Restoring what the Locusts Have Eaten
- 2009 14 Nov
Editor's Note: This article was excerpted from Kristine Steakley's new book Child of Divorce, Child of God (InterVarsity Press, 2008).
While I was growing up, I adored my father. Perhaps it was easy to do so since I only saw him for a few weeks each year. But there really was a lot to adore. My father is handsome and charming and witty. He likes to have goofy fun, he has an artistic flair and long ago he acquired an urban sophistication. When I was little, he would take pictures of me from all different angles like I was a model posing for Vogue, then hand over the camera and ham it up while I snapped a few shots of him. He bought me my first tape recorder and encouraged me to record my thoughts and conduct interviews. He was my first interview subject, and I still giggle when I listen to the tape and hear his purposefully silly answers to my very serious questions.
By the time I was a teenager, I knew Dad was not perfect. For one thing, he was a procrastinator and was often late. I remember once running through LAX desperately trying to get to the gate before boarding closed, while Dad waited for my bags to go through security and then ran after me. (I made it, but just barely.) And he was not the most practical guy. One fun day at the beach with him resulted in the two of us lounging in agony in front of fans, our skin the color of just-boiled lobsters because Dad did not bring sunblock and I was too young to think of it myself.
Still, if ever a girl thought her father walked on clouds, it was me. And then he disappeared in the clouds, and I didn’t see him for eight long years. When I did finally see him again, he tried to get me to call him Bill instead of Dad. I remember the first few times I saw him after those eight years, when the walls that had been erected were slowly being dismantled. There were some awkward moments, some tentative conversations. Something in our relationship was broken, shattered, and while we were picking up the pieces and slowly applying glue, there were still a lot of jagged edges and missing parts.
As we began rebuilding our father-daughter relationship, I found myself always wanting more. Every interaction I had with Dad left me disappointed. It was like getting a small sip of water when what I really wanted was to gulp down a full bottle to slake my thirst. Then I read Dr. Kevin Leman’s book Making Sense of the Men in Your Life, and I realized that I was carrying around an expectation of my dad that he was not meeting. I wanted him to be Father of the Year, to suddenly turn into Pa Ingalls or Ward Cleaver.
The pastor of a church I once attended was fond of saying, “The difference between reality and expectation is disappointment.” He was right. Leman put it this way: “You know that latent sense that you’ve always been missing something but you were never sure exactly what it was? Well, this is it. This is the father you’ve always wanted, pitted against the father you’ve always had.”1
Reading those words was a breakthrough for me. I realized that my dad had never been the superstar I had made him out to be. He was not the creature from the black lagoon, but neither was he Ward Cleaver. I needed to stop holding my dad responsible for not being the father I wanted him to be and start appreciating and enjoying the father he is.
My dad is probably never going to engage me in deep conversations about my life, give me fatherly advice about men and ask how my car is running. But he is still a charming and witty man who makes me laugh and encourages my talents.
There is another side to this equation too: I have a stepfather. We do not share the same DNA, but we have history, the memories of our shared family experiences, and I know that he is always more than happy to have those big conversations, to dispense the fatherly advice and to make sure my car is running well. His presence in my life is a comfort and a blessing to me.
Some of the people I talked to as I was writing this book had stepfathers who later disappeared just as their fathers had. Some had mothers who left and never returned.
After Derrick’s parents divorced, his mother remarried, but Derrick did not enjoy a close relationship with either his dad or his stepfather. As he began to approach marriage in his early thirties, Derrick struggled with fear. He felt that he had never had a good model for what a husband should be. But Derrick recognized his fear and decided to do something about it. He began spending time with a Christian man whose family he admired. When Derrick had fears about marriage or questions about how one went about being a good husband or a good father, he had long talks with his mentor. But mostly he spent time observing.
Derrick did purposefully what author Donald Miller did by accident. Miller did not adopt his mentor, John MacMurray. It was the other way around. MacMurray and his wife invited Miller to live in the apartment over their garage. Although he was not looking for an example of godly manhood, Miller got a front-row seat. Reflecting back on the experience, Miller wrote, “For the first time in my life, I saw what a father does, what a father teaches a kid, what a husband does around the house, the way a man interacts with the world around him, the way a man—just as does a woman—holds a family together.”2
Just because we have grown up in homes the world refers to as broken does not mean that we have to remain broken for the rest of our lives. Yes, there have been a lot of broken, shattered things in our lives, and sometimes sharp fragments are still lying around, waiting to prick us in unsuspecting moments. But we do not have to live in a constant and lifelong state of disarray and destruction.
An atomic bomb was dropped on our family, but with time, new green shoots of life can spring up from the charred wreckage.
The Blight of the Locusts
The first chapter of the book written by the Old Testament prophet Joel tells a tale of utter desolation.
“What the locust swarm has left / the great locusts have eaten; / what the great locusts have left / the young locusts have eaten; / what the young locusts have left / other locusts have eaten” (Joel 1:4).
This was no ordinary event. There were locusts on top of locusts on top of locusts. This plague of insects made the Egyptian plague of Moses’ day look like one solitary bug. On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder tells the true story of swarms of locusts that obliterated the sun and destroyed two years of wheat in nineteenth-century Minnesota. Over a period of five years, locusts destroyed more than thirteen million bushels of wheat and eleven million bushels of corn and oats.3
Wilder wrote of her own experience: “Huge brown grasshoppers were hitting the ground all around her, hitting her head and her face and her arms. They came thudding down like hail. The cloud was hailing grasshoppers. The cloud was grasshoppers. Their bodies hid the sun and made darkness. Their thin, large wings gleamed and glittered. The rasping whirring of their wings filled the whole air and they hit the ground and the house with the noise of a hailstorm.” 4
Before it was over, Wilder wrote, the wheat and oats—their cash crops—were destroyed that year, their vegetable garden was gone and there was no grass for the milk cows to eat.
Westminster Theological Seminary professor Raymond Dillard writes of the passage in Joel that even today a large swarm of locusts can devastate a region. Once the crops are destroyed, food becomes scarce, lowering the immune systems of the starving people and making them more vulnerable to disease.
The scarcity of food prevents the affected area from trading its surpluses, driving up prices and weakening the economy. Once the locusts die, their rotting carcasses breed typhus and other communicable diseases. Dillard goes on to say that swarms “have even been observed twelve hundred miles at sea. The swarms can reach great sizes: a swarm across the Red Sea in 1889 was estimated to cover two thousand square miles. A swarm is estimated to contain up to 120 million insects per mile.”5 Imagine a swarm of locusts roughly the size of Delaware’s land mass! With so many ravenous insects, not a single piece of vegetation would be left. In fact, as Hampton Keathley points out, the locusts Joel talks about would have destroyed even the grain that the Israelites used in their grain offerings to the Lord, meaning “their sacrifices had to stop and their relationship with God was severed.”6 In other words, this proclamation by the prophet Joel tells us everything that mattered had been destroyed.
The loss of our families can make us feel this way—forsaken and utterly destroyed. We can feel like that wheat field next to the Little House on the Prairie, stripped bare and good for nothing. The family we knew is gone, blown apart, obliterated. Maybe more than just our family was gone. For many of us, divorce meant leaving the house we grew up in, leaving our neighborhood, our friends, our school. For some of us, divorce even meant losing our church, either because we felt ashamed that our family did not fit the image we thought everyone expected of us or because we felt and even heard condemnation from those who should have been most concerned for our souls. To use Joel’s metaphor, locusts ate our family, but then other locusts came and ate our friendships and childhood home, and still more locusts ate our church.
But there is more to the book of Joel. We need to keep reading. Joel did not write just one chapter. There was destruction and famine and hopelessness for a time, but God did not leave his people in such a state.
In chapter 2, God offered this promise: I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten— the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm— my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. (Joel 2:25-26)
What a great promise! God does not promise that we will eke out a living from the dusty earth left behind by the locusts. He says we will have an abundance, that we will eat until we are full. It is like the children’s Sunday school song that says “he feeds me at his banqueting table.” The tables are overflowing with good things to eat, more than we can possibly need, and God invites us to sit down and eat until we cannot eat another bite.
God is not stingy with his blessing. He promises to fully restore the lost years and bring us to a place where we will be completely satisfied. This is a lifeline, a hope we can hold on to when things look bleak.
I cannot tell you what that restoration will look like in your life, nor can I tell you when it will happen. Some of us will see broken relationships with our parents and siblings mended and new ones forged that are stronger and deeper. Others of us will build our own great marriages and loving families that will bring us tremendous joy. And some of us may have to wait for heaven, where all wrongs will be righted, all wounds healed, all tears wiped away.
One man I talked to described the announcement of his parents’ divorce as his family’s own personal 9/11. “We were sitting in the house, secure and safe, watching television, not suspecting a thing; and then suddenly, wham! You turn away from the television for a minute and think, ‘I couldn’t have just seen that; it couldn’t have been real.’ But then you turn back to look and see it all replayed, over and over again.” He is still waiting for the restoration to begin in his life, to see God bring him to a place of feasting after the blight of locusts.
What he has seen, however, is that God has used his ministry to urban youth to teach him about the power of persistent, unconditional love to break down walls of insincerity and falsehood. He is trying to apply this principle to his relationship with his father and hopes that he will one day see his father come clean with him about the real story behind his abandonment of their family.
Like this man, and like most of the people I interviewed for this book, I too am still in the process of healing, of watching the young green shoots poke through the barren soil. I do not have a perfect relationship with my dad, but we talk from time to time, and each time it is less awkward and less stressful. It has not been easy and it has not been quick, but the locusts are not having the last word!
When we are still in the locust-stripped field, we need to remember that God knows where we are. Think about all the great people in the Bible who encountered God or his emissaries:
Abraham, who entertained angels in his tent home (Genesis 18); Jacob, who saw the ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending
(Genesis 28:10-22); Moses, who saw God in a burning bush (Exodus 3); Daniel, whose prayer was answered by a visit from the angel Gabriel (Daniel 9); the virgin Mary, who received a special message of her own from Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38).
In not one of these passages do we read that the angel got lost or had to ask around for directions.
God did not burn up ten bushes on random mountains hoping that Moses would stumble across his path. None of the angels says, “Oh, there you are! I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” Even Gabriel, who had to stop and fight a battle on his way to deliver his message to Daniel, knew exactly where to find him. God knows exactly where we are. He knows it geographically, he knows it spiritually, he knows it emotionally. Your bare, locust-eaten field of a heart is no surprise to him, nor has it escaped his notice.
There is an old spiritual that says, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” Part of us is actually glad that nobody knows our deepest trouble. We do not like the vulnerability of letting others see the anguish of our souls laid bare. In many Christian circles, it can be very tempting to paste on a smile and pretend that nothing in the world is troubling us. This is shallow Christianity, and it masks the truth. If we could see into the lives of those other nicely dressed and pressed members of our churches, we would see many wounds and scars as deep as our own. Life does that to us, but sorrow is not all bad. I am convinced that without deep sorrow, deep joy and deep peace are not possible.
Taken from Child of Divorce, Child of God by Kristine Steakley, (c) 2008 by Kristine Steakley. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. ivpress.com
Kristine Steakley is a freelance writer and a grant-writing consultant living in northern Virginia. She is a graduate of Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, and worked for more than a decade at Prison Fellowship Ministries. She is a blogger for The Point (www.thepoint.breakpoint.org) and also blogs at www.childofdivorce-childofgod.blogspot.com.