I watched him wipe his girl’s tears away, one by one, as she sat lankily in his lap, the little girl that used to be his baby, now so grown. And I wiped my own tears quietly as I watched from a step away, knowing that childhoods are marked forever by moments such as these. Her face cupped in his hands, he spoke words straight into her raw, vulnerable heart – and she received.
Only moments before had been her thunderstorm, when angry accusations poured out, untempered. And unseasoned parents, fearful of stormy teenage-futures, came down on her words and tone, chasing stray rainclouds and nearly missing the true storm.
Until, helped by Him who helps the fearful parents, we realized: this was bigger than wrong words — they were just a false front. Behind her wind-words — fleeting words out of her pain — was the true tempest: crippling self-condemnation and shame, like a vice around her neck.
And as we saw the real assailer at the root of her explosion, I held my breath and watched, as he stepped in and whispered identity to his little girl, square into her storm and straight into her accusations.
Standing off to the side, now a mother for a decade-plus, tears fell as it brought me back, and I beheld this husband-father doing just what he did for his young wife — some sixteen years ago. The same vice of self-condemnation had been around my neck – even still can slither up at times — though I have eyes to see it now.
And him, brand-new at husbandry, seeing past my stormy attempts to redirect his attention, cut straight through them with truths to sever the strangling accusations. He saw to the center of the storm and somehow knew the secret to the calming.
And now, I’m watching it play out again. (How does a specific area of brokenness—of weak places in the armor, where the arrows fly in—get passed down to a daughter? How is it that the same husband that wiped single tears of self-condemnation from his twenty-something wife, now wipes the same stinging shame from his ten-year-old daughter’s upheld face?)
Like watching sequels to two stories: the assault of an accuser — part one and part two — and the conquest of true grace, part one and part two, I see it unfolding before my eyes. And I can’t figure out whether to grieve over the fact that she not only has my smile but she has my propensity to self-blame, or to glory in the grace that God gave her the same man he gave me to help her walk free.
Through the Minefield of Condemnation
It’s strange to know an accusation so intuitively, from the inside out, that when you hear it howling in the ear of another, you cower involuntarily, frozen by the familiar atmosphere. For a moment, I experienced that de-skiller of a feeling, like a familiar spirit, hovering. Yet, the Lord wouldn’t have me stay there. For it’s not just the man I married that will help her here.
Part of this storyline that He writes is not only the victory of His grace in my own life, walking free from the assailers of my own soul, but the story of walking with my daughter through very similar inner-minefields, and pointing out to her where mercy and grace triumph and set free (Rom. 8:1).
In the minefield of condemnation, what we need most (and this I have learned from my own lifelong trudging through these battlefields), is to draw near to Him at at all costs, and without delay, to run to His throne of grace (Heb. 4:16).
It’s drawing near that matters. It’s receiving His grace that transforms.
Finding grace in His eyes and across his face in the very moment of our shame gets to the root of our painful condemnation, and heals it.
Finding no trace of disappointment or rejection in that Face, when we ourselves are buried under the load of our failures, breaks open the heart to the core beliefs — and rewrites what we believe of how He feels and how He sees us.
How He Breaks the Shame with His Eyes of Grace
Just like what my daughter found in her Daddy’s eyes, the power of the Lord’s eyes, welling with tenderness and enjoyment toward us, is enough to break open our shame and guilt and set us free.
This is why when the accuser breaths loud and our own agreement with guilt has us storming, it’s His voice and His face that we need. He draws near to convince us, if even for the 15,000th time, He delights in mercy. And He enjoys us though we stumble, and though we’re weak.
It wasn’t automatic for my little girl. He had to fight to win her over – shame and guilt standing guard. But he was unrelenting, just as he always was with me, getting up into her space and not allowing her to wall-off from his eyes, pouring with tenderness and grace. He would not be pushed away.
Lifting her chin to see his eyes, to see his love, to see the grace and enjoyment – even his own eyes eyes welling with tears of affection for his girl – he finally broke through.
…And she broke. Guard dropped, she let his love flood in. Her resistance was no match for his resolute affection. Our resistance is no match for the Lord’s goodness and mercy that chase us down all our days (Ps. 23: 6).
Like the Lord’s grace sweeping in when we’re least deserving, my little girl saw the sincerity in her father’s eyes and knew it was utterly free, not based on her success or failure, but because she was HIS. Condemnation lost its grip, as a girl that began with angry words to mask her shame, ended transformed by a father’s love and grace.
And an encounter with His tender-mercy washed over my own heart as I watched, because we’re never graduates, never professionals, at His raw, resolute affection for us. And when our souls are storming with condemnation, it’s finding the face of our Father — lined with love and mercy older than the stars — and allowing His love-brimmed eyes to win us over, that sets us free (Ps. 34:22).