Where the Light Fell

We live day by day, scene by scene, as if working on a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle with no picture on the box to guide us. Only over time does a meaningful pattern emerge. In this memoir I have written a sort of prequel to my other books. In retrospect, it seems clear to me that my two life themes, which surface in all my books, are suffering and grace.

I explore the topic of pain in my writing because many who suffer receive more confusion than comfort, especially from the church. Early on I learned that what we believe has lasting, sometimes fatal, consequences. The people who prayed for my father, and became convinced that he would be healed, did so with stalwart faith and the best of intentions — and were tragically wrong.

My brother, Marshall, dealt with suffering by way of amputation: dropping out of college, abandoning his musical ambitions, forsaking our family, divorcing two women and severing relations with others. In part because of his example, I have sought instead to stitch together all the strands, good and bad, healthy and unhealthy.

The New Testament presents suffering as a bad thing — Jesus, after all, devoted himself to acts of healing — yet one that can be redeemed. We have hope that on this broken planet pain can be somehow useful, even redemptive.

I’ve even learned to find gratitude for those years under extreme fundamentalism. I emerged with a deep sense that the choices we make profoundly matter, that life need not be just one thing after another but rather can become a kind of destiny. I gained love for music and language, especially the language of the Bible. I learned self-discipline and avoided most reckless behavior. Nothing, in the end, was wasted.

Grace is my second theme, for I know the power of its opposite. Ungrace fuels the dark energy between my brother and mother: a wounded, vengeful spirit on the one side arrayed against a righteous judgment on the other.

What power has kept them from speaking for half a century? The same force of stubborn pride that so often divides families, neighbors, politicians, races, and nations.

In the churches of my youth, we sang about God’s grace, and yet I seldom felt it. I saw God as a stern taskmaster, eager to condemn and punish. I have come to know instead a God of love and beauty who longs for our wholeness. I assumed that surrender to God would involve a kind of shrinking — avoiding temptation, grimly focusing on the ​“spiritual” things while I prepared for the afterlife. On the contrary, God’s good world presented itself as a gift to enjoy with grace-healed eyes.

P. Yancey

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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