A Dare for God
By Stephanie Painter
Early in my life, my grandfather introduced me to a bright marvel in the sky. He pointed high over the tree line, and I stared in fascination at an odd face glowing in the moon’s surface. It was magical to learn that I could find this face each month by tracking the lunar calendar. In the same moment, I experienced a sense of loss. Only an astronaut charged with a space mission could get close to the Man in the Moon. Me, an astronaut? It was never gonna happen. Even as a 6-year-old, you know that some things are out of reach.
Later that spring, every student in my first-grade class received a letter from the Oval Office. I saved my letter in a keepsake box only because adults said that it was special to get mail from the President of the United States. I would never meet POTUS, for sure. My home was located in northwest Arkansas, many miles from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. So, what was it with grown-ups who insisted on the importance of developing a relationship with a distant God? And that you should pray and strive to know Him?
In Sunday School class, I turned away from pastel illustrations that depicted Jesus ministering to a group of children. Did I hope for a place in that circle? Only a select few kept such extraordinary company. In my short life, I had figured out a few things. With concern, Grandpa observed my doubts and insecurities. Unlike Sunday School teachers who taught of Jesus’ Miracles in under an hour, he took his time bringing me closer to God. On his farm, a conversation unfolded in rocking chairs–swaying–on a porch kind of time. He invited me to spend one summer day at his farm, promising a trail ride on my favorite horse. As we stood in the kitchen, I waited for him to lead the way to the barn. Instead, he poured two glasses of orange soda and pointed at the rocking chairs. “When can I ride Misty?” I asked.
“Let’s sit and talk a while first,” he said. Removing his ubiquitous beret, he signaled that he was in a contemplative state of mind. I noted the King James Bible that lay open on the table – it was seldom out of his sight. “Your mom said that you cried last night after dinner.”
Mama’s communications network quashed all privacy. Reluctantly, I confessed that a kid who lived down the street flung down a double-dog dare. This neighborhood rite was always kicked off by a taunting youth who baited a challenge. “I dare you to climb a huge tree! And when you’re finished, I double-dog dare you to catch a wild animal!” Within minutes, the manicured lawn resembled a gladiator’s amphitheater, equal parts hope and tension. Some youth lacked faith in their abilities to follow through on the dare. Using logic, they realized the impossibility of executing the task. Sometimes there was triumphant success, and onlookers were awed by bold acts. Parading home for dinner, we would savor the brush with the extraordinary and long for the remarkable in our own lives.
In my case, things had not turned out so well. Taking a deep breath, I spilled the beans to my Grandpa. I took a dare and tried to sing the alphabet backwards starting with the letter ‘z.’ My failure was registered by loud boos from spectators. Then the same kid issued a new challenge: “I double-dog dare you to catch David’s ugly cat!” Soon I began zigzagging across the yard, but my pace was slow and clumsy, and the kids laughed. Slinking away, I bowed out.
In a flash of blue shirtsleeves, my grandfather closed the gap between his hands and the Bible. Even a kid’s game had a relationship with God’s word, in his view. “The other kids don’t always win either,” I blurted in my defense. “Last week, Michael lost a double-dog dare.” Undeterred, my grandfather shared the story of salvation in a born-and-bred Southern accent.
Later, I would connect the children’s neighborhood rite with the miracle of God’s love. “So, I could do something stupid and dare Jesus to love me,” I mused. “Then I could do something mean and double-dog dare him to love me. Then I could do something really terrible, and triple-dog dare him to love me still. And Jesus would love me through all of these dares. Is that it?”
“Yes, that’s right!” said Grandpa. “That’s a good analogy.”
Today I continue to engage in childhood rites. Throughout my life, I have dared God to love me when I stray. I double-dare him to love me when I do not listen to him. I triple-dog dare him to again show his love in a direct and immediate way. So far, God has accepted all my dares. For me, the salvation story resonates like a dare that ends in victory. A girl charged with a nearly impossible mission could get close to God. All along, it was within reach.
The moon’s gravitational pull generates tidal force on the Earth, and POTUS makes decisions that affect my life. But God’s presence in my life is far stronger, and my grandfather brought me closer to Him. We talked on many occasions through the years, always on rocking chairs-swaying-on a porch kind of time. Even now, I hear his voice and see his wrinkled hand turning pages in Scripture.
Stephanie Painter is a freelance writer and behavioral health consultant