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The Fifth Commandment

By Kelly Ann Gonzales




The week before Christmas, a thirty-one-year-old Dinah stood in front of her parents’ kitchen sink amongst broken dishes on the cold marble floors and wine stains that looked like blood when Dinah’s father told her she broke the first commandment – yet again, “Honor thy mother and father.” The first time she heard this, she was fourteen. The second time she heard this, she was thirty-one. It was the only time she ever heard her father quote the Bible directly. It was not until she turned thirty-one that she learned he was lying.

When Dinah was fourteen, she clumsily asked her parents if it would be inappropriate for her to wear seamless underwear so it wouldn’t show through her gym pants during 5th period.

When they asked for specifics, she murmured, “Maybe a thong?” under her breath while they sat together in the kitchen.

Her father gave her a hollow laugh, shook his head, and continued reading a newspaper. Her mother struck her across the face with the back of her hand, leaving a thin line of blood across her lip where the pavé diamond setting left a scar.

That same week, her Christian friend Jessie invited her to fellowship at her house. Dinah was excited because she knew that Jessie was a real Christian, and she was excited to spend time with other real Christians, but when Jessie asked what she believed, Dinah didn’t know what to say.

“Well,” Dinah shrugged, “I believe in a Higher Power.”

Jessie blinked at her. “Who’s your Higher Power, Dinah? Is it our God?”

“Uhm, I guess.”

Jessie narrowed her eyes at Dinah, looked her up and down, shrugged back, and forced a smile. “Well, I’ll see you at my house tonight, ‘kay?”

Jessie and her Christian friends from church all invited Dinah to sit in the center of their fellowship circle. They stared Dinah up and down, observing her with her hair pinned back in a half ponytail, a light coat of mascara, and pink lip gloss. She smiled weakly while they continued to examine her and took notes in the margins of their spiral notebooks.

Jessie cleared her throat, “Guys, what do we see that our almost-sister in Christ Dinah is doing wrong?”

One of the boys raised his hand. “She’s wearing jeans. Women can’t wear jeans. She needs to wear a long skirt or dress.”

A girl pointed at Dinah’s lips. “And she’s wearing obviously pink lip gloss. Clear lip balm is acceptable, but makeup is not.”

Another girl cocked her head. “And is she wearing mascara? I can’t tell if those are her real lashes.”

Jessie nodded. “Dinah always wears makeup at school. Personally, I’m surprised. Dinah, I thought your parents were kind of strict. Aren’t they Mormons or JWs?”

Dinah opened her mouth to speak, unsure of what to say, but all she could say was, “I don’t really know what my parents believe. Anyway, I thought we were just going to hang out and sing worship songs. Maybe do a reading from the book?”

Jessie laughed, “The book? The most holy book of the Most High, you mean? Yes, the Bible? Come on, Dinah. Surely you at least have a Bible at home—or do the Catholics not believe in the Bible?”

Dinah stood up from the circle. “I don’t think I should be here.”

Jessie waved her hand for Dinah to sit back down, “Come on, almost-sister Dinah. I’m just giving you a hard time to help sanctify you. Sit back down.”         

Dinah crossed her arms, running a finger across her lips, still sore from her mother’s slap that she tried to hide with lip gloss. “I’m going to call my parents to take me home.”

When Dinah sat in the back of her mother and father’s car two hours earlier than her parents expected to pick her up from Jessie’s house, they asked her how the hangout went. They didn’t know it was supposed to be a Bible study. She didn’t know it wasn’t actually a Bible study. She wasn’t sure what that was exactly. She thought she was going to make new Christian friends, but it seemed like she wasn’t even remotely Christian enough to belong.


 

In college, Dinah studied English literature. She was no longer under the clutches of her

conservative family. She wasn’t spending time with friends who were too busy judging her and trying to change her rather than to get to know her. For the most part, she spent her weekends hanging out with fellow aspiring writers and book nerds. She was the Editor-in-Chief of the college literary magazine. When she wasn’t writing, reading, or hanging out with other writers and readers, she volunteered with the Student Volunteer Alliance.

She made friends with a girl named Martha. She and Dinah shared common interests like a love of food and video games. They usually grabbed brunch one Sunday a month together. It was always at noon because Martha attended church service on Sunday mornings. Martha was the first Christian that Dinah met who was focused on being Dinah’s friend above all else. Not changing her, converting her, or judging her for eating too much pizza or spending too many hours on online games trying to make virtual friends.

Martha was two years older than Dinah, so she graduated from college while Dinah was still a sophomore. From Dinah’s sophomore year until she ran into Martha again at a college reunion, Dinah delved deeper into the college’s culture. Dinah became a liberal feminist who dabbled in esotericism and the New Age. To make extra money, Dinah offered Tarot card readings and created Astrology charts for her friends.

Martha checked in on Dinah every few weeks to see how she was doing. Every week, Martha invited Dinah to come to Sunday service, but Dinah wasn’t interested in going to church. Dinah liked wearing jeans and mascara—to which Martha would say it wasn’t that kind of church, but Dinah didn’t believe her. Every month, Martha asked if Dinah wanted to come to their monthly Young Adult Fellowship Night, but Dinah wasn’t interested in sitting in a circle where people would point at her and say all the things that were wrong with her. Since immersing herself in the open-minded literary circles at college and at her posh internship at a major publishing house in the city, she thought organized religion was closed-minded, backward, sexist, racist, and homophobic. She liked Martha, but she couldn’t associate with that lifestyle. She wasn’t a naive fourteen-year-old anymore.


 

At their college reunion, Dinah was thirty-one, living at home with her parents again while she saved money to buy a car and put a down payment on a home. Dinah hoped to network with other people in the publishing industry at the college reunion, but most of her English Literature major friends either switched majors, took a totally different (read: financially viable) career path like finance or marketing, or were underemployed and doing odd jobs here and there to get by. Martha was there, thirty-three years old, already married with a three-year-old girl and another baby on the way.

Dinah asked her, “Are you going on maternity leave at work?”

         Martha shook her head. “My husband is the primary breadwinner. I’m a homemaker.”

         “Are you planning on going back to work when the kids are older?”

         Martha smiled gently at Dinah. “Maybe. If that’s God’s will.”

         “I’ve got to be honest with you. I came to this reunion thinking that I’d run into people to network with, but it’s a total bust.”

         “What are you looking for? Maybe I can help?”

         “Do you know anyone in publishing?”

         “There’s Susan from my Bible study whose daughter, Carolina, is in Acquisitions Editing at one of the big publishing places in the city. Carolina sometimes comes to our YA Fellowship nights, too. Would you be interested in coming?”

         Dinah laughed, “Are you trying to get me to go to Bible study again?”

         Martha laughed with her. “I always am, but if you’re not interested, it’s really no biggie. I’d be happy to pass on your information to Susan and Carolina either way. Would you like that?”

         Dinah nodded eagerly. “Oh, that would be great, Martha. Thank you!”

         A week later, Dinah got a call from a 212 number. It was Carolina asking her to send over a resume and come in for an interview for an Editorial Assistant position. Dinah never knew what to say in these interviews. People said to just be yourself, but Dinah didn’t even know who she was anymore. She was just some girl from New Jersey who was told that mascara was bad when she was fourteen and that now she was a devil worshipper because she liked playing with a set of funny-looking cards.

         Carolina was young-looking in the face, but she wore her hair in a high, tight bun with a pencil sticking through it. She had serious eyes and glasses with a thick, rectangular frame while staring at a stack of papers in front of her. The moment she heard Dinah knocking at the door, her serious eyes softened, and her lips led to a bright, graceful smile as she said, “Come on in—Dinah, is it? That’s such a lovely name.”

         Dinah shrugged. “I didn’t have much of a choice.”

         “Sit, sit. Tell me about yourself.”

         Again, Dinah hated talking about herself as much as she hated that question. “I have to be honest and say I never know what to say to that question. I grew up in a small, suburban town in New Jersey and went to university at a small private school that felt even smaller than my small, suburban town. Against my parents’ wishes, I studied English Lit. I’ve been doing odd jobs here and there since my internship at the Peccary Publishing House.”

         Carolina frowned just a bit, not in a way that seemed like she was disappointed so much as concerned. “Well, what else have you done that’s against your parents’ wishes? I always love hiring English Lit majors. For one, I know it means they love reading. For another, I know it means they’re serious about loving to read to have pursued a degree in it.”

         “I—” Dinah started but then paused.

         She felt like her entire life was a list of disappointments to her friends and family, the people she knew from back home. The people who warned her that there was a pre-approved list of movies she could watch, people she could date for exactly one year before the clock ran out of time to be engaged to be married within one more year, and if a pair of jeans were too tight or, to be safe, not to wear jeans at all. With Dinah’s friends, it meant pointing out her agreed-upon flaws in a group circle. With Dinah’s parents, it meant obeying them without question because that, above all else, was The Most Important Commandment.

         After losing herself for a moment that felt like far too many moments, Dinah forced a smile. “Me being here is probably a disappointment to them, but there’s nothing I can do to please them. I’ve come to terms with that. I’m lucky that Martha invited me here.”

         Carolina opened her mouth to speak, paused, smiled, and then said, “It’s not luck, Dinah. It’s a blessing, and I’m blessed to have you here. I’d love to offer you the Editorial Assistant position if you’re interested.”

         As soon as she left Carolina’s office, Dinah pumped her first in the air and texted Martha: I got the job! Thank you!

         Martha texted back, That’s awesome! Congratulations! She’s going to love you. We have to celebrate. Easter is this weekend. Maybe you can come to our special Easter Weekend Fellowship Night on Saturday, and we can have drinks after?

         Dinah rolled her eyes, glad that her friend couldn’t see her on the other side of the screen. I’ll skip the Fellowship Night, but can we still do drinks?


 

A few months later, with Dinah learning the ropes of what it meant to be an Editorial Assistant, Carolina and the rest of the team at the publishing house saw a great promise in her. They promoted her that fall to become a Developmental Editor so she could help with the editing side of the publishing house. Dinah loved the process of printing out page after page of a lengthy manuscript, going over each line in front of her with a red pen, and making notes in the margins for her authors. Then she’d e-mail them those notes, carefully transcribing what she wrote down on paper to catch any other last-minute mistakes, or if she had a spontaneous thought before she hit send. It was a meditative process. She couldn’t believe she was getting paid to read, write, and edit. She didn’t need church, as much as Martha kept trying to invite her. This was her church.

         Yet Dinah texted Martha anyway to let her know that she got a promotion. Guess what? Got a promotion! Can we go out and celebrate?

         Martha texted back right away. If I invite you to our Young Adults bonfire, will you consider coming to our Saturday night service?

         Dinah replied, No thanks, Martha.

         Since her promotion, Dinah was able to save up money for a down payment on an apartment closer to the city, forty-five minutes away from her parents’ suburban home. Forty-five minutes away from former high school friends who became strangers who still occasionally tried to sell her on their MLM essential oil # bossbabe businesses (read: scams). This promotion and this new apartment meant she could finally move out of her parents’ house and have a shorter commute to the city.

It was the week before Christmas, and she was washing the dishes at her parents’ house with a certain excitement when she accidentally dropped a porcelain dish. It was just an accident. Just one porcelain dish. Then she picked up another dirty dish only to drop it on the floor and watch it break. Then it was one dish after another after another after another and a wine glass filled with her mother’s half-touched glass of red wine—until her father ran out of his study and grabbed her hand,

         “What. Are. You. Doing?”

         Her hand turned red, and she wiggled it out of his grip. “I –”

         He pointed at the floor. “Clean up your mess. I don’t know what’s going on with you or why you think you’re hot shit now just because you have a job in the city. Those people will see through you in no time. Don’t you forget the most important rule: honor thy mother and father.”

         Her father slowly walked back into the study and closed the door. Dinah stared down at the broken dishes on the cold marble floors and wine stains that looked like blood. It could have been worse. He could have yelled at her more. He could have hit her. Instead, she picked up all the broken pieces, each and every one of them, by hand, and put them into the garbage bin.

         She cut her thumb open on one of the broken pieces and sucked the blood out of her finger like she was getting rid of poison from a snake. Dinah mosied over to the upper kitchen cabinet, rifling through old papers and forgotten knickknacks to find a set of kiddie Band-Aids to put on her cut finger. Then she picked up her phone to text Martha. Is your church doing something for Christmas? I don’t want to go to my parents’ church for Christmas.

         Martha texted her back right away. Yes! We’re having three services on Christmas day. I’m going to the first one at 9 AM—want to come? Come earlier if you can. We have a coffee bar in the lobby!

         To which Dinah replied, It’s okay to have coffee in church?

         Martha texted her back a laugh crying emoji and a heart, followed by, I’m so excited! Can’t wait to see you.


 

The service at Martha’s church was different from what Dinah was used to. Dinah was used to sitting in hard, wooden pews and listening to pastors tell you all the reasons you were a bad, bad sinner. This Christmas service was filled with worship music and a pastor who told jokes about his sweet old mother who passed away. There were young people leading the worship team, people who looked like they were Dinah’s age and even younger. The church had theatrical smoke and fog and three decorated Christmas trees up on the stage.

Martha and Dinah sat in the third row from the front, right in the center, excusing themselves as they walked by. Martha was able to introduce Dinah to Susan from Bible study, who then introduced her to a lady named Anna, the women’s weekly Saturday morning Bible study leader.

Anna, with her ever-flowing blonde curls, gave Dinah a wide grin. “You’re Martha’s Dinah? I’ve heard so many great things about you. Can I give you a hug?”

Before Dinah could say anything, Anna gave her a warm embrace. Dinah’s tense shoulders fell down, and she tentatively put her arms back around Anna. She wasn’t sure if it was the twinkling lights from the pine trees or the sweet smell of pine cones in the air, but Dinah started to cry. She started to cry for the first time in what felt like years. Anna didn’t let her go. She hugged her even tighter, and then Susan and Martha joined in on the impromptu group hug.


 

When Dinah was thirty-one, she opened up her first Bible, a gift from the church for every Sunday service newcomer. It was a New International Version of the Bible, easy to read, unlike a few of the King James Versions she had skimmed through online before her first Bible study. She drove thirty minutes from her new apartment to go to this church on a Saturday morning for the women’s Bible study. She sat in her car, waiting patiently in the parking lot because she was fifteen minutes early, for Anna to unlock the church doors with her keys to let all the other ladies in who were also waiting.

In the meantime, Dinah turned to the Book of Exodus, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. The first commandment, despite what her father always told her, was not about honoring thy mother and father. It wasn’t the third or fourth. It was the fifth. The first commandment, above all things, was to honor God. The second was about idolatry.

The first time she asked the women in her Bible study about Exodus 20:12, Susan suggested she read the Book of Ephesians.

“Oh,” Dinah started writing a note in the margins of her new Bible, “I don’t think I have that book.”

Susan gently corrected her, “You do, sweetheart. It’s one of the books in the New Testament. There are sixty-six books in the Bible itself.”

Dinah blushed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

“You don’t have to be sorry, sweetheart. Take a look at Ephesians 6:1-4.” Susan looked around the room. “Do any of you ladies have spare Bible tabs you can give to Dinah so she can find each of the books?”

A woman named Carol reached into her oversized Vera Bradley purse and waved her hand. “I do!”


 

As Dinah grew deeper in her faith, she took on more roles at the church. Sometimes, she led the Saturday morning women’s Bible study. Other times, she opened doors to congregants on Sunday mornings. She learned that idolatry went beyond worshipping other gods or false idols. Idolatry could be loving anything other than God too much. It could mean loving your roles at the church too much or loving your Bible study too much. Anything could be idolized.

There was a part of herself that feared that she would fail God. That she would stumble and fall and be a bad Christian—but then she remembered the one word that set her faith apart. It was the word “grace.” God gave her grace through Jesus, and by extension, she could receive that grace and mercy with open arms. Her God was a loving God, not a scary, unrelatable, unreachable, invisible ghost in the clouds. Her God was God. He wasn’t her mother or her father. He wasn’t all the people who failed her or all the well-meaning but bad teachings she’d received along the way.

So when her mother texted her to come home for Easter on Good Friday, Dinah didn’t know what to say. She knew that forgiveness was a powerful force for healing, but she also knew that sometimes honoring your father and mother meant setting boundaries. With her Bible open on Ephesians 6:1-4, she reread: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy a long life on the earth. Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

         When Dinah was fourteen, she felt the weight of a child’s duty to honor her parents. She felt the weight of wanting to be someone who her friends loved and appreciated. She wanted to be held. She wanted to be seen. Now she knew that in the New Testament, the fifth commandment was the first commandment with a promise. She was encouraged to be a part of a mutually supportive parent-child relationship, not one of blind obedience.

         Now Dinah was thirty-one with her own apartment and furniture clumsily put together with Allen keys and held up by stacks of rejected manuscripts. She closed her eyes and said a prayer of surrender, laying the burden of reconciliation, if that was His will, in His hands. She didn’t need an immediate answer. They didn’t need an immediate answer, either. Instead, she’d embrace the uncertainty of the future with a heart open to possibility. She was ready to let someone else be in charge and to let it be the One who knew her, the real her, best.





 
Kelly Ann Gonzales, a.k.a "Kiki," is a faith-based Writing and Dating Coach, helping craft content and love lives for God’s people. She is a women's ministry leader for Light Work Church. Her published works include the critically acclaimed novels Through An Opaque Window and Video Games, and she has short fiction publications featured in several literary magazines. Visit kellyanngonzales.com for more details and follow her on Instagram @KellyGWrites


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