At first I thought I was writing a book about recovery from depression, the love story that brought my husband and me together, and finding a relationship with the Lord. Now that I am revising for my book consultant, Christian memoirist Trish Ryan, I feel the topics expanding. She wanted me to set a greater context for why I ever got to the point of suicide and bulimia and all the other struggles I write about in the first place. She wanted to know more about my faith in God as a child and my family. In short, she asked me to venture into places I realized I didn’t want to go (which is why I originally did not go there).
Now that I’ve been trying to write scenes from childhood for the last several weeks (and they are coming out messy and muddled and badly), I’m finding that my story might be bigger than I thought, and it all has to do with being honest about how the church has failed me.
The more I write, the greater anger I uncover at a church culture that would not let me speak up and share what kind of help I needed. This theme also shows up when it comes to my relationships with friends and relatives—people you’d think it should be okay to share with! The revisions I am working on now are slowly bringing me to new conclusions about why I became suicidal in the first place. Maybe I will never totally understand why or how it happened, and maybe it’s not a problem that is specific to me or my family or my church. But through the messy, ugly, painful writing coming out in the last few weeks, I know it has something to do with speaking up, and the fact that I felt I couldn’t for so many years.
Sometimes it’s discouraging to think that after a year of working on this memoir, I’m only just keying in to the real point of it all—and maybe I’ll decide next month that I need to backtrack yet again. But maybe it all goes back to this blog and why I started writing it: I needed to share with people.
I’m working on a series of blog posts about my ugly, messy rebirth experience, and these posts, more than anything I’ve yet written on Writing to my Roots, have given me pause: Do I want to publish them? Do I want to share how I feel my church failed me, how it failed my parents, and how that resulted in a family’s demise and a girl’s death wish?
I feel a need for Christians to be honest about their struggles; it’s just hard to be one of the leaders in this “genre” of witnessing. I told Trish I felt like there were very few memoirs on the market like the one I’m trying write: that is, Christians seem to write really simplified accounts of how they found Christ (and what a difference he made to the before and after of their lives), which leave me hungry for the real details. Show me a life story I can relate to! Conversely, the writers who are willing to divulge the messy details of their lives are, for the most part, those who haven’t really emerged from the mess—so the story is real and raw and often literarily well executed, but not uplifting. I want my story to be all of the above.
Trish agreed with my assessment of the market, saying that when we writers undertake a project like she’s done and like I’m trying to do, we put ourselves out there as screwed up Christians, saying, “Okay, I’ll go first.” Not easy, but necessary if we hope to change the climate of things.
So if I publish some things that put my church or my religion in a bad light, it’s not that I’m denouncing my faith. It’s that I want us to take an honest look at where we’ve gone wrong, so we can fix it! Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free, and I just want to help the church see how we can help fulfill his mission. Sometimes, that means being brutally honest with where we’ve failed.
If you feel the same way, please pray for this writing project as it moves forward—that it would tell a story the world (and maybe just the Christian world) needs to hear, and that God would give me the wisdom and discernment to tell it.
I am praying for you, as I can relate, with both struggles, and I am proud of your honesty to speak up, which will help so many people. Our struggles, perhaps unneeded, help us in our own personal walk with Christ, test us, and in the end, humble us in a way that many people will judge and not be able to understand. To speak with an honest heart is the most beautiful gift, expressing who we are, not quite “boastfully” or “pridefully,” but with a set assurance and confidence of Christ’s love for the brokenhearted, which in turn shows our strengths rather than exterior weakness judged from others. Let all of us embrace the love and joy of our Christ through the pure honesty of our hearts.
Thanks so much for the prayers, Jazzmine! I sure want to be able to say that my weaknesses have become my strengths for sharing the gospel. I think this is the way God works, though, as you point out! Blessings to you in your own journey!
I will lift you up in prayer, Lindsey. I think it is very important what you are doing – not only for yourself, but for the Christian community. I appreciate you highlighting this issue. The church definitely has its flaws, and I think a lot of us have the scars from it – maybe not as severe as yours, but still debilitating. I am glad you are doing this. You are brave, and we the church need to hear your message!
Kate, it is so validating to me to hear someone say I am doing “an important work” with this project. With an undertaking this big, I need that encouragement. I do feel I am approaching an important issue for the Christian community; I just have to let God lead me and not try to run ahead of him. I have to remember it’s his message, and it will be delivered in his time! Thanks so much for your prayers! You have mine, as well, with your own project!
Lindsey, I’m adding you to my prayer list. I struggled at first about what to post on my blog about my memoir project. Did I really want the world to know what my mother was like, the person who had taught Sunday School, volunteered at church on everything, cared for others? Would anybody believe my story? Or would they say it couldn’t have been Nelle; she wouldn’t do things like that? If you look at my blog, you’ll find something called Letters to Mama. I began writing this to go back and give the hurt child I was a voice. As an abused child you never have a voice; speaking out and against only increases the anger or ire of the parent or abuser. The letters have felt so good and have opened so much. They will be a part of my memoir as I write my story.
BTW, I’ve participated a beta reader for many memoirists. If Tracy decides you need to develop a group of beta readers, I’d be happy to assist you.
Sherrey, thanks so much for the prayers; I am encouraged to have a few good writers behind me. I like your approach with the letters; I’m sure this would open up entirely new dimensions for me in my own writing and will consider trying it. I am sorry for what you went through, but so glad you are finding healing now and writing about it; these stories we are telling are important! And I just might take you up on the beta reader offer! What a generous gift of time! I’m not ready to send the manuscript back out at this point, but when I am, you may be hearing from me…
I read this yesterday and have been thinking about it ever since. I think it is so important to point out ways in which the church and our Christian community fail us, but only if you are able to offer a solution or an alternative. I have heard so much church bashing through the years, and being a leader in ministry, I want to learn from it, so I ask questions. How can we do this better? What could have been done differently? And I am often answered with a baffled look and no response, or an expectation that literally could never have been met. Please do the important work of truth telling, but also show how this could have been avoided or resolved. I will be praying for wisdom for you.
I appreciate this comment; you make a really important point, and I’m glad you brought it up. Fear not! I will be addressing a better way, and it’s based on the prayer ministry, Straight 2 the Heart, that I got on board with last year (and for which I co-wrote the book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel–see my “book preview” tab). This ministry is based on Jesus’ suffering and connecting our stories of suffering with his (abandonment, betrayal, abuse, rejection, etc.). I love it because it speaks to my heart, not just my head, about why I can and should trust Jesus: because he went through what I did. This ministry also allows participants to be very honest about their struggles; it requires it, in fact, so we can uproot the lies from the “father of lies” (John 8:44). Overall, it’s a ministry like none I’ve ever seen in the church; it changed my life! I will also be posting about it once I do my series on my “ugly, messy rebirth story.”