Sometimes we have to go back to the places that bring us pain…
This week has been about grief for me, grief and healing. Having been off of work since Monday, I've spent most of this week relaxing at home with a cat in my lap and plowing through episodes of West Wing on Netflix. With the anniversary of Nanny's car accident on Tuesday and her death on Wednesday, I needed to keep things low key. Surprisingly though, I found myself led to do something I didn't think I'd be able to do, something I've been afraid to do since she died: re-read The Shack by Wm. Paul Young, the very book I read during my last week with her.
It started yesterday. Realizing just how much TV I'd been watching, I looked over my bookshelves and pondered what to crack open. I admittedly have several books in the works right now ranging from Rob Bell's What We Talk About When We Talk About God to Jenny Lawson's Let's Pretend This Never Happened. There's Brideshead Revisited, Blue Like Jazz, or The Atlantis World. I could always go back to my staples — The Giver or any one of the initial Ender quartet. But as I looked and thought, this tiny paperback that I read only once before glared at me, beckoning me to pull it off the shelf.
...and so I did...
For me, The Shack, while not considered by some to be any amount of profound theology, was the best thing I could have read in the days leading up to Nanny's death. Young's imagining of God the Father as a sassy African American woman would be etched in my mind over the months following Nanny's accident. While Mack's loss of his daughter, Missy, was different from my loss of Nanny, the similarities in how we each responded to and thought of God were striking. I had the most difficult time trusting God in those first months. It felt cruel to let me have those 5 days with her and then "steal her away," especially after I'd failed to keep my word and call her the day after I returned home. It felt heartless to allow her body to be so ravaged by the crash as to render her unrecognizable by those who knew her best.
As time went on, or more specifically as I returned to school that fall, the archetype of "Papa" wove itself into many if not most of my seminary papers, up to the very end. In fact, it was the only way I could think of God and still hold onto any semblance of trust, any desire for reconciled relationship. Any use of Father or masculine language of God often made me cringe and caused my temper to rise. Then again, that may have simply been my response to the number of platitudes I heard in those early months of grieving.
While my initial reading of Young's book took 5 days, this time I finished in 2. I guess that happens in most instances of re-reading. I recalled the story quickly, most of it at least, and almost instantly I dreaded the parts of it that would pour lemon juice on the wounds of my grief: Mack being separated from Missy by an invisible wall; Mack's encounter with Sophia in the cave and their conversation about judgment; God leading Mack to the place where Missy's body was, only to lead him back there later in real life; or Mack's encounter with his dead father and that image of reconciliation.
...it's amazing how some stories capture so well our experience of reality
So much of The Shack speaks to the idea that everything God does stems from God's relationship with Godself and with creation. It's about love and freedom and submission and trust and countless other short words with big concepts. At just over 200 pages, it's a short read. And while I wonder what would have happened if I'd returned to it sooner, I think this was the right time. This is when I need reminding of this one fact: nothing that has been broken cannot be redeemed. Redemption, restoration, wholeness... these things are possible for everyone and everything within all of creation. While God grieves the breaking that has taken place, God keeps working to make things new, to restore things to their unbroken state. Most importantly, everything God does stems from God's love for and God's desire to be in relationship with creation, with us. Even when God shares in our mourning and our experience of loss, God is simultaneously working to bring about healing and newness.
There are days where I miss Nanny desperately. There are moments where the reality that I will never meet my birth father in this life sets in and I feel something similar to Mack's Great Sadness settle on top of me. There are times where my own brokenness is so tangible that I barely want to leave the bed. Yet in each of these instances, I somehow find God holding onto me, refusing to let go.
I don't know what your version of the shack is. I don't know what events, relationships, or realities have brought you the most grief or pain, keeping you from feeling loved, from experiencing wholeness. But I hope that whatever it is, someday soon, you can revisit it and experience healing. I hope you can be made new. It might hurt, but you won't have to go through it alone...
photo credit: JHood via Flickr