“I’ve heard several editors say they make a practice of chopping off the concluding two to three paragraphs in Christian writing, not because the writing isn’t good, but because this is when Christians consistently shift into autopilot optimism. They present the story, the sorrow or the sticking point and then rush to resolve it. But what would happen if we let the pain sit for a while?” ~ Stephanie S. Smith
I was recently asked to contribute a chapter of my life to a collective book that will be released in the fall. Moody Publishing is pulling together stories about Inciting Incidents—moments of great change in the direction of the writers’ lives.
I thought about adoption, and infertility, but landed with the significance of therapy and art in my journey with depression.
When working through the book, our editor handled my contribution with great sensitivity and care. In fact, she asked me to elaborate on the pain, explain my discomfort in going to therapy, and talk more about what depression is like. And she didn’t make me write a “happily ever after” closing sentence.
This struck me. Hard.
I’m the girl who’s trying to live as a Christian with questions and pain and sometimes not-so-sunshiny days, and most people don’t offer a place for that kind of faith-story. Most people don’t give permission for us to just sit in it. Most people want to say it’s going to be alright.
But not everything turns out alright.
And it was important for my chapter to subtly say this.
Today I came across an article asking a very important question: “Why do Christians need to make it all better?” And the writer? Stephanie S. Smith, the sensitive soul who edited my chapter about depression.
She talked about pain and faith and conciliatory comments. Through her words in Relevant, I understood her perspective of editing our stories—my story—letting the pain of depression speak for itself and hold an unreconciled place in my life. Stephanie let me hurt; she didn’t try to make it all better.
And that, more than anything, brought me a step closer to reconciliation.
What a wonderful and insightful post! There are many people who are okay with not so sunshiney Christians. They are hidden among the others who don’t want our dirty laundrey aired; to pretend like everything is okay when it’s not; when we need prayer and comfort and understanding rather than to pretend everything is okay. It makes the pain last longer when people ask us to pretend we’re okay.
Thanks Nikole. Those people are my kind of people. Especially in times like this.
I’m in the process of compiling pieces from many writers into a book on this exact topic — how do we write real and true and honest and raw, bask in victory and joy, unravel the pain a little and live it in awhile, without the compulsion to put a happy-ending Christian spin on it? The truth, as it turns out, is far more powerful than the clean and neat. Thank you for this.
Wow what a great idea! That’s a book I’d wanna read, Cara.
What a thoughtful piece of writing, Mandy. I have a great editor at TheHighCalling.org, Ann Kroeker, who never lets me get away with wrapping things up with a happy little bow. I appreciate that in a good editor — and a good friend. She is both.
I understand that completely. I dreamed of coffee with Stephanie after reading that post. She intrigues me greatly.
This reminds me of how wounds heal. Healing doesn’t come when we cover it all up, that is infestation. Healing begins when we drain the wound and apply the necessary balm. It’s messy, it’s bloody but in the end it’s always worth it.
How ironic to find this great post today! Last night at my writers’ group I submitted a story that I wrote about an incident in my life as a ten year old child. Most of the reviews were wonderful but there were two people in the group who felt I had not done a good job of showing resolution, how my character was changed by the event, and what was the lesson learned. Instead of falling to sleep with a smile on my face over the great reviews, I tossed all night replaying the negative comments. My burning question was how can someone always tell a true story with a happy ending? Resolution to the big problem? How can I drum up a lesson to the incident I wrote about? There was no lesson, it just…..was. The only way to make my story follow the guidelines they swear by, would be to make things up and slip them in. Then it would be fiction. Over lunch I gratefully stumbled on your wonderful post! It is just as I thought. “But not everything turns out alright.” Thank you. You are so right, your editor is so right. Sometimes we write the stuff down to get it all out on the table, and to reassure others that they are not alone.
I LOVE this!! I remember when my pastor asked me to say a few things for our Thanksgiving service and I told him it wouldn’t really be pretty. He said, “I know, that’s why I asked.” Pain needs to be shared and put out there. Thanks for sharing this.