So anyway, as a person who doesn't read much, When I do choose a book, it tends to really resonate with me and make a mark in my psyche. Otherwise, I simply don't get past the first 2 or so chapters. When the book The Shack first hit the theaters, the trailer was captivating. I looked into the book immediately, and realized it was about god and religion and I didn't even consider reading it. I figured I might see the movie eventually.
Then, a friend who is a strong believer posted something to Facebook stating that the book is not religious and was a great read. I figured if she says it's not religious, she would know, for sure. So I ordered it on Amazon and figured I'd give it a shot.
About half way through I started to regret my decision to read it. You see, I feel uncomfortable even hearing about the stories of Jesus, so choosing to hear his name in this book and hear the stories I have generally not believed was uncomfortable for me. But I pushed on. I really felt that this book sort of chose me, as did the others I have read this year.
So I pushed on, and finished it last night. This book was really, really good. I can't stop thinking about the impact this book has had on me since I began to read it. I have identified three reasons that this book may have changed the way I parent, the way I connect with my spirituality and the way I interact with others.
#1 It validated the reason I became a non believer in the first place.
During my early years in high school, a classmate died in a horrific accident in a car that another classmate was driving. The driver survived, and the story of this tragic accident haunted many of us young folks trying to make sense of it.
It was around this time that I began to explore the ideas of religion on my own, apart from the very infrequent trips to church as a young child, combined with my father's very clear non-belief. I went with my boyfriend at the time to a small church group that was comprised of other students of my school.
I listened to them describe the way they understood Jesus and his life and how it affected the way they live. At one point, it was clear that they believed, as I had already heard, that people who do not accept Jesus as their lord and savior would be punished by an eternity of hell. I asked, point blank, if this meant my friend, who had died so tragically, was burning in hell and they replied, yes.
This was it for me. Never would I love or find peace in a god that punished my friend for anything. I am a bit stubborn, and this was the end of any type of religion, or even talk of Jesus in a positive way for me. While I have found peace in Buddhist practices, nature, and spirituality, a positive idea of Jesus could never be redeemed for me, or so I thought.
In this story, a man has conversations with Jesus, god and the holy spirit in 3 different, yet connected forms. During his conversations with them, they explain the this belief that god (and therefore Jesus and the spirit) as a punishing god is an untrue story created by humans in an attempt to control that which is out of our control.
I will not go into how this conversation goes in the book, but for the first time in my life, I see a god portrayed in a way that shows love for all people. This is a god that for years I have seen in nature, in my children's eyes, and in the beautiful love I feel when connected to my husband. This was not a concept that was new to me, but this book tied this belief that I already have, with Jesus and the teachings surrounding him. I do not know that I believe in Jesus any more than I did before, but I do see how others' belief in him in this way can give them the peace that I feel when I am with what I consider god.
#2 It addresses the biggest fear that I, and many other parents, hold so close to our hearts. The potential loss of our child(ren).
This story is about loss. The death of an innocent child at the hands of the deepest violence that exists in this world, and the fear we as parents carry about this exact scenario playing out in our own life and in the life of our child(ren).
I am terrified that something awful will happen to my children. So much so, that I try to control anything terrible from happening by worry, fear, and any possible chance of being able to keep this from happening. This has negatively affected my life in many ways.
This story puts it all out there. The fear, the worry, the pain of losing an innocent child to violence. It brings it right up to the uncomfortable surface and forces the reader to acknowledge it. It is difficult to explain how this happened for me by reading this book, but reading this story helped me realize that my life is simply my story. The boys each have their own story, as well.
I have written my boys story to include a long life. Great success and health. Perhaps a family of their own one day. No where in their story that I have written, is their death. Well, maybe there is, but it is long after I am gone and they are asleep peacefully in their old age after a long and fulfilling life. The fear I hold, is that this story may not play out as I have written it.
But what I have come to understand, is that I truly have no control over that. While I hope that my story goes a certain way, and that my boys story goes a certain way, and that my parents have as story for me that they hope goes a certain way, the truth is we have no control over our story. When I die, that will become part of my loved ones' story. If something would happen to someone I love, that would be part of my story as well.
This is not unlike other teachings I have read on the Buddhist ideas of life, or even in other books about letting go of control and trusting in fate, or the stars, or the universe or whatever other way we wish to assign words to this feeling of peace over being able to handle anything that occurs in this life. The way this was delivered in the book was extremely powerful for me, and I feel peace over this huge fear that I have carried for years after reading this book.
#3 It emphasizes connection, vulnerability, and the way in which we all could be interacting with each other.
My word for this year is vulnerability. I have been paying very close attention to how I interact with others. Not only those closest to me, but also others in my circle of the world. I have been very impatient, judgmental, and basically kind of crabby off and on for the last few weeks, but I am starting let some of that go.
I read a few other things while reading this book that also helped me see how I react to what others do, so this third reason may have been a combination of those readings, but again this story just captured the potential for connection that is there for us humans. The book talked about god's original plan for humans, our choice for independence and free will, and how this changed everything for all of us on Earth.
While I am not totally on board with all of that, it's important for me to emphasize that my interpretation of how religion works has always included fierce and merciless judgement, holier than thou, and rules rules rules that separated those who worship god from those who do not. This is not how this concept was addressed in this book. This concept was shown as an underlying love and potential for connection that all of us have deep in our being. It talked about how carrying Jesus in your heart can accomplish this, which isn't the way in which I think this can happen, but for the first time in my life, I have an understanding of how OTHER PEOPLE may be using this concept to find connection and love with and within others.
This concept is huge for me. I have spent most of my life feeling judged by the very idea of Jesus and god, and that my beliefs and spirituality were from a different perspective. This story helped me understand how people who believe and follow the teachings of Jesus, as they were meant to be taught with love and kindness and genuine connection vs. fear and punishment and damnation has resonated with me in a way that I am trying to communicate, but is likely falling short.
***This book, like many that I choose, or that choose me, has made a difference in how I view my little corner of the world. While I am sure my struggle with vulnerability, connection and the fear of something happening to my loved ones will persist, the feeling of peace that I have now is almost in a little compartment, and when I begin to feel a certain way, I can quickly access it and rationalize where I am, and bring myself back to this place of peace and security in myself, and in my future.
I have one story that I'd like to tell, that was buried within me for years but brought to the surface when I was reading this book.
When I was a sophomore in college, I had become fairly depressed. I spent a lot of time in my dorm room alone, as my roommate had moved in with her boyfriend. I was single for the first time since early high school, and was confused about who I was and where my life was going.
On one particularly difficult day, I literally could not get out of bed. I laid there, crying, and said out loud "why am I so sad? What is wrong with me? I need help, somebody please help me".
Almost instantly, I felt a release. I sat up, and felt an incredible sense of peace. I had an idea to go get a haircut, so I got up, I got dressed, and I went to get that haircut. Never again did I experience that type of depressive state.
I tell this story because I always felt that something bigger than me helped me during that time in my life. I have never felt worthy of god's help, as I have spent most of my life adamantly not believing, but I wonder. Whatever it was, it was a turning point in my life that I will revisit, and show gratefulness for often.
Next up? to see the film version of The Shack. Hopefully the screen will do it justice.