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Smoking, swearing and the gospel

Exceprt from an interview with a pastor's wife and parent.

What would you want to say to churches that are concerned about protecting their youth from young people like Jon or Cary, who smoke or swear or have anger issues or doubts?

The reality is at some point your kids are going to encounter someone who smokes or swears or has problems, and if they are 14+ I recommend reading HIDING with them as a safe way to open a conversation about how to respond to messy people in a Christ-like way.

In a more broad sense, in my speaking and writing I’m trying to underline that everyone has a backstory, and everyone has some mess in their heart or life. Speaking as someone from the inside of a church, we can be awfully quick to judge someone for a moral failure that is easy to spot, like swearing or smoking, and pretty lax with our own hidden failures of lust or anger or greed. Truth is, no one stands before God blameless and perfect.

The danger of acting like we have it all together is we fail to model our need for grace to our kids - and our neighbors! How will they know that the gospel message is that God reaches out to us in love WHILE we are sinners, while we are messy, if we're so busy cleaning the outside of the cup? While God doesn’t leave us messy, and does give us His Spirit to transform us, this is a life-long process. No one, myself included, can claim to have arrived at perfection. At every point in our life, we need a God who is willing to meet us in our mess, and the beauty of the Christian story is that our God IS willing and doesn’t run out of patience for our failures.

Is that why you chose not to clean-up the language in the novel?

Yes, that's part of it. I wanted to be very honest about the way young people in these kind of situations talk. And I didn't want to make Cary easy for Jon or Jon's dad, Pete, to love. Anyone who's in the trenches working with young abuse survivors will tell you they're difficult to get close to. The story would have felt false if Cary never dropped the f-word and just opened up to Jon's friendliness right away. Cary's behavior has been deeply shaped by violence and fear, and there's these huge walls that first Jon, and then Pete, have to overcome to reach him.

But what I want to point out here is part of that wall that Jon and Pete need to overcome is their own prejudgement about Cary, based on his tough appearance and language. When Jon starts to ask questions and really look at Cary with interest and concern, he sees a whole different person. That's the experience I hope the reader has also, that as they get inside Cary, they begin to care for him. The beauty of fiction is I can put the reader very close to Cary, and they can't help but see past his language and tough exterior to the deep care at the heart of him.

I hope this story makes people look at the others around them with fresh eyes - everyone has a story and a reason for what they do. Sometimes those reasons are loaded with a personal history that's so painful it almost demands that the person act out in some way. The kind of patient, caring presence that Jon demonstrates with Cary can go a long way, over time, to bringing relief and hope that a new personal story can be written going forward.

More to come as I work on the author interview for the long-awaited 'HIDING - School Edition' and another for a denominational blog!

Grace and peace, Rachel

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