Under His Desk
From Legalism to Love
By Karon Ruiz
Is God’s affection toward you a reality? If so, consider yourself blessed. This assurance has been absent in my life since the night I became a believer in 1974 at the age of nineteen. Unfortunately, since then, intimacy with God has been made up of short glimpses, not long, lingering gazes into the Father’s eyes.
An impenetrable curtain of fear hid God’s face from me. Similar to the same veil that hid God’s presence from an unholy people in ancient Jerusalem, a veil of unbelief hid God from me.
Made from embroidered linen, the veil in the Jewish temple was four inches thick. It hung at the height of sixty feet in the Temple,
covering the access to the Holy of Holies. It took three hundred priests to hang it and it was beyond human ability to tear. No one but the High Priest could enter past it, and he, only once per year. The terrifying presence of God dwelt behind it.
During His last moments on the cross, Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” and when He breathed his last, the veil split open, top to bottom, revealing the Holy of Holies, the place where God dwelled. Like a courtroom judge who slams a gavel, the renting of fabric served as the Father’s declaration, “Separation is finished!”
Some of us come into the Kingdom broken, injured from hurtful upbringings. Our parents, in their own brokenness, unknowingly distort Father God’s true heart toward us. Like my sister Beth, once told me, “Some are given a Rolls Royce and some are given a jalopy to drive through life.” I was given the latter. My Beverly Hillbillies jalopy leaked oil, sputtered and coughed, and rattled its way down the human highway. Yet I wouldn’t trade it for a lean, mean luxury machine. That old “car” drove me to Christ! It was my upbringing in the Conkle family that gave me a hunger to be fathered. What the enemy meant for evil, God meant for good.
Brokenness provides an invitation to the grace of God. Such glimpses of grace throughout my life have paved a way of understanding into God’s love I couldn’t have seen otherwise. My walk with God has been made up with momentary glimpses of the Father’s love. Such glimpses would lift that veil of unbelief that shrouded His face. I believed a lot of lies about God.
I grew up in the chaotic sixties. The devastation of alcoholism, rage and neglect brought similar disorder to my home, defining it as what we now call a “dysfunctional family.” Authentic love was doled out sparingly, if at all. Affection, affirmation, the calling out of children, may have been experienced in other homes, but were absent in mine.
We three Conkle children faired better unseen, hidden away in our
bedrooms, or out of ear-shot in our expansive Arizona back yard. When Dad came home (usually well after the dinner hour) his words never beckoned us for sloppy wet kisses. Instead, his command “Hit the cave!” meant we were to go to our rooms immediately. Children and double martinis never mixed well.
Dad’s rants had damaging effects on all of us kids. My ten year old brother, Steve, was told he was stupid. It was jokingly conveyed to four year old Beth, she needed a nose job. And I was only eight years old when my father told me I was fat.
When I look back on the family photos, I realize I was not fat at all. I might have appeared larger than then my skinny siblings but was a healthy weight for my age and height. But parents write on their children and what was written on my heart had become indelible. Later in my teens, a twisted relationship with food
brought years of yo-yo dieting and a poor self image in which I struggle with to this day.
In a 1960’s America, my parents parented with what they knew. Coming from similar upbringings, their love-tanks were empty making them incapable if giving us anything other than material things like a nice home and adequate clothing and toys. I was taken to activities like Girl Scouts, ice skating and summer camp. Anyone inspecting our family from the outside might have thought inside our Scottsdale ranch home nestled at the base of Camelback Mountain, were five people who loved each other, a place where everyone felt safe and nurtured. Not the case. A growing chasm in my parent's marriage brought us dangerously close to disaster. Years passed as the breach widened because of my father’s chronic infidelity until eventually our family dissolved in the summer of 1968 when my father left permanently. A nasty divorce followed, bringing raised eyebrows, as divorce was still very rare in American society. Mom, my sister and me, moved to California while my troubled fourteen-year-old brother Steve and my father, stayed in Phoenix.
Now California latch-key kids, my sister and I escaped the tension from our previous home and things begin to get better as Mom made an effort to connect with the both of us. She found her divorcee lifestyle appealing at first as an assortment of men flowed in and out of her life, but eventually her emptiness deepened.
During the summer of 1974, I embraced early adulthood, by packing up my car and driving eight hours to Phoenix. Dad offered me a job and a full ride to Arizona State University. Excited about moving away from home for the first time, I reentered the Valley of the Sun where I enrolled Arizona State University as a business student.
After settling into my off-campus apartment, thrilled that in 1974 Arizona had an age 19 drinking age, I looked up an old elementary school friend for a night of barhopping. After a night of dancing and drinking, amazingly our conversation steered to the topic of prophetic end-times. Michelle insisted that Jesus was coming back soon and if I was interested, I should read a fantastic book called The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey. As crazy as this sounds, while buying my textbooks in the ASU bookstore the next morning, I encountered a display of this very book. I purchased it and voraciously read most of it that night.
The book convinced me I was not a Christian and my future afterlife would be spent in hell, I anxiously perused the phonebook trying to find a church that would tell me what I had to do to be saved. I wasn’t really interested in a relationship with Jesus, but rather a fire insurance policy. Discovering a rule-keeping religion seemed the way to go. As long as I kept my end of the contract, God would surely keep His. Sort of like my childhood. Just be good and Dad won’t yell too much, or worst yet--hit. In fact, hiding in religion was like hiding with my books in my room whenever my father came home. It felt safe and familiar.
That weekend I received my “get out hell free card” in a little church in Tempe, Arizona. Father God graciously met me in this fragile place where the light of His Son remained hidden by my own faulty belief system. That night, after being baptized, I walked away with a verbal list of do's such as tithing and church attendance and a longer list of don'ts like pre-marital sex and alcohol. After months of being shamed for missteps, my enthusiasm for God waned. I returned to California but didn’t drift long from Christianity as I soon found myself smack right in the middle of The Jesus Movement, a phenomenal revival that began on the west coast of the United States.
God was on the move with young people all across the country. While I had been in Arizona, my mother had become a Christian while my sister had given her heart to Christ a year before at a high school Bible study. Unlike me, both were on fire for God! We began attending Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa., the hub of this revival which was featured in the recent movie, Jesus Revolution.
Pastor Chuck Smith’s expository teaching deepened my growth in the scriptures. I was blessed to hear inspiring believers like Corrie ten Boom and Brother Andrew both of whom fueled my desire to serve God, so much so, I attended a ten-month term with YWAM (Youth With A Mission). Despite the rich teaching, the mission field experience failed to untwist performance-based Christianity. Self-imposed legalism muffled the cry of my heart to know God as my Father. That’s what lies do to you. You are convinced God is like your own dad, harsh and critical. In spite of what you read in God’s Word, how He loves and forgives you, God still has the same personality and problems as your dad. As disappointing as it was, I accepted this as the best I would get this side of heaven.
Yet one evening, He broke through the darkness.
It was a night I would never forget.