Have you ever heard of or even played a hand slap game, sometimes called slap, slap jack, or slapsies? It is a game two people play while facing each other. The slapper holds their hands out with palms facing up, while the slappee hovers their hands just above theirs, palms facing down. The object of the game is for the slapper with their hands palm up to try to smack the backs of the slappee’s hands while the slappee attempts to avoid this by pulling back before being slapped. If the slapper misses, then the roles are reversed. However, if the slappee pulls away without an attempted slap by the slapper, the slappee loses and the game begins again or in some versions of the slappee could be subjected to a free slap.
If you have ever been the slappee in this game, then you know the feeling of anxious anticipation waiting for the slap to come. As the slappee, you watch not just the hands of the slapper, but their face, their eyes. You look for some sort of warning sign, some hint that gives the slapper away and you a moment to pull away. A good slapper knows just how to keep you distracted. They know just the right things to talk about. They know how to read you and they know how to flinch just enough to make you, the slappee, pull your hands away and lose.
Maybe right now, you are wondering why in the world I am droning on and on about a children’s game. Read on, dear one, read on…
For me, this was no game, this was my life. Growing up an only child in an outwardly Christian, yet inwardly abusive home led me to have diverse and conflicting feelings and emotions. Living with my dad was like living with Jekyll and Hyde. I never knew who woke up that morning or who would come home after work. I found myself always on edge, always studying. Was that a smile or a sneer? Was there a mask over his eyes or were they clear? Was that tone in his voice light or was it tinged with cynicism? Was that hand coming going to pat my back or knock me down? I found myself living in a perpetual game of slap with more at stake than my hands. I was playing a game of slap with my heart.
To confuse matters even more in my little girl brain, my mom spent a lot of time trying to convince me through years of physical, emotional and later sexual abuse that my dad didn’t mean it, that he didn’t mean to be so cruel, and that he really loved me. So many times, she would tell me that I was “Daddy’s little girl” and she couldn’t understand my feeling otherwise. Day after day and year after year, I continued to put my hands, my heart, back in the game thinking maybe he did love me and I was somehow confused.
Sadly, that broken trust in my little girl heart followed me into adulthood. Not only did I learn to distrust people around me and particularly those who professed to love me, I grew to distrust the Jesus I fell in love with when I was 6 years old. I believed in the Bible and the stories of all the great and mighty things that God did – miracle upon miracle – and I desperately wanted to believe that He loved me. But, year after year, I continued to suffer in that home. My little girl heart was broken and my miracle did not come. The Red Sea did not part for me. Holy fire from Heaven did not rain down for me. Rescue did not come for me. Year after year, my trust in God and my hope that He really did love me eroded the way water eventually erodes a rock, cutting through it and eventually wearing it down to nothing.
My relationship with my dad so dictated and mimicked my relationship with the Lord. I wanted to trust. I wanted to love and be loved in return. Yet time after time, my trust was broken, my heart was left broken and my mind tried to figure out what about any of it was love.
“Slap” was the relationship I had with my dad. I would hold out my hands wanting to trust, but always anticipating the slap. “Slap” was the relationship I had formed with the Lord, too. Hold out my hands and want to trust, but I always anticipated the slap.
The Lord has done many wonderful things in my life that have shown me His absolute trustworthiness. Sometimes, it has been through people, their words and deeds, that I have seen and know the Lord’s faithfulness. Other times, I see His hand at work in nature and feel His presence there. I certainly see His grace and mercy as I look at my past, while living in the present hopeful for the future. In scripture, I read so many stories of misfits like me whom God calls and qualifies in spite of themselves. As in the words of Hosea (as quoted in Romans 9), “I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies; I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved.”
Recently, the Lord gave me a new vision of His nature and His great love for me. When I have played the slap game with the Lord, ever fearful that like my dad, He was ready to “get me,” and I have continued to draw my hands back in fear of Him, God has had but one thing in mind. God, my Abba, my Daddy, just wanted me to let Him take my hands into His own hands, gently and tenderly, reassuring me, His Beloved, of His great love and desire for me. He has wanted only to hold my hands and tell me how much He cherishes me and how treasured I am.
Today, I can confidently pray, “Abba, I belong to you,” and know that I am loved by a completely trustworthy Father, God. Today, I can confidently say, “My name is Kristi and I am Abba’s little girl.”