Reasonable Access

So Much More than a Story of Brokenness

Larry Parsley / 3.9.20

I shared a version of these words at the inaugural Mockingbird Dallas event on March 7, 2020. Major thanks to all who came and helped pull it off.

Have you ever played the children’s card game “Concentration”? You have all these facedown cards randomly distributed, and you turn over two at a time looking for a match — say, Squidward or SpongeBob. When a rare match is made, you feel this surge of happiness. I felt a similar frisson recently over the match of the same word in two very different contexts — the ordinary-seeming word access.

I first spotted it in the title of a William Trevor short story called “Access to the Children.” Trevor introduces us to a man with the oh-so-very-British name of Malcolmson. Malcolmson has an affair and breaks his wife’s heart. She tells him he has to choose between her, the mother of his two kids, and some “American nympho” he’d met on a train named Diana. She actually gives Malcolmson a chance to get over Diana, to reconcile their marriage. But when he can’t do that, she kicks him out. Then, unfortunately for Malcolmson, just a week before the divorce is finalized, his girlfriend Diana breaks up with him. Now, as part of the divorce agreement, it has been determined that he should have “reasonable access” to the children. In other words, his whole relational life is basically reduced to taking his seven- and five-year-old daughters to the zoo on Sundays.

Now, after the affair with Diana ended, Malcolmson agonizingly realizes what he’s lost and desperately wants to start over. Instead of a mere “reasonable access” to the kids on Sundays, he wants to move back home and regain all that was lost. Except that Malcolmson’s ex now has a boyfriend that she plans to marry. But get this: Malcolmson figures that since his affair only lasted six months, in six months his ex-wife’s affair will surely also come to an end. In other words, a kind of mutual atonement will have taken place — the affairs of each will cancel out, and reconciliation will happen. So when Malcolmson, drunk, comes to pick up the children and explain his logic to his ex, she lets him know that she has not forgotten about his transgressions. She will never forget. She has moved on.

“We had a happy marriage,” she repeated, whispering the words, speaking to herself, still not looking at him. “You met a woman on a train and that was that: you murdered our marriage. You left me to plead, as I am leaving you to now. You have your Sunday access. There is that legality between us. Nothing more.”

Malcolmson had lived in this drunken fantasy that she would change her mind and all would be well again. But it won’t be. Access to that love has ended. Access to that home (at least beyond the front porch) has ended. Access is gone. [Aren’t you glad that I chose to read the saddest short story in the world so that now you don’t have to? You’re welcome.]

This story is played out in millions of ways every day in our world. It is the story of vows sundered, of regrets multiplied, of access to love shrinking, shrinking, shrinking.

But today, our focus is on a different story. You see, you’ve come to a Mockingbird event! And around here, we sing a different song, if you will. It is an uncommon song, and, like a Mockingbird, we can’t stop singing this borrowed tune. It is a story of brokenness, to be sure. But there’s so much more to the story.

I spotted that word “access” a second time, during the same week that I read the William Trevor story. I found it in a little paragraph in Romans (Romans 5, to be exact). Paul writes:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1–2 NIV)

Access. Access to grace and peace and hope and glory. Not standing at the front porch of life, squinting through a screen door at all that our sin has squandered. Not watching our Beloved turn his back on us because we murdered our relationship with Him. Not drowning ourselves in regrets over sins foolishly committed and forever un-atoned. This is the old song that Mockingbird never tires of singing. This is the gospel we celebrate tonight. We’re so glad you’ve come.

Featured image: Bruno Martins on Unsplash