Sometimes the Way Forward ... Is Back

“Honey, there’s no easy answer that will take your pain away ... I have no magic wand to wave over you and make it all better. Life takes a bit of time and a lot of relationship.”
- “Papa,” speaking to Mack in The Shack

painful placesWe’re reading and discussing The Shack, by William Young, in our Wednesday evening Bible and book study. It’s one of those “love it or hate it” books, and I proudly stand in the “I love it!” camp. Young touches on many of the most compelling theological themes in ways that challenge the reader to think outside of whatever religious dogmatic boxes we’ve settled into. In my opinion, that’s probably what fundamentalist/evangelical types find most offensive about it.

For those who don’t know the story, the main character of The Shack is a man named Mack who suffers one of life’s most heartbreaking tragedies - the murder of his young daughter. Missy’s death was confirmed by evidence found in a run-down shack near the place where she was abducted. The grief which becomes a constant, pervasive presence in Mack’s life as a result is referred to as The Great Sadness.

Several years after Missy’s death Mack receives an invitation to meet God at the shack where Missy’s death was confirmed. There, Mack is stunned to be met by three characters - a large, cheerful African-American woman called, “Papa,” a young man who works on the property as a carpenter, and a woman who loves to garden named, “Sarayu.” These characters represent God the Creator, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, respectively. Are you beginning to see why fundamentalists find this book to be a challenging read? Trust me - this is only the beginning!

Before we even begin to explore the conversations Mack has with these “divine” characters, we’ve already got food for some deep thought. The back story tells us that from the time of Missy’s death until Mack re-visits the shack, he exists, as opposed to lives, in a state of alienation from God. Though he goes through the motions with his wife and surviving children, offering as much availability as he can, he is not as fully engaged by anything or with anyone as he was before Missy died. In their first private conversation, Papa and Mack acknowledge the “gulf” that has existed between them since Missy’s death. Mack’s pain and anger at God for “allowing” the tragedy to occur resulted in his complete withdrawal from relationship with God. In fact, it raised doubt in him about whether God even exists.

... sometimes we need to re-visit the site of our greatest pain - the Great Sadness with which we have resigned ourselves to existing, as opposed to living fully. Sometimes we need to go back there, figuratively if not physically.

That is not an uncommon thing. I have known many people, including myself for a while, who find it too hard to reconcile a loving God with all that is evil and tragic in the world. When the injury is personal, it can be even more difficult to keep believing in a personally accessible God who is watching over us and who loves us.

One of the contextual themes of The Shack is that sometimes we need to re-visit the site of our greatest pain - the Great Sadness with which we have resigned ourselves to existing, as opposed to living fully. Sometimes we need to go back there, figuratively if not physically.

The first thing Mack did, when he arrived at the shack, was to “go off” on God, big time! He ranted, he threw things, he broke windows. He demanded to know where God was, and what God was doing (my paraphrase) while his baby girl was being abducted and murdered. His anger exploded out of him like white-hot lava from a volcano. He let God have it. And God let Mack let God have it. God didn’t strike him dead with a bolt of lightning. God didn’t smite him at all. God allowed him to purge his spirit of his pent-up rage and pain. God listened. God understood.

And, in the book, immediately after Mack released that old, toxic energy, everything about the scene was transformed. I know it isn’t that quick, neat, and nice in real life. Healing takes time; and the deeper the wound, the more time it takes to heal. I do believe, though, that it is often a necessary first step to go back, in some way, to where the injury occurred. Sometimes the healing we need begins with a conversation with someone who hurt us. When we’re hurt, we often tend to walk away in an effort to leave the pain behind. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the pain goes with us, and stays with us, until we go back to finish unfinished business.

In other instances, re-visiting our shack(s) may be more a mental or spiritual experience, rather than physical. Some, including myself, have found therapy to be an effective aid in “going back” to our shacks for healing. I’ve also found that talking to God about my Great Sadness - authentically expressing every feeling, including rage - has been cleansing and healing for me.

Is God inviting you to re-visit your shack? If so, don’t be afraid to go back. When we take that courageous step, we will find God waiting to meet us there. And then, amazing things can happen. Healing things can happen. Let the healing begin.