Leaning In

Jan 11, 2010

Reading is one of my great loves. And, as a writer, I consider it a critical piece of my ongoing training. Often I choose an author I’d like to learn from. Then, over the course of weeks or months, I read as much of his work as I can, absorbing the nuances of style, his command of language, the care with which he develops characters or themes, his secrets for capturing readers’ emotions and never letting them go.

For a couple months I’ve been reading Athol Dickson. I’d been completely unfamiliar with him and his writing until a mutual friend mentioned one of his books back in the fall, the same week I received an invitation to do a book review. Since then, I’ve read Lost Mission, River Rising and The Cure.

Friday I finished The Cure, having read it in little over a week. Dickson is truly a wonderful writer, one of the few whose works intrigue me. This last one captivated more than the others, I think, in large part because of its underlying story theme. If I had to sum it up in a sentence, it’d be this:

To live free is to embrace pain.

After much personal trial and error, I now believe this is true. I go to great effort to avoid pain or to numb it (most times unsuccessfully). I think we all do. However, through this complex story filled with severely flawed characters, I again faced the truth of pain’s blessing. As much as I hate it, it is in my moments of grief that I’m finally stripped of everything that hinders and free to reach toward the eternal. I believe pain is often the only teacher we truly listen to. In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis said,

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

If that is true, if pain is a means to connect more deeply to our spirituality, shouldn’t we be leaning into it rather than running away from it?

(photo courtesy of riesp, stock.xchng)


  1. Jerolyn

    Ay, Michele. So true!!

  2. Kay Day

    All kinds of pain. This brought tears to my eyes, Michele.
    I may have to reread the book from your insightful perspective.
    His strength is made perfect in my weakness.
    I’m going to lean in, and I’m going to listen.

    • Michele

      Yes, “His strength is made perfect in my weakness.” How easily I forget that in all my fuss trying to be strong.

  3. mandythompson

    I’m digging the quote from the book. I understand that. Much of my side of our Seminary Experience was very painful… The type of pain that doesn’t easily fade away, but lingers on for life. But, I came to a point of deciding that I would not let that pain keep me from living.
    And so I live.

    As far as your question goes, I don’t know if I’m at a place where I want to invite more pain into my life. I don’t know if that’s the way I want to chase God. I say this because just this week I had a long convo with my pastor/boss, who I knew pretty well before leaving for seminary. He knows a lot about the pain of seminary – and has encouraged me to come to a place where I’m ok to face that pain again. He says that’s how I’ll be at peace with God again.

    I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m ready to lean into it again.

  4. Michele

    Ahh, that sounds all too familiar, Mandy. I’m so sorry for your pain. I didn’t go to seminary, but I did attend a Christian college. And, as long as we’re being transparent here, I withdrew and moved back home after two years because of how much I was bleeding to death there. You may not be ready to lean back into the pain yet, and that’s understandable. But I have a hunch you’ll be ready one day soon. As much as it hurts, it’s that ache of flesh that separates a stone-cold, three-day-dead Lazarus from the one full of life who heard the voice of Jesus and stepped back into the agony and joy of life.


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