread alone.”

In October of eldest son’s fifteenth year, in the season when frost burned the green aspen to molten gold running down the surrounding mountains, his father announced that he would be taking his sons on their first deer hunt. Each year, in September, father would clean his rifle with a surgeon’s precision and lay out his provisions for this ritual of manhood. Mother would prepare his hunting attire ordered specially by catalogue from New England. Insofar as eldest son knew, father had never failed at anything. Each trip into the mountains he would bring home a fine buck. The meat was kept in the cold storage locker in town for special occasions. The head and antlers were mounted on a plaque and placed with the previous years’ trophies in a neat line over the book shelves in the study.

Eldest son hated to go into the study. He could feel the eyes of the deer following him around, reproaching him for their death and display. He imagined them running and playing across the rocks and meadows of the mountains. He remembered the verses of King James Scripture he had learned for his supper. “As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after Thee, O God” (Ps. 42:1). “The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the forests; and in His temple doth every one speak of His glory” (Ps. 29:9). “The Lord God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds feet, and He will make me to walk upon high places” (Hab. 3:19). Eldest son would whisper these words to the watching deer and flee the study in secret, shameful sorrow, longing himself to be someplace open and free.

Such places were rare in a household of this magnitude of order and obligation. Eldest son, however, found a place of delight at the polished Steinway grand piano in the living room beside the window that looked out over the green permanent pasture with its cottonwood fringes. Mother insisted on piano lessons and practice and eldest son found a haven in the notes and chords and rhythms. It stirred him in deep places and brought up waters through his soul to surface in springs of spontaneity so different from the measured, controlled cadences of the household’s routines. There was even safety in the fact that father ignored this playing, deeming it a mother’s indulgence, acceptable because it might be of some use at church.

Father’s beaming announcement of the hunt tore eldest son in two between his sickened remembrance of the reproachful deer heads on the study wall and the smile he dared not refuse to return in response to father’s proud proffer of the gleaming new hunting rifle. Eldest son had dutifully recited that evening’s Scripture to earn his supper: “As arrows in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate” (Ps, 127:4-5). Now eldest son realized that he was an arrow in the quiver of a mighty man, a possession of pride, an arrow with which his father could defeat the worldly enemies that lurked outside the walled-off stability of their family and home. Eldest son thought with new appreciation of the antlered heads mounted on polished wood and brass on the study wall above the books of absolute truth.

Eldest son ran away after supper at least in his mind, crashing through the chords and cadenzas, pounding the keys as far away as the music would take him and beyond where others could not reach, to a place where deer bounded over logs and crevices into the safety of the dark woods. The day came less then a week later when father led eldest son and his little brothers into the dark woods for real.

The stars were shining when father shook eldest son out of his warm sleeping bag and told him to get his rifle. The little brothers were also brought to murmuring wakefulness. They were sent to a safe place in the firs and aspen on the side of the mountain bowl to wait. Father motioned eldest son to follow him downhill to the rough blind on the edge of the meadow where a spring fed a small pond. Father told eldest son, “At dawn the deer will come to drink. Then just do what I’ve told you to do.”

Father and eldest son settled in on two stumps behind the rock and log blind. Through the slit between the logs meant for shooting, eldest son could see the last stars of the night reflected on the still pond. A faint breath of wind from the warming plains to the east stirred the aspen on the ridge above. The adrenaline began to subside and the mountain chill seeped in around ankles and neck.

Eldest son knew that father was watching him from the shadows. He marveled that silence was yet another thing at which father had perfect mastery. Eldest son tasted the metallic essence of his fear. He ran his tongue through it. He did not want to be there. He did not want to shoot a deer. He did not want to disappoint father. He sought the comfort of inner music but his anxious heart would not yield it up to him.

Eldest son rested his rifle, barrel up and away, against the logs and hugged his arms around his chest, tucking his gloved hands into his armpits. He hoped the rustle of his parka would not irritate father, but he felt the hand of restraint on his arm and froze in position. It seemed like forever before muscle by muscle he was able to shift to a position that was comfortable only because it was different.

Dawn in the east-facing mountains rises from the earth rather than coming from the sky. Its golden fingers were curling over the lip of the bowl when eldest son heard father’s exhaled “Look, there,” and felt the firm nudge at his shoulder. Stepping out slowly into the clearing were one, two … four deer, a buck in the lead, two doe, and a smaller yearling. Father’s insistent right hand pushed eldest son from the stump into a kneeling crouch. “Take the rifle, son,” he whispered. “It’s a big one. I count 10 points.”

Eldest son felt the slick walnut stock seeming so out of place with the rugged surroundings. He slipped the barrel between the logs. “Slide the safety, son,” father reminded him. The buck halted the column with each step, pausing to sniff and listen. “Maybe he’ll hear my heart beating and run,” eldest son thought. Heads dipped for a quick snatch of grass chewed slowly but loudly enough that eldest son could hear the slightest munch.

“Aim,” father whispered. Through the cross hairs of the scope, the buck’s head and chest magnified in size and detail, pulled out from the shading of the far woods. “Shoot,” father whispered.

“He is so beautiful,” thought eldest son, looking at the elegant head rising out of the massive shoulders and chest. In a second the bullet would enter from the side just behind the left front leg and tear through the heart. It was a clean shot, an easy kill. Eldest son’s index finger stretched around the taut trigger, but “He is so beautiful. ” His heart overrode his reflex.

“Shoot him,” came the second, whispered command from father.

Even as the light began to flood the meadow, eldest son knew again what he had known from the first time he could remember seeing the trophies in father’s study, “I cannot kill something so beautiful. I cannot take what was meant to be free.”

“Shoot him,” father’s whisper was now more of a teeth-clenched hiss. From the corner of his eye, eldest son saw father’s rifle barrel parallel to his own.

The buck had two more steps to the water’s edge. When he drank the other deer would surround him. It would be hard then to get off a shot.

“Now! Son, shoot him now!!” Father left nothing unsaid in his tone.

Silence stacked up higher than the mountains between father and eldest son. The rifle barrel wavered in eldest son’s trembling hands. He recoiled back at the crack of the shot, tumbling in an awkward heap against the stump, gun stock dropping to the ground with the barrel pointing to the empty sky. The thump of deer in bounding leaps, crashing into the woods could be heard along with the echo of the report off distant cliffs.

Father lifted his head from his scope, expertly flipped the slide to eject the empty shell casing from the chamber. Father did not look at eldest son, still lying where he had fallen. Instead, father reached past and flicked the safety on eldest son’s rifle. “Let’s go,”he said.

It was in that moment of terror exchanged for horror, that eldest son realized that father, and not he, had fired. He followed father without a word to the buck lying on its side so quiet. The little brothers burst out of the trees and into the meadow, “Did ya shoot it? What happened?”

The surgeon’s skilled fingers traced the thin trickle of red to the small hole. Then grasping the rack of antlers in both hands, father lifted the buck’s head to face the approaching boys. “Look,” he said without even a glance to acknowledge eldest son, “Your big brother took his first buck.” He spoke with the proud authority that he knew would never be questioned.

The little boys were too excited by the deer to notice that eldest son said nothing at all. The sound of the shot was a door slammed shut somewhere in the back rooms of his soul. Father’s pronouncement of the kill was the key locking the door. Neither father nor son would open that door again–not during the gore of the field dressing, not while carrying the carcass out, not when father and little brothers told mother about the trip and elder brother’s prowess, not when father brought the preserved head home and placed it without ceremony on the wall with the others.

Father never spoke of eldest son’s achievements or even much about his existence after that day–not when eldest son graduated from the exclusive military academy and then college, not when the first CD was produced of eldest son performing his own compositions, not when eldest son in his effort to please applied to law school, not when eldest son graduated first in his class and editor of the “law review.”

Eldest son only told the story years later, after his marriage had crumbled. It came out when the managing partner told him that he was miscast as a lawyer, lacking the will, mental toughness and initiative to do that job. The managing partner suggested, “Perhaps you might revisit the idea of a career as a musician.”

In that conversation, the managing partner told eldest son of a discovery that he had made. Worship is never performing to please. Worship is the honest expression of the joy of God’s presence. It is the responsive, clear echo of God’s gracious acknowledgement of his children’s broken and stained lives offered to him without pretense or reservation. It is the door unlocked and thrown open and the light turned on in the back rooms of the soul to shine out bold and free.

David concluded his prayer for cleansing and pardon with a plea to be restored to worship: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give you a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar” (Ps. 51:15-19). David’s description of a broken heart is not some Hallmark valentine. The word “contrite” means “collapsed,” even reduced to “powder.” The oppressive dead-weight of human weakness, failure, sin, rejection, pretense and shame can leave a hole in a heart bigger than any bullet can make. The marvel of grace is that God will not despise and withhold his touch from a heart like this. Only God can fill that hole and restore the heart.

I thought about eldest son on the morning that I wrote this story. I was sitting at the piano in my living room, singing a song of his in private worship with Patricia. It’s a simple song really, and the words are not done justice without eldest son’s sweet voice, but here’s a verse of what I sang through the tears of relief and gratitude to a God who loves broken eldest sons and broken youngest sons like me and heals our shattered, smashed, pierced hearts.

“Thank You, Lord, for Your tender mercies.Thank You, Lord, for all You have done.I will sing praises. I will give glory.Now and forever, I’ll thank You, my Lord.”–

What else can one really say to a God this gracious and loving, but, “Thank you?!?

“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps. 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,



Please note that the content and viewpoints of Mr. Hansen are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.


Kent HansenKent Hansen is a Christian attorney, author and speaker. He practices corporate law and is the managing attorney of the firm of Clayson, Mann, Yaeger & Hansen in Corona, California. Kent also serves as the general counsel of Loma Linda University and Medical Center in Loma Linda, California.

Finding God’s grace revealed in the ordinary experiences of life, spiritual renewal in Christ and prayer are Kent’s passions. He has written two books, Grace at 30,000 Feet and Other Unexpected Placespublished by Review & Herald in 2002 and Cleansing Fire, Healing Streams: Experiencing God’s Love Through Prayer, published by Pacific Press in spring 2007. Many of his stories and essays about God’s encompassing love have been published in magazines and journals. Kent is often found on the hiking trails of the southern California mountains, following major league baseball, playing the piano or writing his weekly email devotional, “A Word of Grace for Your Monday” that is read by men and women from Alaska to Zimbabwe.