I have a co-worker, Sarah, who is known for being involved in complex relationships. For example, she has an 8 year old son by a man currently in prison, who has also fathered at least 4 other children by different mothers. Nevertheless, Sarah has been in a “stable” relationship for two years with Mark, who is in the slow process of getting a divorce from Angela. After separating from Angela, Mark lived by himself with his two daughters. The younger daughter is 6 year old Julie, and her biological mother is Angela. The older daughter, 12 year old Anna, has a different biological mother whom she has never met, but has spoken to over the telephone. For several years, Mark, Angela, Julie, and Anna lived together, but Mark and Angela separated 3 years or so ago. Angela never legally adopted Anna, but has functioned as a step mother to her, and the two daughters spend a fair amount of time with Angela throughout the year, for entire weeks or weekends.
As my co-worker Sarah has been getting to know Mark’s daughters, she found out from Anna about, what might be described as, emotionally abusive behavior toward Anna from Angela. Anna reported that she hated having to visit for days a time with Angela, and that Angela would say derogatory things to Anna, like that she was fat, wasn’t pretty, didn’t know how to pick out clothes or fix her hair, etc. Anna reported that her and Julie were often left alone under the care of Angela’s somewhat elderly father who suffered from dementia. She reported being unable to get her homework done at Angela’s house due to the constant chores being required of her. She often came home hungry after being improperly fed at Angela’s house. Further, Anna said that Angela claimed to be Anna’s biological mother, even though Anna knew that she wasn’t.
All of this infuriated my co-worker Sarah, and she became increasingly involved in the custody battle between Mark and Angela over the two girls. For the two years that this went on, Sarah would keep detailed records about all of the inappropriate behavior of Angela, especially toward Anna. This was to be used as evidence for the legal custody proceedings, that Angela was an unfit mother for the girls and that she should have no unsupervised visitation rights, even with her own biological daughter. Sarah purchased a large ring binder with many tabs that she would use to document and organize the evidence. She talked incessantly at lunch about the atrocities that Angela did, and mulled over and over in her head and aloud about why Angela was an unfit mother. Sarah was overwhelmingly consumed by this conflict.
I asked Sarah one day, “When the custody battle is over, and Mark gains full custody of the children, you are going to destroy that binder aren’t you?”
“No”, she replied. “I will keep that binder forever as a constant reminder of all that Angela has put us and Anna through.”
I think Sarah’s embitterment toward Angela reached a peak when she arranged a surprise birthday meeting between Anna and her biological mother (who had significant medical problems as well). Sarah arranged a surprise bowling birthday party for Anna in an adjacent state, in the town where her biological mother lived. As Sarah videoed, Anna and her biological mother met in person for the first time. As I watched the video of Anna and her mother embracing, I thought to myself that this was undoubtedly the nicest thing that Sarah had ever done for another person. However, as Sarah proudly showed the video to her co-workers the next week, she announced that the first thing she did after filming it was to forward it to Angela, as a knife in her back.
Finally, Mark and Angela became divorced, and to Sarah’s disgust, Angela retained some unsupervised visitation rights to Anna and Julie throughout the year. Sarah moved in with Mark, Anna, and Julie, but Sarah’s hatred toward Angela continued to grow. The inappropriate behavior of Angela to Anna continued, and there was mounting conflict in their home as Sarah would say derogatory things about Angela in front of Julie (remember, Julie was Angela’s true daughter). Sarah continued to be consumed by the conflict, and was usually in a bad mood at work and was difficult to work with.
Then one day, an amazing thing happened. Sarah reported that Anna had confessed that everything she had ever said about Angela had been a huge lie. Anna confessed to making up everything, and that none of it ever happened. She reported that she was never mistreated by Angela, that she never was left alone with Angela’s father, that she never was hungry, and that it was her own fault that she didn’t get her homework done while on visitation. Sarah was not angry at Anna for lying all those years. Instead, she looked as if a huge burden had been lifted from her shoulders. For the first time in years she was happy. The binder that she had obsessed over became useless – nullified. Her hatred and embitterment toward Angela was completely defused. Mark and Sarah eventually became engaged and married. Peace had come into their home.
So, what of Anna’s confession? It would take tremendous courage for a child to come forward and confess to such a complex and convoluted series of lies spanning years. There would be a risk of significant punishment after admitting to this. However, personally, I believe that the only lie that she told was the confession itself. I find it hard to believe that a 9-11 year old child could effectively conjure up such a complex web of deceit taking place without faltering for years. I think she realized that the only thing that would bring peace to her home, and to bring peace to her new mother Sarah, was to sacrifice herself in confession. Not only did she have to put the years of abuse by Angela behind her, but she had to make a false confession and receive punishment without guilt.
Now, that is one amazing gift from a child.
Gifts that Cannot be Purchased
Some gifts cannot be purchased. No amount of money can buy peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, happiness, satisfaction, release from guilt, release from pain, release from our past. The sacrifice of Anna in the true story above is rare. Most people would not accept punishment without guilt, and without restitution of what had been committed against them.
The parallels with Christ are numerous. Through belief in Christ we can receive peace, forgiveness and joy. Christ can free us from the pain of our past failures. Christ himself died without guilt, without sin, as a sacrifice so that we can be reconciled to God through Him. Consider these verses from the Bible as you think about Anna’s gift to Sarah, and Christ’s gift to us:
John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Matthew 11:28-30 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Galatians 5:22-23 – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”