Bil was a proud man (yes, he spelled his name that way). Trust me, I know because I have an excess of pride myself. I came to know him when he played the lead role in my production of A Man for All Seasons, a talky but moving play about the British saint Sir Thomas More. Bil’s audition was brilliant, but as rehearsals went on it became clear that there was a wall around his heart. And no one, not me (his director), and certainly not the God of Sir Thomas More, was allowed past that wall.
His acting pyrotechnics were undeniable. But his heart never came out to play. “I don’t cry,” he admitted just before the play opened, “but don’t worry, I know how to fake it.” His talent—and the wall—were on display nightly.
Thirty years later a mutual friend, Laurie, sent me a message that Bil had had a heart attack. “Pray,” she said. “God is using this. For the first time he’s admitting he needs someone other than himself.” But Bil managed to slip past death’s door, and reconstruction on the wall began immediately.
Then, after two more years, his lone wolf heart broke down for the final time. Laurie (and several others) visited him regularly, telling him about—and displaying—the love of the God he’d never let past that wall. Slowly, weakened by a broken dam of others’ tears, the wall began to crumble. Bil died, confessing his need for the God who’d never ceased to seek him.
Away in a Manger is probably the tenderest of all Christmas carols. Perhaps because it’s actually a nursery rhyme. It closes with the words, “Be near me lord Jesus, I ask you to stay close by me forever, and love me, I pray. Bless all the dear children in your tender care, and fit us for heaven, to live with you there.” I think of Bil when I hear those words.
It took a lifetime for God to fit him for heaven. But He finally did. God’s love is ruthless. It stops at nothing, certainly no human-made wall. But then, He’s a Father and fathers are like that. See you on the other side, Bil. As soon as the last vestiges of my wall are down, and the Father is finished…
Fitting me for heaven.