Welcome back for Part 3 of the Christian Example Series, The Snare of the Fowler.
As you may remember, Nathan is a troubled young man with a penchant for long distance trucking, movies, and talking to hardware store clerks. However, on a recent long-distance haul in Georgia, Nathan's truck broke down. Stranded in the wilderness with no money, and no friends, Nathan was despondent and hopeless.
I am pleased to tell you that in this time of crisis, Nathan found the Lord, who happened to be hitchhiking along State Route 47 that weekend.
Nathan decided to quit trucking and settle down to quiet, well-regulated life at the Tumbling Run Mennonite Church.
There were not many dry eyes in church the next Sunday morning when Nathan stood up front to tell the congregation that he was sorry for his past sinful life. He thanked them for their many prayers and sacrifices made in his behalf.
The story goes on with a lengthy description Nathan's apology for his wickedness and his rudeness to the ministers who tried to save him from himself. The ministers exhort the congregation to pray fervently for him, because the Devil is going to try all the harder to drag him down.
Uncle Harold gladly gave Nathan work in his welding shop again. Paul's heart warmed to see the change that had transpired in Nathan since his conversion. I find the use of the term 'conversion' interesting, since Nathan had been a member of the church prior to this. Perhaps they merely use it to indicate that he had become unsaved, and was now resaved.
Yes, there were still struggles. There were some vulgar words that needed to be restrained. There were wicked thoughts that needed to be brought under the power of the blood. Nathan asked Paul to challenge him if he used bad language. Paul thought it was nice of Nathan to ask, but he had been planning on doing that anyway.
Paul wanted to do all he could. True to his purpose, he prayed often for Nathan. It was very rewarding to see the burden lift from Amy's face as they functioned as a complete family again. Apparently Amy had grown up as a missionary to a foreign tribe who uses tumplines to transport heavy objects.
Amy, probably. Stop looking at her sandals.
Amy did all she could to make their cozy little house a warm, inviting place to be. Matthew, now three years old, bubbled with conversation and laughter to have his father's companionship and attention every evening after work. He sat on Nathan's lap and listened contentedly as Nathan read him book after book.
You know it isn't going to last, right?
And that's what's really heart-breaking about this story. This little guy needs a daddy. And his daddy needs some serious support through his struggles with depression, which starts showing some obvious signs before too long.
So here's where the first cracks begin to appear.
One snowy, cold January evening, they asked Uncle Harold's to come for supper. Their warm kitchen, alive with happy conversation and the aroma of a delicious roast in the oven, contrasted sharply with the dark and stormy night outside.
During the after-supper conversation, Nathan admitted that he still had difficulty comprehending the Bible.
"Would you like Paul and I to come over, say twice a month, especially for Bible study?" Uncle Harold suggested.
Nathan hesitated; then he answered tonelessly, "That would be all right I guess. Let me think about it."
"Does he really want to understand God's Word," Paul asked himself. "Is this happy little home about to crumble again? Is it too good to last?" Paul shivered at the thought.
I'm going to guess that he feels that it's probably a waste of time to sit down with two people who shut him down every time he asks a question that doesn't adhere to the party line.
If he asks a question they don't like, they're gonna be all shocked and horrified. This Bible study is not going to differ from what Nathan has got for the last 30 years. No wonder he isn't interested.
And notice two things.
1) Paul's immediate response is judgment. "Wow! He must not be sincere if he doesn't want to study the Bible with us."
2) There's no attempt to find another way to help him. No offer to get him books, or find a correspondence course, or the suggestion of how another Bible version might help. There's not even a sense of urgency or insistence. They didn't say, "Well, why don't we give it a try? How does next Thursday sound?" They didn't do a SINGLE THING that showed him care or consideration. Instead, they followed the old pattern of setting themselves up as spiritual giants, and experts, and him as the project.
Yeah, maybe Nathan should have gone for it. But it feels like he's done a lot of sucking it up, and the only time they are really concerned about what's actually going on inside is when he's got on foot on the running board of his Peterbuilt. (yeah, that's how they spelled it.)
Nathan's restlessness began to surface on the job too. Several times Paul noticed he was staring vacantly out the window, both arms dangling at his sides. Of course, Paul failed to notice the signs of depression or offer any support.
Nathan had parked the Peterbilt (they finally spelled it right just in time for it to be sold) along a main highway and put a For Sale sign inside the window. His resolve to quit trucking seemed to weaken as the weeks lengthened and no one showed serious interest in buying his truck.
"How can I make the payments?" he asked Paul one morning, lifting both palms in exasperation. "I can't earn enough unless I sell the truck."
"God will make a way somehow," Uncle Harold encouraged, overhearing the conversation. "We need to commit ourselves to doing right, and then have faith that God will work out the details."
"My faith is growing pretty weak," Nathan replied glumly.
Once again, Nathan shows signs of depression and despair, and the response is "Welp! Hope things get better. Keep hanging in there, and don't truck."
There's nothing wrong with the ideas that Harold is sharing. It's the attitude, and lack of compassion.
If Nathan was my nephew, I'd tell him, "Look, I get it. It's really tough right now, but you're doing the right thing. Look how happy Amy and Matthew are to have you home every evening. This isn't for you, it's for them. And I promise you, things get better. By the way, have you considered talking to a medical professional about your depression? I can help you look for a good one if you'd like."
But they didn't. Suck it up, Nathan. That's the message.
That evening when Nathan came home, Amy greeted him at the door. Her eager smile spoke of good news. "Look what came in the mail today," she said, offering him an envelope. Inside was a check, just the right amount for a truck payment. The signature was Amy's father's. A note explained that several of Amy's aunts and uncles had gone together to donate this love gift.
Nathan did not show the glad relief that Amy expected him to. Rather, he said, "It makes me feel like a charity case."
"Don't feel like that," Amy objected. "They care about us. Let's accept it as a gift from God."
"I'll try to," Nathan responded. He decided it was not necessary for him to dampen Amy's spirits by revealing the desolation in his own heart.
This is a fascinating passage. On the surface, Nathan should be exhilarated to have the weight of a month's truck payment off his shoulders. But he isn't. Why?
The author depicts Nathan's reaction in a negative light, of course, and I partially agree. Maybe he should have acted more grateful. But look at what is going on under the surface.
1) Nathan is struggling with depression. As a result, he undoubtedly feels like a total loser at life. Being sent money to make a truck payment is just more evidence to him that he is, in fact, a loser that the voice in his mind tells him he is. That's why he comments that feels like a charity case.
2) Look at who the gift comes from. Amy's family. Now, you know what Amy's family probably thinks of him. He abandoned their daughter. He went off trucking and left her alone. And now that he's home, he can't pay his bills, so they have to step in.
I'm not saying that giving the gift was wrong, or even that it came from a bad place. But it likely feels like a direct attack on Nathan's manhood and ability to provide for his family.
In my opinion, it would have been better to reach out to him and talk man to man. "Hey, Nathan, I'm guessing times are tough right now. We've been thinking. How about we float you a loan for a few months of truck payments, and then you can pay us back when the truck sells." This would have helped Nathan, while treating him as an equal.
3) This is another entry on the invisible ledger. This is something that happens a lot in these communities. People keep internal ledgers. Nathan has been a taker. The whole community has been worrying about him and his family and praying for them, and he's probably never going to be on the plus side of the ledger again. He feels like a burden, and this check is just one more thing that they are all going to remember. They had to bail him out. He's not their equal.
Once again, this is a situation where it's not about Nathan and what he feels and what he needs. His needs are getting ignored and he's falling through the cracks.
And notice that last sentence. Nathan doesn't feel free to talk to Amy about the "desolation in his own heart." It would just drag her down.
And so the spiral continues.
He would try to hide his confused feeling about selling the truck. One day he wished it would not sell at all. The next day he prayed that it would. His feelings fluctuated as much from day to day as the April temperatures did that spring.
This passage is incredible to me.
It's such a perfect description of Nathan's inward turmoil that you feel that the author must truly understand him. Yet there is no sympathy for his struggles.
In spite of his feelings, the truck did sell the next week. "So that's done," Nathan sighed when the new owner drove off in the Peterbilt, (they spelled it right again) leaving a sizable payment with him.
"Praise the Lord!" Paul's father responded when he told him. "Maybe this will be the incentive that Nathan needs to believe God and to be convinced that it is not God's will for him to truck."
Sorry, Harold, but a truck with a For Sale sign in the window selling isn't really that powerful of a sign. And it's really sad that the main thing you're thinking at this moment is how Nathan needs to be showed how BAD his idea REALLY IS, rather than encouraging him at a time when he probably needs it.
However, in Nathan's mind, his future was not that clearly settled.
"Losing the truck is like losing a trusted friend... almost like losing a child," he confided to Amy.
Amy was aghast. "I don't understand," she said.
"No one does," he answered dourly.
Do you hear that sound, Amy? That's the sound of your marriage dying.
This is the moment that I believe Nathan passes the point of no return.
He's tried one last time in this painful, lonely experience to open up about what's going on inside.
And instead of saying, "I don't understand but I'm here for you. That has to be tough,"
Amy is aghast. Aghast. Filled with horror and shock.
And Nathan walks away knowing he's not being understood, and that it's never going to happen.
If Amy had been like a godly lady that I know, she would have said something like this: "I know it's tough. You spent a lot of time in that truck. You're letting go of something you've dreamed about most of your life. I can't say I understand, but that doesn't mean that I don't feel for you. I'm sorry you have to go through such a hard thing, but you're doing the right thing. You're doing it for me, and for Matthew, and it makes us feel so loved right now. Hang in there, Nathan. This is the first day of our new lives together."
But Amy doesn't say any of that.
Amy is aghast. Amy doesn't understand. And Nathan walks away and sits alone in his inner darkness.
It was a difficult spring for Nathan and Amy. Imagine that. Amy did her best not to spend any more than she absolutely had to. At times Nathan noticed. One evening she fitted a shirt on him she had made. He was touched by her diligence and eagerness to please him. "You've been a good wife, Amy," he said sincerely. "Maybe it was God's will for me to sell the truck."
The story isn't clear on exactly why they are in financial straits. Perhaps Nathan was upside-down on the truck and selling it left him underwater.
I feel compelled to point out that he's working for Uncle Harold, who has to know that he is barely making ends meet. It appears that Harold is willing to have Bible studies, but not pay a tad more so Nathan can crawl out of the hole.
Perhaps this is harsh, and we cannot be certain of all the details, but it seems that some material aid to Nathan and his family may have prevented him from being tempted to return to the truck.
At other times he would come home from the welding shop utterly exhausted and fatigued. Sometimes he was almost too tired to eat. On such evenings he would spend the evening on the sofa in moody silence. Instead of seeking God's will in prayer, he allowed dark thoughts to dominate his thinking-- doubts about his ability to pay the bills, doubts that God cared for him personally (can't blame him for this one. The people who claim to be working for God aren't exactly doing a bang-up job of making Nathan feel cared for personally), doubts that it was really wrong to leave his wife and child for weeks at a time to truck. Yes. These are truly dark thoughts that only Satan could bring.
Brother Samuel or Uncle Harold or even Paul would have been happy to encourage Nathan had they known the severity of the battle raging inside his breast. But he told no one.
Boy, I can't imagine WHY Nathan would have keep his feelings bottled up inside. Why didn't he approach those men?
The interesting thing here, too, is how the onus is on Nathan. We don't see them coming up beside him, and saying, "Hey, man, you OK? You seem kind of down." Nothing like that happens.
It's like they expect him to just let them know he's drowning, when it's obvious that 1) they don't actually care enough to find out, and 2) they judge him every time he tries.
Only Amy knew. Even she was often perplexed. Had not Nathan confessed his wickedness in front of the church? Hadn't he made a sincere start in the Christian life? Hadn't he declared publicly that long-distance trucking and being a Christian were an almost impossible combination? Why then was he entertaining thoughts of trucking again.
This is almost breathtaking in its utter blindness.
The ministers encouraged the congregation to pray for Nathan, because the Devil would certainly pull out all stops to get him to go back to his life of sin. And now, when Nathan is in the throes of temptation, and the Devil has, indeed, pulled out all stops, they're completely shocked and judgmental about it.
Yeah, we said the Devil would tempt you, but we didn't ACTUALLY expect you to struggle with the temptation.
And they do NOTHING to help him. They pray while he drowns.
Seldom could Amy get Nathan to disclose his inner struggles and feelings.
Are. You. Kidding. Me. Right. Now?
Why would Nathan open up to someone who is aghast every time he is vulnerable?
The fact that this story went through the hands of several reviewers and copyeditors before going to print, and this stunning indictment of Amy's blindness made it to print without being clarified or redacted is powerful evidence of an overall blindness in the upper echelons of Mennonite culture.
Nathan is to blame, and that is that.
In the end, Nathan returns to trucking, and the story closes with Paul and his father sadly discussing this final turn of events.
In the movie version, Paul and Harold are sitting on their back porch, looking out across the lawn as the sun sets. Harold quotes some Bible verses about a pig returning to the mud, and they discuss whether there is any hope for Nathan. Harold looks at Paul for a long time. "Only a total and complete surrender on Nathan's part will deliver him from the snare of the fowler," Harold declares, putting the blame squarely on Nathan's shoulders for the last time.
Father and son sit in the darkness in silence as we fade to black.
For a second, we think the movie is over, then the camera cuts to a parking lot, lit by a few pole lights. A lone man is walking across the lot, whistling softly to himself, his boots crunching in the gravel. The man climbs into a shiny new Peterbilt and closes the door. A moment later, the engine starts and the headlights come on, bathing the parking light in a white glare.
The camera cuts to the interior of the truck cab. Nathan's face is illuminated by the lights from the dash. He puts the truck in gear and smiles for the first time in a long time as he pulls onto the road. The camera pans down and we catch a glimpse of a photograph of Matthew and Amy propped on the dash before the camera zooms out for a long shot of the truck heading down the road into the night.