A few days ago I cried — the real, big, splashing version of tears — over a book for the first time in a long time. It was a Sunday afternoon, and we were banished from our house because of an open house hosted by our realtor.
So, I had an opportunity to lay on the floor of our quiet and empty church and finish Barefoot: A Story of Surrendering to God by Sharon Garlough Brown. This is the third book in the Sensible Shoes series, a set of novels centred on the spiritual journeys of four very different women who meet at a spiritual retreat centre. The women begin a deep friendship and become spiritual companions to each other through the ups and downs of life.
I love these books. But first of all, a confession. I am a terrible skeptic of Christian fiction, especially if the fiction is for women, or about end times. I wish I wasn’t. I wish I wasn’t so cynical. I try not to be. But sometimes I feel like the novels I am reading are just not good enough. Doesn’t that sound terrible? Don’t I sound like a snob? It’s not that I haven’t read really great, gripping Christian novels. I have. But I’ve also read some not so great ones, and it’s those ones that have made me so grouchy on this topic.
The Sensible Shoes series has restored my faith in spiritual novels. I heard the author Sharon Garlough Brown speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in 2014. Her talk was called “Writing as a response to the love of God.” I attended the talk, not having heard of her before, but intrigued by the title of her presentation. “The particular call of the writer is to behold,” she said. “It’s the call of writers to be awake, so we may rouse and stir others to behold the glory of God… to invite others to take off their shoes and worship Him.” And I was refreshed by her belief that as writers we are “called to a life of attentiveness.”
At one point in the talk she made us turn around and say, “You are the one Jesus loves,” to the person sitting next to us, which to be honest, can make me squirm. Then she made us say, “I am the one Jesus loves,” which was even more difficult. It is a difficulty shared by Brown’s characters.
Brown said she writes about characters who struggle, because she has struggled. The women in her book “need to discover ways to practice beholding the love of God,” she said, because Brown needed to, and had to work hard to do that. She talked about her journey to live out of abundance and not scarcity. That’s also a difficult task for her characters.
And now, after crying on the floor over a character’s death, to the great puzzlement of my dog who was hanging out with me, (and perhaps for the first time since Matthew died in Anne of Green Gables, now that I think about it), I think the power of the books must be in their authenticity.
Again and again, I see the wild and deep power and potential of authenticity. Those who risk honesty like that, whether in truth or in fiction, offer a beautiful, lavish gift to the Christian community. Truth tellers, in their daring, actually offer safety, because they remind us that we are all broken and struggling and falling short of the glory of God, and He loves us still.
Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today. Subscribe now and offer the gift of excellent Christian journalism to your friends and family.