Amanda Barber

Stories, songs, and thoughts on life.

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An Explanation

31 July 2013

Since I began posting stories on my Facebook page a few years ago, and especially since my book was published, I’ve received all sorts of feedback. I would say the vast majority of it was incredibly positive. Actually, none of it was negative as in, “Why did you write such an awful story! What a bore!” But I’ve also heard some heartfelt questions about why my stories deal with the more painful aspects of life. For instance: Why did you let this character die? Why did this character’s child die? It was too realistic and painful. Why doesn’t your character experience more joy as a result of salvation? Your allegory about the Christian life was dark and depressing.

When I listen to this kind of feedback, I think to myself, “Because that’s how life is.”

Last week, I heard true stories about life: A bus full of kids heading home from camp overturned on the highway. A young man and his pregnant wife and the mother of one of the campers died. In that crash a father and mother were bereaved of their children and their unborn grandchild. Two children have been orphaned.

A thirty-four year old woman was diagnosed with lung cancer. She has four to six months to live. Her boyfriend proposed to her after that news, knowing that he will have only a few more months of life with her.

A woman who was only able to have one son, sent that beloved son to look after her parents who were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. There was a house fire. The son pulled his grandpa to safety and went back in for his grandmother. Neither of them came back out.

These are the great tragedies of life. And then there are the myriads of personal heartaches and discouragements that we hide away in our hearts, the questions about life that God never seems to answer. The more I write, the more I discover that I cannot write feel-good or fantasy or romance or straight comedy. When I try to read those kinds of books, I emerge empty-handed. Nothing about them helps me with the problems that I face, problems that many Christians might cringe to hear. Besides, there’s this pesky thought that keeps coming to my mind the minute I close the book or finish the feel-good movie, “A happy ending depends on where you finish the story.”

And there’s something more that prevents me.

I am only twenty-eight years old. I’ve never married, never been a mother. I’ve only lost grandparents. My experience of life has been limited. Yet, somehow, people feel that I pinpoint the realities of life through my writing with such accuracy that it hurts. And I’ve often wondered why. Why do I know these things? Well, I think it goes beyond mere experience.

The fact of the matter is that as long as I can remember, there has been an ache in my heart that will not go away. Deeds of kindness and generosity towards others provide temporary relief. Reading my Bible occupies my mind while the ache continues. The few close relationships I have help some, but as soon as I’m alone, the ache is right there waiting for me. Sometimes, God provides His comfort, sometimes He lets me suffer.

Like C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” The ache is that desire for another world. When my life is going well with good health, enough money, non-strained relationships with friends and family, then I can almost forget that I feel it. But the slightest thing that goes wrong—an ended relationship, or a mysterious health problem–that brings it all back.

And that’s okay. Because it’s the ache that drives me to Christ over and over again, and it might drive everyone to Christ if everyone knew that they were designed for a different world. As it stands, we all try to cover up and drown out our pain with possessions and financial security and beautiful children and romantic relationships. The characters in my stories and in my novel have lost those things and experienced horrible disappointments. They have the chance to see that they were created for a different world. They have the opportunity to find Jesus and only Jesus, the joy of man’s desiring. Many times, I think real joy can only be discovered in the pain that forces us to desire Jesus once the emptiness of everything else has been fully plumbed.

My greatest goal as a writer is not to amuse or entertain. That is a by-product. My goal is to help people to discover, and perhaps re-discover like I do nearly every day, that their home is not here. That personal loss is a greedy task master with limitless appetite. That everyone they know will let them down but Christ. That, converted or not, they won’t even be fully satisfied in Christ until Heaven. So, for now, propelled by the ache in their hearts, it is their duty and their joy to desire Jesus.

Perhaps some of my readers still find this depressing. I’m sorry. But that’s where I’m at. So, if you’re hoping I’ll put out a light-hearted romance or fun novel where average Christians deal with problems that aren’t too weird, I’m afraid you may be disappointed. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have weird problems, so I have no inspiration to work with. Instead, rest assured that I will do the very best I can to show the beautiful character of God at work in flawed, hurting, sinful people like me.

O Joy that seekest me through pain;
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
–George Mattheson