Hugs: giving versus taking

“That was a good hug, a really good hug,” said my sort-of-wannabe-boyfriend at the time. He wasn’t talking about a hug between us, but one he had observed another man give me. He was right: it was a good hug, so good that I remember it some 35 years later. It is remarkable how such a simple physical act, given at the right moment and with the right spirit, can so profoundly affect us. Some hugs can offer us more hope, strength, encouragement, and comfort than even the most carefully crafted words.

Hugs are, if you think about it, kind of weird. You stand close to someone and put an arm or more around each other. Sometimes it’s a rather forgettable, almost meaningless gesture. Other times it’s awkward, uncomfortable, or perhaps even unwanted. But, in the best of cases, it’s a precious gift. I was reminded of this when listening to a podcast by a Christian counselor named Karolyn Merriman. I can’t recall which particular episode it was, or the context of her remarks, but she mentioned a time when her husband told her that she was “taking” hugs rather than “giving” them, and how this prompted her to do some prayerful self-examination.

Her personal account raised questions that I’ve since been pondering. Do I hug others only when I am desperate to be hugged, out of my own neediness or — even worse — out of selfishness? Why are some hugs so special, so memorable, even if the person hugging me wasn’t a close friend or loved one? Why are other hugs awkward and off-putting, even offensive?

The whole idea of giving, versus taking, hugs was something I don’t recall ever considering, but it began making perfect sense of my experiences of being hugged. But how do you tell the difference between giving and taking? A giving hug takes into consideration how the other person might feel while being hugged. Is the hug even wanted? Yes, there are clumsy huggers and hug mishaps, but there is a difference between wrapping yourself around someone in a welcome embrace — as opposed to grabbing and yanking them in close to you. It’s not just the “technique”, but the heart attitude that it seems to convey. One communicates, “I want to draw close to you and use my body to comfort you or express my feelings for you”, while the other says, “I want to tug you, even roughly if necessary, towards me because I want the feeling of your body as close to mine as possible…and I don’t really care about your personal feelings or boundaries.” It was easier to begin conducting my hug analysis and categorization with some extreme examples. While I’m not a mind reader and shouldn’t assume people’s attitudes or motives, actions do have a way of speaking louder than words.

The creepy hugger at church. He’s still memorable 35 years later, but in a bad way.  Creepy Hugger Dude would sieze any opportunity in our overly huggy church to grab girls and yank them into a tight full frontal squeeze, ignoring our protests or attempts to wriggle free. I quickly learned, if I couldn’t flee in time, to place both my hands in front of my chest and shove him away. Sometimes it took several attempts.

Supposedly he was “harmless”…just a clueless, lonely jerk, I mean “nice guy”. None of the leaders or other guys in the group would call him out for his behavior, instead preferring to tell the women that we were overreacting to a “sweet” guy who was just being “cute and funny”. He was at best an extreme example of someone who takes hugs, even over the other person’s objections. (Despite my wimpiness back then, I once got up the nerve to insist, “Please don’t hug me”, but he laughed it off and grabbed me anyway. I should have slapped him.) At worst…well, you can draw your own conclusions.

Not everyone who takes hugs is that obvious or that creepy. However, some boyfriends and husbands approach hugging as being primarily about how a hug feels to them, or as serving little or no purpose other than an initial step in foreplay. While their hugs may not make their significant other feel accosted, they are far more about having the woman’s body glommed up close than about giving of himself to her. These hugs communicate “I want to feel your body next to mine” rather than “Let me give you my physical comfort, love and affection”. They are far more an expression of physical desire, even of lust, than of love and true intimacy. Such hugs are selfish and self-centered, perhaps mildly so, extremely so, or somewhere in between. It’s merely a matter of degree. An obvious sign of a taking hug from a husband is if it includes grabbing or groping (unless the wife likes being grabbed and groped mid-hug). That doesn’t mean hugs can’t involve caresses which become increasingly sexual. However, for most women I know, gropes are a different story and feel like unwelcome intrusions, especially during a hug; such actions certainly aren’t giving or loving.

On the other end of the hugging spectrum is…

World’s best hugger. She was proclaimed that, year after year, by those of us at a retreat for sexual trauma survivors. Let that sink in for a minute. That means her hugs felt safe. They were welcome. They came from deep within this amazing, compassionate woman. She expected nothing in return. Her hugs were a gift, a healing embrace, a warm comfort, a haven in the storm, true solace in the dark. She put her heart and her soul into those hugs, and they embodied love. They were the epitome of giving.

She told me that she learned from a man whose hug I’ve written about before:

Then, with my permission, he hugged me oh so carefully, and he leaned his head down towards mine and whispered in my ear in a choked voice, “I am so sorry. I am so sorry they did this to you. I am so sorry.” And this big strong man, this man who didn’t really know me but who chose to identify with my pain and anguish and devastation — he wept for me. I felt his tears fall on my shoulder, like the most precious, healing gift. He knew. He understood. And he wept.

Hugs don’t have to involve weeping. But the best ones, the truly good hugs — the ones we remember with gratitude years and multiple decades later — are the ones that go beyond merely not taking. It’s not just that there are no strings attached and no ulterior motives in the best of hugs. They go far beyond even giving the physical warmth of a close embrace; they give out of the depth of a person’s very being.

Not every hug has that much meaning and emotion behind it, or requires that much of us. We might be giving comfort or encouragement, expressing a joyful greeting, welcoming someone, saying goodbye, or simply being affectionate. However, if we want to be hug-givers rather than hug-takers we should, at the very least, give of ourselves in a way that is appropriate to the situation and circumstances. The hug should be more about the huggee than the hugger. Expecting nothing in return might make some hugs seem to be a more one-sided communication on our part…but that’s the way giving often is.

The hug I mentioned at the beginning of this post caught me by surprise. I knew the hugger mostly as the boyfriend of a friend, as someone who had taken on a bit of a protective older cousin/uncle type role in my life. He was saying goodbye before moving across the country and, right before the hug, he looked me in the eyes and said simply, “Stay safe.” But behind those words were, as we both knew, paragraphs and pages of meaning. The hug spoke volumes, crammed all those paragraphs and pages of words, all the advice he had ever given me, and every word of encouragement, into one embrace. I felt it. The wannabe boyfriend-ish guy could see it. I hope my hug in return spoke volumes as well.

It was a good hug…a gift I still carry in my heart.

Addendum: Here’s a good article about hugs and physical touch: Public Displays of Christian Affection. This article resonated with me because I can remember different seasons of my life when I felt almost desperately starved for affectionate, safe touch, for hugs that gave rather than attempted to take. But, as already mentioned, I’ve also been blessed with people in my life who have given me amazingly wonderful hugs that were more healing and comforting than I could even begin to describe.

Update: edited to rearrange sentences in a hopefully more logical and coherent order.

For husbands of survivors| Trauma Tuesday

This short video is an excellent resource for Christian husbands of survivors, although I would urge caution about one of the recommendations made by the speaker.

My reaction to this video was almost entirely positive. I especially liked what the speaker said about husbands pursuing their own healing and growing in sexual purity. The husband who takes this video to heart would truly end up being a tremendous blessing to his wife as well as receiving much blessing in return.

However, I do want to voice a few serious cautions to husbands about seeking support from other men:

  1. Only disclose your wife’s sexual trauma to someone with her full knowledge and consent. Do not pressure her — not all women are ready to go public with the most traumatic events of their lives, especially trauma of a sexual nature, and the thought of a man knowing can be especially frightening, shameful, and humiliating. Your wife’s ability to trust you and feel safe should trump your need or desire to tell “the guys”. A therapist might be a far better source for support, since not many men are equipped to offer the wisdom, insight, and confidentiality you need.
  2. Choose your confidante carefully. We like to pretend that men don’t gossip, but this is sadly not the case. Furthermore, the last thing you should want is to confide in a man who believes in rape myths, insists that your wife made the whole thing up, tells you to “make her submit!” or even angrily confronts your wife about “crying rape just because she regrets her slutty behavior, and is making up a lame excuse to withhold sex”. (One woman had to deal with more than one such angry confrontation after her husband confided in his men’s group at church.)
  3. Choose as a confidante only a respectful, godly, tender-hearted, safe, loving, compassionate man who is a friend of your marriage. Such a man should not press you for details about what happened to your wife or about any of her current sexual struggles. (Those issues should probably be dealt with in therapy anyway.) Instead, he should encourage you to be more Christ-like. One husband was shocked, and later convicted, that the man he confided in was moved to tears — in marked contrast to the husband’s own lack of tenderness and compassion. The best confidante will challenge you to grow in sacrificial love, rather than further enable you in selfish indifference or impatience.
  4. Be prepared that telling people may make your wife the target of gossip, false accusations, harassment, intimidation, and even worse. One wife was continually harassed by a man who accused her of lying about her sexual assault because, as he insisted to her, “you are too ugly to rape”. Some survivors have had to endure “rape jokes” or “incest jokes” supposedly in order to get us to lighten up and not take ourselves so seriously. Men have attempted to intimidate rape survivors with, “I hope someone rapes you again.” Even more frightening, a woman was confronted in her own home by a “friend” of her husband who threatened, “I could rape you too, you know, and this time no one would believe you.” The worst case I know about personally is the woman who was assaulted by her “pastor” after he learned of her past sexual trauma. Predators and abusers don’t usually identify themselves as such in advance, and are all too often the last person we would suspect.

Obviously I am not suggesting rape survivors hide in silence. After all, I’ve gone public. But it should be our own choice, and we should not be outed as survivors without our consent — especially not by the very men who have vowed to love, honor, and cherish us.

Hiding from help

“Why do you get angry at any adult who really cares about you?” my sweet, kind, and bewildered friend confronted me when I was in high school.

“What? No, I don’t. I just can’t stand ultra-concerned types.” I put so much sneered emotion behind the words “ultra-concerned types” that one would have thought I was plagued by obnoxious, overly-zealous, heavy-handed, intruding busybodies trying to bulldoze over me and seize control of my life.

“But why get so angry when they care about you?” she asked again, mentioning some specific examples of kind, wonderful adults.

I brushed her off, muttering something about how I suffered at the hands of “ultra-concerned types” and their annoying ways. I rather angrily denied that I was angry, and then changed the subject.

It took me over three decades to find out the answer to my friend’s question.

Back then, and for those many years afterward, I was hiding a deep dark secret, one so deep and so dark that I could only cope by refusing to think about it, by pretending it away. That didn’t work well. As a teenager, I was filled with the constant, overwhelming sense that there was something very much wrong with me, but I had no idea what — and I never connected that sense with the hidden burden I carried. Fear, shame, and secrecy had become a way of life for me. So had a form of denial so profound that it was almost as if I’d created an alternative reality for myself.

I had to keep people at arm’s length. If anyone, especially an adult, got too close and actually looked into my eyes, they might know whatever it was I dared not face.

At the same time, my innermost being was desperately crying out for help, and my greatest desire was to be rescued…from what, I dared not think. The memories of some of the wonderful adults who managed to overcome my defenses long enough to plant seeds of hope in my bruised and battered, locked up heart, cause tears of gratitude as I write. There was, for example, the youth director from another church who spent a Friday night playing bumper pool with me, laughing with me, having fun with me, and treating me as an interesting person of value and importance. I don’t remember your name, my brother, and I never saw you again, but you were like a ministering angel to me that night.

Then there was Mr. Bottaro, my tenth grade English teacher. He told me, when I was attempting to argue with him about a paper I’d written, “Someday I’m going to break through your façade.” Façade? I fumed angrily. What on earth is he talking about? The nerve of him! The next year, even though I was no longer in his class, he would often stop me on campus and ask how I was doing. He never believed my polite responses or automatic answers. “No, really,” he would insist, his eyes trying to search mine for the truth. “Come up to my room and see me,” he would urge, no matter what I answered. I knew he saw…something.

Finally I decided to take him up on his offer. I would sit in front of him, let him look in my eyes, and tell him that there was something terribly, seriously wrong with me but I was too afraid to try to think about it. Surely he would be able to figure it out. That was my plan, anyway, to beg him to help me, when I arrived on campus early one morning. I was on my way to his classroom when another teacher stopped me with devastating news.

Mr. Bottaro was dead of a massive heart attack.

It took over 30 years for me to try again, to sit across from someone else and let him try to figure out what on earth was so terribly, horribly wrong with me. But, as desperate as I was for help, I didn’t make it easy for my therapist. I hadn’t just erected protective walls around my growing mountain of secrets — I’d planted prickly cacti outside the walls, dug a moat, and filled it with alligators. Then I stood in my watchtower, safely out of reach, and threw rocks at anyone who dared commit the heinous crime of caring in ways that made me uncomfortable or threatened my defenses. My therapist did not have an easy time gaining my trust, and overcoming my anger and fear.

Exposing our dark secrets to the light of day — it’s scary stuff, I tell you. Absolutely terrifying. I do not exaggerate when I say it came close to killing me. But hidden secrets can never be healed, and there is no freedom comparable to living in the light. There are burdens we were never meant to carry alone.

I’ve been on the receiving end of the prickliness when I ventured too close to someone who did not wish to be known, who feared what I might discover. I’ve experienced what it’s like when others lash out in fear and panic because a secret has been exposed. So now I know both sides, and I understand.

Until recent years, I had no idea what true freedom was. I was in survival mode, always feeling as if I were on the brink of chaos, barely holding things together. My life was a carefully erected house of cards that might fall down at any moment, and I couldn’t let anyone know. The fear of exposure — even exposure of some of my more trivial flaws and failings — was crippling. The worst is that this didn’t just effect me. I raised six beautiful, wonderful, amazing children in a climate polluted by my fear, isolation, and secrecy. By the grace of God, they are now much stronger and healthier than I could have ever hoped.

The enemy of our soul hates freedom. He hates the light. Stay in the dark! he urges us. Don’t let them see who you really are! Don’t even admit to yourself how desperate your situation is. Deny. Minimize. Hide. Cover up. Isolate. Live in secrecy. Get angry at anyone who refuses to play along. Break relationships with those who care for you and try to help. Live in fear!

That house of cards? Trust me, once you start walking in freedom and truth, you won’t ever miss what you were once so desperately protecting. Experiencing true healing is more than worth the temporary pain of bringing shameful, dark, or painful secrets out into the light.

Walk in the light. It’s absolutely beautiful out here!

The director and the actress

As I posted before, I usually don’t write allegories. But then one came along and pretty much wrote itself. Every now and then, I’d re-read it, maybe tweaking a word or sentence here or there. I’d think, “I really should add a part where the actress talks with the director.” And that’s as far as it got until recently.

I hope it means something and is a blessing to someone else besides me.

Of course none of this will make any sense whatsoever unless you start reading here.

The director looked across the table at the actress and smiled. He had such high hopes for her — and for the actor, especially now that he’d begun to get through to him — and he was looking forward to finally being able to tell her of some of his plans.

She smiled back. It had been a year since the actor had begun to have his change in heart about her, but that didn’t really explain the dramatic growth she had gone through in that time.

“This has been my best year ever!” she enthused, as if reading the director’s mind. They began reminiscing together.

“What made the biggest difference for you?” he asked, fully knowing the answer, but never growing tired of hearing her tell of it. He loved how her eyes lit up, how excitement, joy, and wonder filled her voice.

“It was…well, everything you said to me that day that I came into your office, wanting to quit,” she began.

He would never forget that day. She was discouraged, frustrated, hurt, angry, at the end of herself. He had listened patiently as she poured out all her feelings, until she dissolved into desperate tears. “I can’t do this anymore,” she had finally managed to choke out. “I’m tired of failing. It’s hopeless. I’m hopeless. I can’t go on like this.”

He had found himself telling her the most hope-filled story that he knew. “Remember, I was friends with your parents, and I was there when you were born,” he said, “I got to hold you right away. I loved you then. I held you close and whispered a secret in your ear and someday, when the time is right, I’ll tell you what it is. On that day, I also told you what your real name is, the one you were meant to have from the beginning of time, the one you will not hear again until you are ready.”

When he had said this to her, she had wiped away her tears and looked at him as if he was crazy.

So he reminded her of their history together, the parts she could remember, and even some parts she had forgotten. He reminded her, over and over again, that he had always loved her as a father and a friend.

“Your problem,” he told her, “is that you don’t believe that. You don’t believe me. You’d rather listen to the actor, even though he will never love you the way I do and, all too often, he does not even speak for me. When will you realize that? When will you seek my approval more than his?”

Those final words had stung her. She had protested and argued, and then dissolved yet again in frustrated tears. Finally she had walked out.

“That was the turning point,” she said now. “Once I sat myself down and thought about everything you told me, all the things you reminded me — it all made me realize that you knew me longer and better than the actor did — and that you love me more than anyone else ever will. Plus…well, you’re the director, and he isn’t.” She flashed a relieved grin at that last sentence. “That’s why I came back.”

Now he looked at her more seriously. “So you finally believe that I love you and want what’s best for you, right?”

She nodded. “Of course! You’ve proven that time and time again but I was too blind to notice! You’ve always been there, my one constant, my most loyal friend. I’ve lost count of how many times you rescued me…how many second chances you gave me…how many times you let me start over…how many crises you helped me through. You’ve changed my life.” She paused for emphasis. “Now I think I really do believe that you love me as much as you say you do.”

“You trust me.” He said it as a statement of fact, calmly. She nodded again, but she looked slightly apprehensive, wondering if she was about to be tested.

“I have a new script,” he announced simply.

She looked excited. “Really? Tell me about it!”

“It’s the kind of complex, demanding role that you were born to play. It’s tailor-made for you, but it will also be extremely challenging. Extremely.”

“What about the actor? Is he in it?”

“Oh, you’ll still both be playing your same basic roles, except I’m developing your character much more fully than before, and expanding your part in the script a lot. Focus on your role and let me worry about the actor. The changes in the new script will require your utmost concentration, and you and I will have to work together more closely than ever before.”

“Great!” she said.

“One more thing…the new script also requires that you dance.”

“Dance? The actor hates dancing! He will never agree to it.”

“No, not that kind of dancing. You won’t need a partner for the dances I want you to perform.”

“But…but…” Tears filled her eyes and she bit her lip. “What about my leg? I can’t dance. You know that. I’ll stumble and…and…I’ll fall down. Besides, who wants to see a cripple like me try to dance?”

“I’ve choreographed the dances, and I’ve taken your leg into consideration. I will teach you myself. Trust me: you will dance more beautifully than you can possibly imagine, even if it feels awkward to you. Are you forgetting that I’m also a doctor — the very one who attended your birth and took care of you after your accident? The dances I’ve created for you are therapeutic and healing — they will strengthen and restore your leg. Eventually your limp will disappear.”

She looked incredulous. “Seriously? You mean that?”

“Of course.”

“I never dreamed I would ever dance…” she whispered in amazement, as if afraid to speak the words aloud.

“That’s not all,” the director said. “The script I’ve been writing — it’s based on the stories you used to write as a little girl, and the stories I used to tell you. It’s based on your fondest hopes and dreams, the ones you’ve long given up, even forgotten. I remember them all, every desire of your little girl heart and, in the script I always meant for you, they all come true. Well, except for some of the silly or dangerous ones.” He smiled. “But the good ones all come true.”

Her tears flowed freely. “But…why?”

“Because it’s the role you were meant to play all your life.” He paused to let the words sink in. “You just weren’t ready before now. I think that now, finally, you truly want those things again — all those long ago hopes and dreams — more than you want anything else.”

She sat there in stunned silence, trying to process it all. Finally she spoke, “So, despite everything, all my failings, all the ways I’ve messed up and disappointed you, I get to play my dream role? That doesn’t make sense.”

“Yes, it does,” he countered gently, “if you remember how much I love you.”

“But what about the actor? Does he get his dream role too?”

“Leave him to me. After all, I love him too, far more than you ever will. But your role — this new script — is far less about him than it is about you. Promise me one thing: always look in my eyes instead of his, and never forget that I am the director, not him. He’s just another actor, like you, and he has his own script.”

He paused and grew almost stern. “I have to caution you about something. You finally stopped believing his criticisms and stopped veering off the script in reaction to him — right about the time he was becoming less negative and critical. But now he could pose an even greater danger to you, if you become used to and dependent on his kindness and praise. You’ve longed for him to approve of your performance so much that I’m afraid his positive words might have more power over you than his negative ones did, and you might become willing to do almost anything for them to continue. You must never forget that he is not the director. My approval must matter far more than his. Look to me only.”

She nodded.

“Always, always act as if I’m your only audience.”

She nodded again, and he thought she had never looked more beautiful and more strong. He thought her face could have lit up the darkest room. “This is amazing…too good to be true…I must be the luckiest actress alive!” she burst out.

“I think it’s time.” he said abruptly, standing up.

“Time? Time for what?”

“This.” He beckoned her to stand and, leaning down towards her, spoke softly in her ear. “It’s time you finally heard what I whispered to you so long ago, on the day you were born. And, after you hear it, you won’t just dance. You’ll fly!”

“Fly?”

He didn’t answer, didn’t explain. Instead, he whispered a sentence, the secret he had told her the day she was born…words she hadn’t realized that she had longed to hear all her life, words that explained everything, words that set her free, words that frightened and exhilarated her, words that were both healing and challenging, soothing and provocative. It was as if she was hearing his voice, his real voice, for the very first time.

She gasped. Tears flowed. And she threw back her head and laughed. That’s how powerful his few, seemingly simple words were. What he spoke wasn’t just a statement — the truest words she had ever heard — but a glorious invitation.

He was calling her forth into her destiny.

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, yes, yes — ” the words tumbled out in enthusiastic agreement to the new script, to the director being her audience of one, to everything he wanted her to be, and to everything he would help her become.

In return, he held her closer, in a fatherly embrace…and spoke her name: her name he had whispered to her at birth, her real name, her beautiful, beautiful name that no one else but them had ever heard.

This time she shouted — shouted loud — with joy, throwing back her head as if she wanted the heavens above to hear her. She lifted her hands high in the air and shouted with triumphant eagerness, “YES!!”

And then she danced.

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!

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“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

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