Carrie Ratcliff of Virginia visited Dallas in 2003 and was baptized during one of our Pentecost retreats. She’s been listening to Ole’s Bible study podcasts in the years since then. Beginning in 2009 she started e-mailing Ole occasionally about her wrenching spiritual journey. We’re publishing some of her observations here, and you’re invited to comment on her posts. Here’s her latest.
By Carrie Ratcliff
“The ball is in your court.”
This is the last sentence of an email I recently received. It was from someone whose connection to me is as arbitrary as a shared bus stop. Because, in the material world, even perceived connections such as familial blood lines are really arbitrary.
But this person believed that his connection to me entitled him to make demands of me. We humans love this sport—let’s call it, “You owe me.”
Sometimes it goes like this: You see a parking space at the grocery store and rush to park in it before someone else does. As you violate ten different driving laws, a few rules of common decency, and terrify your passengers in your quest, another driver nabs the space. What? That was YOUR space! And he just TOOK IT FROM YOU! Oh, man. That driver OWES you! So you look to make sure you know what this guy looks like, race to park the car, and hunt him down in the store to give him a piece of your mind. When you finally find him, you yell, “Hey you! Yeah, you! You took MY parking spot!” The other driver looks astonished. Perplexed. “I did what?”
This week, I was the other driver. Although the issue isn’t a parking space. And, actually, I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out exactly what the issue is. But I have the same reaction as the other driver, “I did what?”
To simplify the issue, this man and I share common roots. We were born into the same family. But as far as connections go, that’s it. We weren’t raised together. We didn’t spend any significant time together. We haven’t even lived in the same state for nearly three decades. But there seems to be something about the shared bloodline that leads this man to believe that I owe him something.
About every ten years or so, I get a letter or a phone call and he tells me about all the wrongs I’ve inflicted on him. When this happens, I feel like the other driver—not knowing that someone else was trying to park in the spot that I chose. I’ve tried over the years to explain this to no avail.
Finally, this week, I apologized for my wrongs and asked for forgiveness. The apology wasn’t enough. The man told me that he was entitled to answers as to why I’ve treated him so poorly over the years. The thing is, I don’t have any answers. Mostly because I don’t really know this man and our lives have never intersected in a way that makes answers possible. I said this to him, “I don’t have any answers for you.”
He said that I was denying him closure by not giving him the answers he wants. We ended the phone call with the usual impasse. And I received the usual email from him trying to shame me for my behavior and offering me the opportunity to make amends. “The ball is in your court,” he wrote.
Ten years ago, this would have rattled me. But after reading the email, I closed it and walked away. I had no response and I knew that if there was a response, it would come.
“The ball,” I responded. “is not in my court because there is no court. And until you understand this, you will always despise me.”
I was astonished at the words as I read them. These are not my words. I like to think of myself as a clever girl. But I’m not spiritually advanced enough to recognize these metaphors with enough insight to produce such a response. After I wrote the words, I read them. And I understood.
Closure, what this man is after, is a concept that can only exist in the material world. It is unattainable. But we humans have made closure a game, haven’t we? It’s the game we play in our relationships with one another. The game of closure enables people to feel entitled, to be victims, to live in the past. “Until I have closure, I can’t….” fill in the blank. Not having closure gives us an excuse to remain stuck. Not having closure justifies a grudge. Not having closure gives us a reason to deny Christ.
In the Kingdom of God, the concept of closure doesn’t exist. When the veil is lifted and you finally see the mystery, you realize that the things of the material world—even your past—are just illusions. With the illusion dispelled, you can see the people in your life for who they truly are. You can see yourself for who you truly are. You see who you and your brother contain. And you understand that nothing in our Relationship with God and Christ could ever be unresolved.
There is no court.
Because no game is being played that could result in winners and losers.
And until we all see this, we will continue playing the game. And we will continue trying to best our perceived enemies.
I choose not to play.