The problem of pain… Is it really a problem?

There’s something spectacular for me in the writing process, and I can’t even describe the excitement I feel right now, in the current stage of my current project. (Maybe that doesn’t say much for me as a writer since I guess, as a writer, it’s my job to describe it to you.) I’ve been knee deep in plotting and structuring the novel. I’ve been planning high points and low points–the cliffs I’ll throw my characters off of and the injuries they’ll receive when they hit, the rugs I’ll pull out from under them, and the bruises they’ll receive from the hardwood contact. Tightly integrated with these plans for their lives is characterization and character arc. I need to know what to do to them because I need to know where they need to grow.

And that’s the point of any good story. That’s the whole plan. That’s why you read a story, which means it’s why we write them. You need weak, flawed people you can care about, put into conflict and danger of some type, so that you can see them grow and overcome. You want someone with whom to empathize. You want that someone to overcome all odds. And during the process, you want to see their journey create a more complete person.

Because at some core level, you need connection. You need to be assured that you can overcome–that your weaknesses will somehow become strengths. You need to be convinced that your journey means something–that you can change–that you can become a more complete person.

You may not know it, but you do.

So, again… The entire process of designing the plot of my current novel has been to create lives for these fictional characters that will change them. The major plot points are designed to expose their weaknesses, give them opportunities to fail, be strengthened in those weaknesses, and then to give further opportunity–to prove either their growth or failure to grow.

My need to connect and empathize, to be convinced that my journey means something, to be convinced that I can change and that I’m not destined to the stagnancy of the person I am now, to hope that I will be strengthened in my weaknesses and can someday pass the tests… That core level that I spoke of in you? Well in me, it convinces me that I am much more willing to experience it vicariously through others than in my own drama. It’s much safer to invest myself in others and be assured from afar, than to be thrown off a cliff and be tested myself. If I must experience it and gain those assurances, let it happen to someone else, and at best someone that I can be assured doesn’t even really exist. I can gain my catharsis, and no one ever really had to face death. Win, win.

Pain is bad.

Right?

I’m often questioned about my faith, and a common one is: “How can an all-powerful, all-loving God create a universe with pain in it?”

Well, the first answer is that this universe was created “good” (read: “perfect”), and we messed it up. We damaged it and ourselves.

My second answer comes from 1 Corinthians 13:13. After listing the gifts of the Spirit, Paul says that three remain, Faith, Hope and Love. And the greatest of these is love. Our perfectly good God designed this universe with the plan that His highest ideals for humanity would be faith, hope and love. And of these high ideals, the greatest is love. In other words, to be explicit, God’s grand design was a universe that loves–God to us, us to God and us to one another. That’s basically why He created the whole enchilada–that love and relationship may exist in His new creation.

You can’t have love without free will. You really can’t have free will without the danger of trespass. So, God designed the universe in the only way He could design it, and get the product He desired. He created us knowing we would fall (and knowing what that fall would cost Him, by the way.)

So, we find ourselves, damaged in a damaged world. We find ourselves incomplete, weak, broken.

Have you ever considered that, if God is the author of your life, perhaps He has had a great hand in plotting that story? Perhaps He sees you as a damaged, incomplete character that needs to grow–and He wants you to grow because He loves you. He wants you complete and healthy.

Perhaps He’s thrown you some plot twists that you wouldn’t have chosen. They may be suffering, but they are not wasted. They are meant to build you. They are meant to empower you during the next plot twist. They are meant to teach you and test you and drive you to Him (2 Corinthians 2). They are meant to be a life process that completes you. They are meant to be tests that break and recreate you. They are meant to be tests that either reveal where you need to grow, or prove where you have grown already.

Trust the author of your life. Know that He means you well. If you fall off a cliff, it’s either because you ran off of it (stop!), or were driven off it. The author still loves you. He’ll control your landing because He knows exactly what the ending is supposed to be.

You live in a damaged world. Yes. And your life is God’s process of redeeming you from it. Take great joy.

James 1:2-5

Treasures to cherish

I’m a writer, among other things.  Years ago, I was idealistic and thought that I would eventually do it for a living.  I had grand ideas of being the next great American novelist.  Fame and fortune were just around the corner.  I’d have the good life of privilege and influence.  Later in life now, having grown up and at a place where I really feel that I have something to say, I’ve taken the discipline back up.  And having taken it back up, I’ve taken what I had written before from its stash in the darkness, with the years of proverbial dust accumulated, and reread it.

Wow.  I’m embarrassed.

I’m not embarrassed because of the style or the quality.  It was OK.  It was published under a pseudonym (that will never be revealed).  One of my stories even won an award.  It was OK as far as that goes, though I feel as though my writing is better today.  I’m embarrassed because of content.  I’m embarrassed because of who the writing reveals me to have been– because of what came from my spirit, through my brain and into the keyboard.  The postmodern drivel and fancies of cool edginess.  The bleakness with no hope of salvation or relief.  The confidence that I had all the answers to be upon the lips of my invented characters.  The idea that I was god of a universe that could effect our own.

But with the embarrassment comes a sense of accomplishment and hope.  I’m not who I was.  God didn’t give up on me and leave me there.  He chased me and saved me from myself.  He held my hand and encouraged me along.  He disciplined me, afflicted me, chastened me and sheltered me to produce who I am today– a man who is humbled by who I was, humbled by who I am, and confident in who I may one day become.  If God didn’t give up on me then, He won’t now.  I am not who I was and by the grace of God, one day, I won’t be who I am today.

Thank you God for not giving me the successes I dreamed of.  Thank you for the trials, the tribulations, the discipline and the sorrows.  Thank you for carrying me through them.  Thank you for the pain to come and the consolation that follows– when I will know you more intimately through comfort.

Thank you for not entrusting me with my dreams, but giving me more than I dreamed of.