Christine Caine’s sermon Dark Moments of Our Life in summary says this: we’re too small to outthink God, but within our ‘snap and upload’ culture we often believe that we can bypass the ‘darkroom of life’ where we are put through a series of processes over time where God forges His beautiful image upon our hearts.
I think bad books are similarly deficient in their shortcut nature. They feed tiny attention spans and procure lazy, happy endings, while simultaneously bypassing the simple, important truth of the human condition, which is that difficulty and struggles are crucial to your life story, and are crucial to potentially reaching that eventual desired happiness.
The stories we tell ourselves and others about our human experience, if truthful, often do not have happy endings and neatly resolved conflicts. The human condition, as described artfully by Wendell Berry’s short stories, is messy, difficult, involves contemplation, second guesses, stops and starts, conflicting emotions, sadness, and uncertainty. However, it is only through experiencing these truths, these markers of humanness, that we ever arrive at fulfillment.
Our stories are the messages we use to make sense of life. The stories in our heads, the ones we tell our children, and the ones we present to our employers and friends are critical to our understanding and our interpretations of what life throws at us. If we tell ourselves and others false stories, even if we embellish them with happiness and resolution, we are missing out on the truth that can lead to the wholeness that we all want and need.
Tragedy and messiness aren’t viewed as being acceptable for human conversation; they don’t necessarily prompt a laugh or joy from our friends or counterparts; but is that the point? So many of us thicken our makeup, fold our hands, and hide as our roofs are caving in. We focus on the hallelujahs, but are those even meaningful if we don’t recognize and give importance to our struggles as well?
Wendell Berry’s stories give importance to the struggles of the human condition; they sink into the deepest parts of our hearts and they actually focus on the tough stuff instead of avoiding the difficult issues. Through his literature we recognize that happiness, sadness, joy, circumstance, and emotion are all intertwined, and we understand what C.S. Lewis meant when he said, “If you think of this world as a place simply intended for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place for training and correction and it’s not so bad.”
Katherine Francis works for a non-profit in Washington, D.C. and is one of the members of the 2016 Falls Church Fellows Program.