Exploring Fiction: When “Pray and Read Scripture” isn’t the Best Advice

There are so many wonderful Christian themes in the fiction books I read that I’ve decided to start a series of posts delving into these themes.

Today’s post is based on the book Shades of Light by Sharon Garlough Brown, a book that follows Wren, a woman struggling with depression and anxiety.

If she could have “believed Jesus” for a way out of the darkness, she would have. For years she tried. But being told her anxiety and depression were rooted in sin or lack of faith or spiritual warfare only made her more anxious and depressed.

Shades of Light pg. 29

In this post, I’m not going to dive into mental health. It’s true that it needs to be talked about, and there are many in my life who have suffered or suffer still, but it’s not what this topic is about.

No, what I want to talk about is this idea that Christians have about how to talk to someone when they’re in a rough spot. This idea of what my husband and I like to call “Christanese.” It’s like Chinese or Japanese, only for Christians.

And I’m going to say this upfront: until I read Sharon Garlough Brown’s book, Shades of Light, I was guilty of it. I didn’t realize what I had been doing until I began reading the third chapter of this book.

The most popular phrases in Christianese tend to be “You just need to pray,” and “Stay in the Scriptures.”

Pray harder and read more Scripture: that was the standard prescription for Christian health and maturity.

Shades of Light pg. 44

While this advice is not bad, it’s not always the best or most helpful at the moment. In fact, sometimes it’s exactly the wrong thing to say. If you’re speaking to a fellow Christian, chances are they know this already. They know that talking with God and reading all the wonderful things He has done is what you should do. But there are times when that just doesn’t seem to help, no matter how hard you try (or don’t try, whatever the case may be).

Recently, I’ve been struggling, and to be perfectly honest, God and I aren’t jiving as well as I might like. I like to blame Him for this, though I know that it’s not really Him. However, I question “why” a lot. What the heck is He doing, and why is He doing it? Though I know if I pray and truly listen to Him He’ll show me, I don’t feel ready for this. After all, God made me human, and I’m exercising my humanity.

Through this difficult time, I’ve had a few different responses from friends. One friend commiserates with me, for she feels some of the things I do. You might think that’s a slippery slope, that she is allowing me to wallow in this self-pitying funk, but when she speaks to me, agrees with me, and brings her own complaints to the table, I’m acutely aware of the dangers of letting it bring me down more. It’s in this way that I feel God is protecting me.

What my friend does is not wrong. For me, it’s actually a help. She’s telling me, “I hear you and I get it. I feel the same way, and it’s great to have someone to talk to about this.” She is doing her part in this to help, and I feel that God has placed her in this position. He knows what I need, and isn’t He the one to make good of situations (even if I want to blame Him for the bad?)

I can even see her heart for Christ in these talks, and I find myself admiring her relationship with Him even though she’s oftentimes just as broken as myself. This is also another help for me. I see what she does and want to be like her.

I have another friend whom I love immensely, but with her all I hear is “Pray,” “Fast,” “Listen to God.” I know she’s right, but I really don’t want to hear it. Let me rephrase this: It’s not what I feel I need to hear at this moment. I’m fairly fluent in Christanese. I can give myself this advice, and often try to remind myself of this. But this does not get my body and mind moving the way it needs to. It’s not what will bring me out of this funk at this very moment.

Honestly, I feel as though my issues don’t matter. I know that’s not true, but it’s not easy talking with her because I know she’ll start speaking in this other language, and it’s the last thing I need. I need someone to listen, to be there for me no matter what.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “But Abigail, the Scriptures say to pray, fast, have faith, yadda, yadda.” And you’d be right. Jesus Himself shares this message quite often, and we know He is never wrong. He leads by example in words and actions, and we need to look to Him to do what is right. But I feel that even God knows how difficult this can be which is why he places different types of people in our lives.

In Shades of Light, Wren had checked herself into a the psych ward at the hospital. She knew she needed something, and this was her best option at the time. There is a scene when Wren’s pastor, Hannah, had come to speak with her. Wren’s fear was that Hannah would be just like her former small group leader, one who spoke the Bible instead of listening to Wren and really trying to help.

Or maybe, like […] her former small group leader, Hannah would remind her of the importance of reading the Word, especially when she didn’t feel like it. Maybe she’d remind her that when you’re sinking, you need a firm, solid place to stand. Because, she might say, if your life isn’t built on the foundation of the Word, you’ll be swallowed whole. You’ve been given the mind of Christ. You’ve got to work hard to renew it.
But that was like commanding a quadriplegic to run a marathon. When your mind was broken and ill, you couldn’t work at much of anything.

Shades of Light pg. 42-43

What else can we tell someone if we shouldn’t use this line of Christian thought? What else should we do?

The best thing to do is to let them know you’re there for them no matter what. No judgment, just a listening ear. Your opinion doesn’t always matter, no offense. You could offer some other type of advice, especially if you’ve been in that situation yourself, just know that it might not be followed.

In other words, take care of the basic need of the other person first.

Is there ever a time when we can remind someone to look to God? The answer to this question is, “Yes, of course.” And we should be able to. But in the right time.

As Christians, we need to be there for each other. How that is changes from person to person, from situation to situation. We don’t have all the answers, and sometimes we’re not being asked for them. Be there for someone else. That’s the best thing you can do.

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