I confess that a friend of mine just picked up Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner, and sent me a pic that reminded me of this great little devotional book. I’m grateful for the reminder.
There were a couple of years in the late 90s, while I was traveling with Satellite Soul, that this book was a part of my daily life that spilled over into sprawling, capacious conversations about Jesus and our own lives. I picked it up again just a few years ago, along with the Thomas Merton daily readings volume called A Year With Thomas Merton, and have used them often to seed my imagination for writing & to give me some hope in the midst of days that are painful.
I stumbled upon Buechner when I was in college. The Son of Laughter was the first thing I read, and it forever changed the way I read the Old Testament. Buechner’s vulnerability in writing, his honesty in telling his stories and the stories of those around him, and his courage in facing the darkness without and within have made his writing as meaningful to me as anything I’ve read over the years. I rarely preach a sermon without referencing Secrets in the Dark to see what he has said. My copy is so marked up and dog-eared that I sometimes wonder if I should start off with a fresh new edition.
Pain is our greatest teacher. Christians are meant to encounter pain with the firm conviction that it will not destroy us, and if it will not destroy us, then it will help us to grow and change and become more like Jesus. One way or another my life must conform to the pattern of cross and resurrection. “The pains of hell can be no sharper than the pains we suffer here,” he once wrote.
When people are in pain, they hurt the people around them. The only way to avoid this is to somehow allow that pain to transform us. It’s dying to the self, a willingness to face our stuff and change. The result is a small death & resurrection. It happens within the soul, the relationship, the present reality of the pain as it is experienced. Buechner helps me to soften to that process. I’m going to keep this on my desk & spend more time in it over the next few months. I believe… help me in my unbelief.