The Devil’s Lonely Boy, part 4: The Way of Salvation

17 Jun

My father isn’t saved. He is an agnostic. A lapsed Episcopalian. A decent, moral man who didn’t and doesn’t go to church. When I was ten, my mother and my aunt explained to me that my father needed my help.

“You can save him,” my Aunt said. “You’re the only one he listens to.”

I nodded, feeling decades older and a few feet shorter.

“He needs the Lord,” my mom said.

“Ask him to pray with you,” my Aunt said. “Ask him to go to church with you.”

“He needs the Lord,” my mom said.

“He needs your help,” my Aunt said.

My mom started praying in a hushed mutter.

“Your father, when he finds the Lord, will be such a powerful warrior for Christ,” my mom said. “He just needs your help.”

I cried that night and many after. I was convinced that my father was going to hell. He wasn’t saved—my mother had told me—so he was headed for the place of eternal suffering and great gnashing of teeth. He and I were pals from the start. I was his only son and he raised me in his image. We went to movies every weekend. He took me to my little league soccer games, we ate out at Burger King, we went to the beach. We threw the football in the front yard; he made hamburgers special just for me, smothered in barbecue sauce; he bought me comics; he got me hooked on oldies rock n’ roll music; he was damned to Hell.

His salvation remained a thorn in my thoughts. Despite our friendship, I was scared of my dad, to a degree; I’ve always assumed every boy is scared of his father. I didn’t know how to talk to him.

It became a pattern. My mom and my Aunt would try and get me to ask him to go to church, ask him to read the Bible with me, ask him to pray with me, ask him to accept Jesus into his heart for me, and so on. I was torn. I wanted my father to live with me in Heaven, obviously, but I also didn’t want to lose his favor on earth. I was scared of talking to him, scared of not talking to him.

So I cried at nights. For my father’s salvation. I recognized that I was being selfish; I was sacrificing my dad’s afterlife so that I could have time with him on earth. I prayed for him constantly. I asked God to show him the way to salvation. I begged God for my Dad’s peace and well-being. For harmony in my own life. An end to the melancholy.

I would try to talk to him about it sometimes. But how do you broach your father’s eternal salvation? “So, Dad, you do know that you’re going to hell if you don’t get saved, right?” I thought of ways to trick him into saying the words with me, like a game of Simon Says. I imagined him on his deathbed, me pleading with him to accept Jesus, he finally submitting at the end, croaking the words out above the heart monitors and IV drip.

I sometimes thought that if I could save my dad, I would be saving myself. That to win him to Christ would ensure that I wasn’t faking, that I really did believe, that I was going to Heaven, too.

One day I gathered up the courage to speak to him about it. He was watching television, sitting big and comfortable on the couch like a suburban Buddha. I sat next to him, staying quiet, hoping he would casually mention his recent salvation and we could carry on. He was watching an Audi Murphy western.

“Hi, Goofy,” he said.

“Hi, Dad,” I said.

We watched the silly western with the silly non-actor while the sun set into the late afternoon. We sat and said nothing, through commercials. My dad finally got up and came back with two grilled cheese sandwiches with pickles on top and handing them to me. I thanked him and ate. They were delicious. The Audi Murphy movie turned out to be pretty good. I stayed quiet.

A few weeks later my dad and I went walking around the neighborhood one night. I was armed with a slingshot he had bought me for my birthday. I was tempted to try and shoot out the streetlights but resisted. We walked through the warm early evening, the ground a little damp from an earlier rain; we didn’t speak. There was an awkward silence. The canopy of starts shimmered in the dark sultry firmament. Finally he spoke. “Do you know who else used a slingshot? In the Bible?”

“David,” I answered. I realized in that moment that he felt just as uncomfortable as I did. I slung a rock at a stop sign and hit it and he cheered me on with a pat on the back. We walked home in silence. The evening ended and that night I went to sleep, this time without crying.

I never spoke to him about God or salvation. Ever. I still feel ashamed that I never nudged him towards Heaven.

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