Treasure in the Field, part 3 | Fiction Friday

[Begin with part 1 here.]

Three days later, he heard the king’s voice again, this time early in the morning as he was folding up his simple sleeping pad in the hut where they now stayed. His wife was outside, getting fresh water from the nearby spring and, when she returned, she found him face down on the floor.

“You heard the king’s voice,” she said quietly. He was struck by her calmness as she explained, “I have been hearing him more and more lately. Soon it will be time for me to ride to him.”

“What about me?”

“I don’t know. What did the king say?”

“He just called my name.”

She nodded. “Wait. Wait for his voice.”

So they waited. Their days were filled with mediation, study, vigorous exercise, and hikes through the surrounding countryside. Sometimes his wife would check to make sure her garments and travel supplies were ready. Their evenings were filled with long talks by the fireside, their nights with tenderness.

In the meantime, his mind filled with questions he dared not ask.

Spring came. One morning a beautiful white stallion appeared in the clearing outside their door. His wife greeted it like a long lost friend, throwing her arms around the horse’s neck in an embrace, kissing it between the ears, and then flinging herself on its back before galloping off.

It was the first time he had seen her ride. He didn’t even know if she had ever been on a horse before in her life, but now she looked as if she was finally doing what she had been born to do.

His heart ached.

She returned an hour later, her face radiant and her hair gloriously windswept. When had her grey strands turned to silver? he wondered. Surely not during her ride…

“I leave tomorrow at sunup,” she announced.

He couldn’t answer.

“I have never loved you as much as now, but I love the king more. Besides, he’s the one I serve. I’ve waited my entire life for this. He’s calling me — can you imagine? me! — and I get to go.”

Again, he couldn’t answer.

Later, they both wept. They spent the night in each other’s arms.

After a hurried pre-dawn breakfast the next morning, she put on her travel garments. He had never seen such clothing, and he was filled with wonder. She wore a flowing white dress, far more beautiful than the one she wore at their wedding and, over this extraordinary dress, she wore armor. When he asked her about her armor, shield, and sword, she answered somberly, “I thought you understood. It’s not just a journey. The king will be leading us into battle.”

Finally he couldn’t take it any more. “Do you think the king will ever call for me?” he asked desperately, feeling as if his heart was about to break irrevocably. “I’ve followed your example. I’ve given up everything. I sold our home and my business, and I gave away everything I couldn’t sell. I’ve meditated; I’ve exercised; I’ve walked countless miles through what seemed like endless forests and deserts. I’ve read and studied and learned everything I could. I’ve waited. I’ve listened. I don’t know what else to do!” Putting his hand on her shoulder, he cried, “I’ve given up everything, lost everything — and now I’m losing you too!” He forced himself to choke back the sobs. “I have nothing left.”

“Nothing but the king,” she reminded him gently. “And he’s all that matters anyway. Everything else was futile and worthless compared to him. It’s as if we spent it all to buy the greatest treasure there is. Wasn’t it worth giving it all up just to hear his voice?”

“Yes,” he paused, only to go on, “but now that I’ve heard it, how can I possibly be content staying here? I want to go to him! I want to ride with him!”

They clung to each other and wept yet again. He urged her, “Please give a message to the king. Tell him…tell him that I would consider it the highest honor if he would call me to be his servant.” She wiped his tears, kissed him one last time, and mounted her horse, shouting, “Wait for the king! Listen for his voice!” He watched her ride off, and he knew that he would never behold a more beautiful sight than this fierce warrior bride on her white steed, her banner wafting high above her head in the breeze.

She was gone. He whispered, “Nothing but the king”, fell to his knees, put his face down in the dirt, and wept as he had never wept before. He wondered if he would keep weeping until he died.

And then he heard hoofbeats.

It couldn’t be. Please don’t choose me over the king, he wanted to scream at the same time that he hoped beyond hope that he would see his wife when he lifted his tear-stained face from the dirt.

Unbelievably, she had returned, this time leading another horse. “It seems the king thinks you’re ready,” she said. “He left you this horse with everything you need for the journey.”

The entire time he rushed about washing his face, dressing in his travel garments, putting on his armor, and preparing to leave, words and tears tumbled out of both of them. It was as if two dams had burst suddenly, and everything gushed out everywhere in wild torrents. They sang with exuberant joy, laughed with delight, cried with thanksgiving, and even shouted with excitement.

“Can you believe we get to ride together?”

He was ready. They hugged and kissed, and mounted their horses. Then they heard it together — the voice of their king, calling them both by name, calling them to ride, calling them to the journey, calling them to their great adventure, calling them to battle, calling them to die, calling them to him. They lifted their banners high and shouted, “To the king! Let’s ride!”

And they rode.


“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44

Treasure in the Field, part 2 | Fiction Friday

[Read part one here.]

That day — when his wife spoke from her heart about the king — was a turning point, not so much for their marriage, but for him. His wife’s words about the king had intrigued him, especially when she insisted, “There is no other king like him, so good and glorious!” He decided, secretly, to find out as much as possible about this legendary person who had so captured his wife’s mind and heart. He wanted to know what was really going on with her, but he didn’t want her to know of his new interest.

Months went by. He read his own books and consulted his own sources, but he also snuck into her room and immersed himself in everything he discovered there.

Despite his initial, vehement resistance, he found himself being affected by what he was learning. For him to embrace change meant to accept that there was room for improvement in his life, and he found such an admission to be painful and demeaning. He was a good, capable man, respected in their land, without the many flaws and weaknesses that plagued his wife. Hers was a life of constant failure, and one obviously in need of a drastic overhaul. But he had always achieved everything he had wanted, and had never strayed from the course he had set out on in his youth. Their unsatisfying marriage was not his fault — if he had been permitted to choose his own wife, he would have married one far better, and his relationship would have been as fulfilling, pleasing, and successful as every other area of his life.

He was not the one who needed changing, he reminded himself. But somehow, he found himself changing anyway. It just happened, subtly at first, a hidden shifting of his interests and desires. Not long after that, he began wanting to change, wanting to become someone worthy of eventually meeting the king who was becoming more and more important to him.

There came a day when he asked his wife, once again, what it was that she really wanted. This time there was fear in his voice. He had discovered, in her room, clothes that he had never seen before, odd clothes carefully packed in a bundle and hidden away, as if waiting, clothes whose purpose he could not understand. He feared she was leaving him. But he also feared she might be staying…or that she might be going somewhere unexpected, or somewhere he no longer wanted to go…in fact, he wasn’t sure what exactly he feared or what it was that he feared most.

He was afraid to mention her clothes. He simply asked her, in a voice that betrayed his anxiety, to tell him what it was that she really wanted, and not to spare his feelings.

Her words shocked him at the same time that they made perfect sense. “I must ride to meet the king,” she said. 

“Ride? How?”

“The king will make a way. He has already sent me almost everything I need for the journey, including new clothes. I’m just awaiting his summons, his final provision, and I’m preparing myself.”

“I want to ride with you!” he burst out, but then quickly corrected himself. “I mean — don’t take this the wrong way — I want to ride to the king, whether we ride together or not.” In a rush of words, he confessed what had been going on with him.

She looked at him carefully. “He’s a beautiful king and well worth serving. But it will be a difficult journey. It will cost you everything. We can’t take anything with us except what the king gives us for the journey — everything else has to be left behind.” Her eyes stared into him, as if attempting to scrutinize his deepest, most secret thoughts. He feared what she might see, but he feared avoiding her gaze even more. Finally she spoke, “I don’t want you going with me if there is even the slightest possibility that you might want to turn back.”

He nodded.

“You need to be sure. Really sure. You have to determine that you will give up everything in your life — sell everything you can and give away what you can’t sell — just to meet the king. Being in his service has to be that important to you. He has to be that important to you.”

He nodded again. “He is,” he assured her.

As she shook her head sadly, he found himself looking at her as if for the first time. She had aged over the course of their marriage. Her face was more lined and wrinkled than he had noticed before, her hands more work-worn, and her hair more grey — yet she exuded a vibrancy and strength that he had never seen in her. One might even go so far as to call her beautiful, he thought with wonder. She looked thoughtful as she spoke, “I’m not sure you’re called to the journey. I’ll have to ask the king what to do — if he wants me to change my plans, and take on a traveling companion.”

“You…you talk to the king?

She chuckled at his astonishment. “All the time. Sometimes he even answers back.” Then she grew somber. “You need to know something else before you decide.” She swallowed and looked away briefly. He could see fear and sorrow on her face but, when she looked back at him, fierce joy shone from her tear-filled eyes. “What you need to know is this: we will die on the journey. But seeing the king — and actually getting to ride with him — will be worth it.”

“I guess I’d kind of figured that out,” he said, unconvincingly. She left him to his thoughts.

A week later, he sent her a message: “Don’t leave without me.” He knew that he wanted to know and follow this beautiful king who had so captivated his wife that she was being transformed before his very eyes. He too wanted to be transformed.

She sent one in reply: “I will wait until the king bids me to come.”

He found her in her room. “I don’t know how to prepare myself for the journey.”

“I already told you. Sell everything you can, and give the rest away. Show the king that you are desperate to meet him, desperate to become his servant, desperate to follow him, and he’ll make sure you have everything you need, and only what you need.” She looked at him fondly, but sadly. “I don’t think you are hungry enough. I think you are way too comfortable.”

Two months later, he climbed the steep trail up to the small hut where she had locked herself away in meditation, and where she often engaged in vigorous exercise. He had lost weight, carried nothing, and was dressed like a pauper. He sat with her in silent meditation, and exercised when she did, neither of them speaking, although she had smiled joyfully when she saw him arrive. He came back the next day, and the next, and the next…until he lost track of the days and grew convinced that his life had never been better.

Early one morning, he thought he heard the voice of the king, calling his name. He threw himself on the floor, face down in fear, awe, and excitement. This has to be the best day of my life, he thought. I heard the king call me by name.

“What is it about us,” he asked his wife later, “that makes us admire the king so? Why did his voice have such a powerful impact on me?”

“It’s not us,” she said. “It’s him. It’s who he is…what he is…” She looked him deep in the eyes and then threw her arms around him. “I’m so glad you love the king and that you’ve heard his voice!”

More days passed. He had never loved his wife more, never admired her more, never respected her more, never enjoyed her friendship more. He also felt more loved by her than ever before — and he finally appreciated what a great gift she was to him.

She was filled with joy, peace, and contentment — yet he sensed she was growing increasingly restless. He finally asked her about it.

“I’m meant for the journey,” she said. “It’s what I have been preparing for, and I am impatient to leave.”

He had almost forgotten.

[Stay tuned next Fiction Friday for part three.]

Treasure in the Field, part 1 | Fiction Friday

There is a potential pitfall in posting little stories like this one, and that is that readers might assume them to be something they are not. Hence, my upfront disclaimer: this story is neither an autobiographical sketch nor a theological treatise. Writers often write what they know, so parts of my story may speak of my own life, but readers should not presume to guess which parts do or do not. (Example: I’m a married woman but I don’t live in a culture where arranged marriages are the norm…etc.) While the story may seem to be allegorical, each element should not be viewed as symbolic nor representative of some doctrine. Trust me, I’m not that deep. What I wrote here is pretty much just a little story, not a theological statement in disguise.

Enough preamble and disclaimer…

“What do you want?” he asked. “What is it you really want?” Years of living with this woman had tried his patience and exasperated him, and his tone reflected his frustration.

It had been an arranged marriage — as was their custom — and he thought he had finally made peace with the fact that she was not at all the sort of wife that he would have chosen. His sense of disappointment was no longer acute nor painful, and he had eventually managed to forgive the matchmaker for tricking him into marrying a woman who was so ill-suited to his needs. In fact, as the years passed, he had not only become rather accustomed to his wife but, despite everything, had even grown to love her.

But still — this wife of his! She was so impractical, such a dreamer! From the very beginning, she had refused to accept their marriage arrangement for what it was. Sometimes he wondered if she actually believed they lived in another land, a fairy tale land in which people married for friendship and romance. It was as if she held him to an unrealistic standard, as if she expected him to act like some love-sick, desperate suitor whose only desire in life was to woo her and win her heart — or as if she wanted him to act like a bosom buddy who couldn’t get enough of her presence. He refused to stoop to any such silliness. He let her know that her romantic longings were so far beneath him as to be not even worth his consideration. After all, he was her husband and he was certainly not going to pretend otherwise, nor would he degrade himself just to humor her childish, irrational fantasies.

But lately something had changed about his wife, and it puzzled him. As much as he had resented her juvenile, clingy and incessant demands for his attention, he found it vaguely unsettling not to be so desperately needed by her. It was ironic. She had finally stopped pestering and pressuring him, stopped demanding that he treat her like royalty, stopped behaving as a spoiled child, stopped insisting that he change — she was finally acting content with their relationship — and, instead of feeling relieved and thankful, he felt insecure and unloved. Although she was not overtly rebuffing him, he couldn’t help feeling rejected.

To add to his confusion, he had to admit that she was being neither cold nor indifferent towards him. In fact, she was kinder and gentler than she had ever been. Whenever she behaved in ways that irritated him, she apologized genuinely, and somehow managed to do those things that offended him less and less. She was much more pleasant to be around. He should have been happy with these improvements in her nature, but he felt uneasy instead.

Rather than clamoring for his attention as she had for most of their marriage, she had immersed herself lately in a study of the history of their land. That was one of his fields of expertise, but — stubborn as always — she preferred to study in her own way rather than consulting him. She filled her room with pictures and artifacts; she sought after those who sang the songs and legends of their people; she seemed especially drawn to anything regarding their long ago king. She even began corresponding with far flung scholars who claimed to be companions of this king no one else they knew had met in person — this absent king who supposedly ruled their land from a throne no one had seen, this mysterious king who had promised to return someday.

In fact, she had grown rather obsessed with finding out all she could about the king. Everyone in their land acknowledged him as “the real king”, even while admitting he had become, during the many years of his absence, little more than a figurehead. Other men ruled in his place and attempted to enforce their understanding of his laws and decrees. But his wife seemed to be taking things to an almost bizarre extreme, weirdly emphasizing that she was the king’s subject, swearing her allegiance to him in odd little ceremonies of her own devising, and even going so far as to re-enact part of an ancient ritual declaring herself a lifelong slave to the king.

At first he had told himself that her troubling but amusing behavior was the latest example of her many, intense, passing interests — a fad that would quickly fade away. Then he wondered if she had gotten caught up in some bizarre infatuation. Finally he had to admit that this was different than any of her previous hobbies: it was actually changing her. She was uncharacteristically content and peaceful…yet obviously filled with longing as well. So he asked her what she wanted.

What he really hoped to hear was what she wanted from him. He wanted to be the focus of her desires, even if those desires annoyed and frustrated him, even if he had no interest in ever seeing them fulfilled. He was so desperate for a reassuring answer that he humbled himself enough to tell her, “I need you to want me.” And then he asked her to tell him, finally, her deepest longings.

“I don’t think you want to know,” she said, “because my hopes and dreams are not about you. They’re about the king.”

And then she told him.

[Stay tuned next Fiction Friday for part two.]

The director and the actor, part 3

This will make zero sense unless you start with Part 1

I need to add an important caution to this next part of the allegory. It is not advocating that one spouse’s love can “heal” their abusive or overly critical partner. This allegory is not necessarily about marriage — and certainly not intended to be about an abusive one — but about relationships within the Body of Christ. (In fact, this part makes me think most of all about church leaders trying to deal with broken and wounded sinners — especially the “messy” type of trauma victims many Christians have the least patience with.) We need to remember that it is God’s love that has the power to transform; our love cannot save anyone. At the same time, recognizing that we are neither Christ nor the Holy Spirit does not give us excuse not to love. 

When the director spoke again, there was still compassion in his voice, but the tears had been replaced with a gentle firmness. “The actress has been a rebel at times. She has deeply grieved me. Before you met her, she was in another one of my shows, and sometimes she wouldn’t show up and I had to go looking for her. A few times I even dragged her out of bars. She has had a rough life, and she’s been through things, and done things, that you’ll never understand. As I said before, she finds it really difficult to believe that I’m her friend, and not just her director. She has an even harder time believing that I love her like my own daughter. She feels completely inadequate to play the role I wrote just for her. But despite all of that, despite her fears, despite her injured leg, despite her messy past, despite the times I’ve had to come down on her pretty heavy, she will sometimes throw herself so completely and totally into her role that it makes my heart sing. Unfortunately, she never realizes how well she has done — in fact, she always thinks she messed up. That’s because she forgets to look at me, so she can’t see the delight in my eyes, and…well, I told you that your voice drowns out mine. Each of those time, you thought she had messed up too.”

Both of them sat in silence for a moment, lost in their own thoughts, until the director said, “You two have so much to teach each other. She knows that. I wish you did. Well, actually she thinks she has nothing worthwhile to offer anyone, especially you, and you think you have a lot to teach her. But you are teaching her mostly wrong things, the opposite of what I’m trying to teach her. I’m gentle and soft-spoken — both of you seem not to hear me at times — and when your voice is harsh and critical, it becomes so loud that mine cannot be heard at all.”

“Yeah, but what about when she yells at me?”

“Haven’t I been dealing with her yelling? It’s your voice that’s the problem now, and the way you are using it to damage the spirit of someone I am trying to heal. Can’t you work with me on this? And speaking of things that need to be dealt with…you are so critical of her, so condemning. You have gossiped about her to others in the cast, violating my ‘no gossip’ rule.”

“Wait! That was not gossip! I needed to talk to someone…I was just pouring out my problems…”

“You never asked me. I would have told you that you were picking all the wrong people, people with bad advice, who spread your gossip further, and who encouraged your resentful attitude. I notice that you didn’t go to people who you knew would agree with me, and you resented me so much by then that you didn’t want to hear a word I had to say about the situation. I already told you what to do — in fact, I even wrote it out for you — but that’s not the answer you wanted. What you wanted was to be the director and to control the whole show: script, casting, and everything. You didn’t like my script; you refused to play the role I wrote for you; then you tried to argue with me that you knew better and didn’t need my direction when it came to this role.”

The truth of the director’s words stung even more as he went on, “And you know something else? When you rejected her, when you ignored her, when you despised her, when you judged her harshly and unfairly, when you accused her wrongly, when you turned others against her, when you were cold and indifferent to her tears and pleading — I knew. I saw it all. I heard her sobs alone in the dark. And you were doing all those things to me, because I love her, and she is like a daughter to me. You despised and rejected me. And, all that time, you were telling her — and anyone you thought would agree with you — that she was the one messing up and you were the one following the script.”

The director let his words hang in the air a while before he continued, “Oh, yes, she messes up. She is one of the most wayward and difficult actresses I’ve ever had to work with. Maybe that’s why I love her so much — she needs it so desperately. But the thing is that a lot of the time you got it wrong. You thought she was messing up when she wasn’t, just because she wasn’t doing what you wanted. You were so focused on yourself and how it was unfair of me not to give you ‘artistic control’ of your part of the show, and how you deserved so much better, and how wrong I was — you were so bitter and angry that you never noticed or cared that she actually loves you. You rejected that as coldly as you rejected her.”

A few times, the actor had wanted to speak up, to defend himself, to point out more of the actresses’ flaws and failures, but his defenses had crumbled, and he was still fighting back tears.

“Do you remember once, when you had come to me yet again with a barrage of complaints, that I told you how this was a perfect opportunity to learn how to love? You muttered something sarcastic about how she was so unloveable that if you could learn how to love her, you could learn how to love anyone.”

The actor wanted to defend himself, to insist that he’d just been joking, but then thought that now was not the time to accuse the director of being as humorless and overly sensitive as the actress.

The director went on, “Oh, my friend, once again you missed the point entirely! I meant that you were supposed to learn how to love by watching how she loves. The ironic thing is that, even though she thinks she is unworthy and doubts my love, she is learning to love the way I do.  I’m not sure why — maybe because I encouraged her to see you through my eyes — but she grew to love you. All the things you said and did to her, the way you treated her, the way you refused to see and appreciate the best things about her — that would have killed the love of most people. In fact, she came in to see me more than once, crying, and asked me, ‘Why are you so into this love stuff? The more I love, the more it hurts!’ I was tempted to say, ‘Oh, you and me both!’ But I told her that the harder someone’s heart is, the more they need love. I reminded her how love is the only force in the universe capable of healing people. Don’t take this the wrong way, but someday she will pity you when she realizes your heart is far more crippled than her leg. Right now she worries that she loves poorly, but I keep telling her that hard-hearted people don’t cry about how hard-hearted they are.”

The director grew silent, waiting until the actor looked up. Then he said, “You need to trust me, really trust me. You need to stop despising and rejecting her love, just because it doesn’t look and act the way you think it should. Don’t you realize that the type of actress you think you want would end up being just as cold and rejecting as you are? No other woman would be so willing to love and love and love the way the actress keeps loving you. Unfortunately, some of that comes more from a place of brokenness and sense of unworthiness than it does from strength. But she is only human, and eventually you will wound her too deeply. If not…well, every woman longs to be loved and respected in return. She is no different. She will give up on you…and you will continue on with your misguided notions about love. You have no idea the treasure you have been trampling under foot, and you have no idea how deeply you have offended me. The irony, though, is that you also have no idea that it is you who has been most damaged by your pride and ingratitude — and by your unwillingness to trust that I know far more about love, and far more about directing, than you do.” His voice changed from stern to loving, and tears filled his eyes as he clasped the actor’s hand in his. “Oh, my son,” he said, so grieved that his tears flowed again, “I pity you. How I pity you…”

The actor left, feeling hurt and bewildered. How could the director accuse him of not trusting him enough? Wasn’t he the one who would tell all the other actors that, in order to be good at their craft, they needed to trust the director and do what he said? Could it really be true that he hadn’t been trusting him after all? And why couldn’t he find a woman who would love him the way he wanted to be loved? Why did the director think the actress was so special — it wasn’t as if he was blind to her faults. He thought he knew the director very well; in fact, he thought their close friendship gave him unique insight, and he would often tell the other actors what the director really meant. But almost everything he had said about the actress baffled the actor.

To his surprise, the indignation he had been nursing along began to fade as he drove away from the studio. Perhaps it was time to let it go. Perhaps it was time to turn over a new leaf, to humble himself, and to go back so he could ask the director for forgiveness.

I really do want to trust the director, he thought. And I want him to teach me what it is to be a real friend. Because I’m a terrible excuse for a friend, the way I’ve been treating him lately. Some of his friend’s words began to pierce his heart, and he grew astonished at how deep the director’s love was for the actress, so much so that he considered an affront against her to be an affront against himself. How could the director love such a flawed person? Why would he even want to? Then he remembered what the director had said: “Maybe that’s why I love her so much — she needs it so desperately.”

That’s when a terrible thought hit him: Is that why the director loves me? Because I need it so desperately? Is my heart really as crippled as he says it is?

It wasn’t until later that he had one of those “aha!” moments that would change his life forever, a realization that — in the weeks and months to come — led to such a profound change in him that it turned his life upside down, eventually bringing him the most heart-rending pain he had ever experienced as well as exquisite joy he had never dreamed possible. Many consider the director to be the best there is, the actor realized, yet he stoops to working with unknown actors in a soap opera. He’s right that I don’t trust him, or I’d have torn up my own script long ago, and I’d not hold back when it came to following him, even when I don’t understand. If I really trusted him, I’d believe what he said…oh, how wrong I’ve been about everything…about the script, about the actress, and especially about the director!


“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
C. S. Lewis


And now, finally, I’ve posted the last installment.

The director and the actor, part 2

This will not make sense unless you read Part 1.

Time went on. The actor thought he was being quite patient with this inept actress. He made a constant effort to be helpful: pointing out every mistake of hers that he noticed, letting her know how extraordinarily difficult she was to work with, reminding her that she was not the person he wanted for the part, and telling her how unhappy he was about working with her. He even let her know how unpleasant her personality was. He thought all this would encourage her to improve but, to his growing disgust, she stubbornly refused to change.

Finally he couldn’t take it anymore and, once again, he poured out his mounting frustration to the director. He expected sympathy — after all, they were friends — and that the director would force the actress to change her ways immediately, so he didn’t hold back at all in his litany of complaints. He must have talked nonstop for almost an hour, because the actress had so many faults, but he finally paused for breath, right after exclaiming for about the tenth time that she was a dismal failure of an actress.

When the director responded, the actor wondered of he had even been listening. “Neither of you are good at acting. That’s why you are both here. Hours of Our Lives is not just a soap opera; I designed it to be an on-the-job acting school.” The director anticipated his protest. “I know you think you are a good actor, and that the problems are all hers, but please listen to me.” After an extremely reluctant and begrudging nod from the actor, the director continued. “There are definitely some major things I’m working through with her. She can be a difficult student. She doesn’t always listen to me. She is easily distracted. Then there is her clumsiness, the problems she has paying attention — that makes for lots of mistakes. And, as you know, she sometimes wanders off the set. Her shyness, lack of confidence, and tendency towards self-absorption interferes with her acting, as does her impatience and her temper. But do you know what her biggest problem is?”

If the actor had been paying better attention, instead of feeling a smug satisfaction over hearing the director finally admitting how terrible the actress was, he would have noticed the tears of pain in the director’s eyes as he said, “Her biggest problem is that she doesn’t really believe that I’m her friend.” After a pause, he went on, almost as if thinking out loud, in a voice that was tender and sorrowful, “Once in a while, she plays her role exactly as I’m directing her. She opens up and pours her heart and soul into her performance. It’s amazing. You don’t realize it, but it takes other people’s breath away. I’m so proud of her, so delighted in her, those times when she manages to capture the very essence of her role, as if she were reading my mind. And I’m standing at the sidelines, overjoyed, whispering, ‘Brava! Brava!’ only…only she never seems to hear me…”

The actor hadn’t been following everything the director said but the following caught his attention: “You don’t make many mistakes. You’re not clumsy. You are disciplined, a hard worker, a loyal friend, and you’ve never wandered off the set. You try to follow my script carefully, except for those times when you either don’t understand it or disagree strongly. Then you can be quite stubborn and uncooperative in your refusal. And, most of the time, your acting is wooden, detached, lacking in depth and emotion, so the audience has a hard time connecting with your character. Because of the way you play him, he doesn’t seem genuine. But do you know what your biggest problem is?” he asked, only to be immediately interrupted.

Without letting the director get a word in edgewise, the actor seized a few of the things he had said about the actress, using them as an excuse to launch into a diatribe about how disappointed — angry and resentful even — he was that the director had forced him to work with such an untalented, unlikable actress, while refusing to make her change. When his angry complaints and accusations were at long last exhausted, he paused, hoping that he had finally managed to make his point.

Instead, the director went on as if the actor had said nothing. “Don’t you want to know what your biggest problem is?”

“Wait! You don’t understand. I’m not the one with the problems — she is! Why won’t you do anything about that?”

Again, the director spoke as if the actor had not said a thing. “The two of you have so much to teach each other — ”

“But I am trying to teach her! She refuses to listen to me!”

“Oh, no, you’re wrong. She listens to you. In fact, that’s part of the problem: she listens to you far too well, and she takes the things you say far too much to heart. Remember how I was telling you about the times she performs her role so magnificently? Afterward, I applaud her, tell her how well she did, how proud I am of her, how much I love her…but she doesn’t hear me. Do you know why? Your voice drowns mine out.” The actor tried to interrupt and defend himself, but something about the way the director looked at him made him stop.

He had never seen the director look that way. There was anguish in his eyes, and a sternness that was almost frightening. At the same time, there was a love so deep that it seemed impossible, and a tender compassion so overwhelming that it began to melt the actor’s anger and resentment.

“I love you,” the director said. “You are more than my friend; you are like a son to me. You know that. And I have not stopped loving you like my own flesh and blood this entire time, even though you have disappointed me so much, and hurt me with your anger and resentment. I love her too. She is more than my friend; she is like a daughter to me. It breaks my heart that she finds that so difficult to believe.” The tears began flowing down the director’s face as he spoke. “Oh, if you would only learn from me! You never bothered to really look at her, or you would have noticed she struggles with a limp. You see, she had a near-fatal and extremely traumatic injury years ago, and I nursed her back to health. It’s not something she likes to talk about, which is why she never said anything all those times you complained that she walked too slowly or wasn’t graceful enough. But your words wounded her tender heart. I had hoped that you knew me well enough and were enough like me that you would try to treat her as I do. But you didn’t. Your words didn’t just drown mine out; they contradicted mine, and they made it harder for her to hear me and believe me.”

The actor looked away in shame. He couldn’t bear the tears on his friend’s face.

“I’ve asked you twice if you knew what your biggest problem was, but you didn’t want to know. Perhaps you’re finally ready to hear it. Your biggest problem is that, despite all of our years of friendship, you still don’t trust me. When I wrote this role for you, when I cast two of my dearest friends to play husband and wife, I was giving you the most precious gift I could, besides my friendship. But you didn’t trust me. Instead, you despised my gift so much that you have been angry with me. Oh, how I wish you trusted me enough to want a truly close, intimate friendship with me! Because then you would understand me, and we could become like kindred spirits…and, oh…you would realize what a precious gift I gave you, what a priceless opportunity!”

It was a struggle for the actor to hold back his own tears.

The director continued, “You are dutiful, responsible, and a hard worker. Those are wonderful traits, but the script also calls for your character to be loving, gentle, encouraging, and compassionate. Unfortunately, I can never get you to put your heart into that aspect of your role. It seems too risky to you, and you always insist on playing it safe. It breaks my heart that, after all our years of friendship, after all I’ve done for you, after almost a lifetime of being loved like my own son, you still trust me so little.” Almost completely overcome by his tears, the director had to stop speaking.


Continue with Part 3.