The Teen Who Took Her Headphones Off
I had been so proud to order the tickets.
I could barely afford them, but I felt sure the time with my teen-age daughter would be well worth the relatively minor financial setback.
We would have orchestra seats—one behind the other because we couldn't get two side by side—at an ornate, historic theater built in the grand style of the 19th century. We would wear the best clothes we owned. And, together, we would enjoy a nationally renowned, musical version of the Victor Hugo masterpiece Les Miserables.
Having heard some of the music, I knew it was going to be a wonderful afternoon. In particular, one lyric from the end of the song cycle stuck with me: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
After Mass that Sunday, we climbed into the car. She slammed the door and clamped her headphones on. Uh-oh. It looked like a bad case of teen attitude, that capricious mix of hormones and defiance that darts around like an unpredictable tornado, was looming already.
“Hey,” I said. “Please take the headphones off. I thought we could talk on the way.”
She sighed heavily and threw the phones on the floor. “Fine,” she said, folding her arms across her chest. “Talk!”
Her friends, I knew, were getting together that afternoon—to study for a biology test, they said — and I was messing everything up with all this togetherness stuff. I also knew it must have been hard explaining to her pals that she couldn't join them because she had to go somewhere with her mother.
So I talked. And she listened. Actually, “listened” may not be the right word. She knotted up in her seat —tense, frowning, the consummate, allergic-to-parents teen. Doing my best to barely notice, I babbled on about all the plays I wanted to take her to, all the blessings I'd planned for her that day, all the delights I'd set aside for her, just for her, just because I loved her.
We arrived at the theater early. She still wasn't speaking to me, so I had time to brood. How could she treat me this way after I had planned and prepared, at considerable expense and sacrifice, this special day just for her? Was she really that distant from me that she could look right past all that and simply block me out of her life? I felt completely powerless to reach through her attitude and into her heart. I felt hurt.
I found myself wondering if our heavenly Father doesn't feel this way sometimes. This, I thought, is what prayer is about—“taking off the headphones” of our busy lives and listening for God's voice in our hearts. There is so much he wants to give us, so much more than what we can dream or understand. But, so often, we are “me-first” people: What I want is paramount, regardless of the blessings that may come from listening to God and submitting to his will.
I suppose we are not so different, I thought, watching my daughter stew over her broken plans, from the early followers of Jesus in that respect. In the eighth chapter of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus invites those who had just watched him heal Peter's mother-in-law to “leave everything and follow” him.
“Another of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, let me first bury my dead father.’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury the dead.’”
Jesus, in this call, overrides the most fundamental family obligation for a Jew or Greek of the time. Those who heard it must have been horrified or revolted. But if you look back to the disciples' statement you understand Jesus' meaning. “Let me first …”
Anyone who says “me first” to heaven's call is in darkness and death; he or she is indeed an appropriate agent to “bury the dead.”
God's love is everlasting, and it is unconditional and constant. We are the ones who put the headphones on. We build the barricade that blocks out God's love. That fortified wall is made of human concerns: the credit-card bill, the car payment, Mom's high blood pressure, anthrax in the mail. The wall will only come down if we ask God to take all these things into his care.
As we put these “dead things” in Christ's hands, his brilliant white light breaks forth and bathes us in triumph. We find the treasure reserved for the Christian: the face of God, fixed squarely on the moody teen-ager sitting next to you.
As the lights came down at the end of Les Mis and the audience leapt to its feet, my teen turned to me. She was shaking and her eyes were brimming with tears of disbelief. “Mom!” she yelled amidst the bravos. “Mom!” The words of the finale resounded in our hearts:
“Do you hear the people sing, lost in the valley of the night? / Is it the music of a people who are climbing to the light?
“Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?”
And finally: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
My big girl, my tough teen, clutched my hand all the way to the car. As I pulled out of the parking lot, she was still sobbing, saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
“Glad you took the headphones off?” I asked.
“Oh, Mom,” she said. “I'm so sorry. I'll never put them on again!”
How I hope that is true. And how I will try, from now on, to keep my own “headphones” off. I don't want to miss a single word God speaks to my heart.
Susan Baxter writes from Mishawaka, Indiana.
- May 26, 2002