Monday, September 23, 2013

Greater Expectations


Each day starts off with certain expectations but what of our expectations of others. Do we have greater expectations of Christians than we do of other people? I think so. Just recently I have found the behaviour of some Christians hard to understand.  

In one case, a Christian friend and I had a difference of opinion that ultimately resulted in severing the friendship. That argument and what was said, was something between us and no-one else. To me it was something between the two of us and it went no further.  It didn’t concern anyone else. However she chose to relate details of the argument to others.  As we know the person telling the story invariably tells it from their point of view, so it looks like they are the one wronged.  Listen to anyone tell the story of an argument and you’ll see what I mean.

In another situation another Christian related a couple of incidents to me.  What struck me as she related the tale was the bitterness and resentment towards the other party involved in the dispute.   The situation had happened many years ago but she had not let go of it. Looking at it from the outside, it is often easy to see there was probably right and wrong on both sides.

Even though in each case the people involved were mature Christians, they struggled with their emotions and behaved in a manner that I found disappointing. The truth is we have greater expectations of Christians. Then I realised how often my actions and behaviour are also disappointing to God, to others and to myself.  How often I let Christ down and do not live up to those greater expectations.

When you look at the bible it never shies away from showing us people’s faults and times when they fail Jesus. Think of some of the disputes we see in the New Testament. There is Paul when he challenges Peter over his attitudes and hypocrisy regarding Gentiles, Galatians 2:11-21. Or Paul and Barnabas when they disagree over John Mark and his role in ministry and so go their separate ways, Acts 15:36-41. Yet no one would deny Paul was a mighty servant of Jesus.  God is always able to use any situation, even disputes, to further His kingdom.

So what does this have to do with writing? Whether we are writing fiction or nonfiction we need to show complex characters not stereotypes. Characters who struggle to make decisions, who struggle to get it right, characters that disagree and make unwise choices. As readers we need to see that even when Christians do not act as we might expect, when they harbour grudges and resentment or gossip about others, His plans are not thwarted. He can still use those imperfect people to further His kingdom.

A minister once told me and the rest of his congregation ‘if you are not having struggles sin your Christian life, then there is something wrong. Satan doesn’t think you're worth bothering with because you’re not an effective Christian.’  Let’s come back to Paul. How often did he struggle between the human nature and the godly nature and do things he didn’t want to do? Don’t believe me? Have a look at his words in Romans 7: 14-25.

In some Christian books I have read in the past, making the right decision and behaving in a godly manner comes too easily to the Christian. That makes it hard for a lot of our readers to identify with if they don’t find the Christian life and making the right choice that easy. The truth is the Christian life can be a struggle at times. So it is important we show the conflict and struggles that go on within, the time when characters doubt and make wrong decisions as well as the ultimate triumphs. I’d love to hear examples of recent books where you have found the main character has made unwise decisions and struggled with doing the right thing, while still being able to be used by God or changed by God.
 
Dale writes fiction and poetry and had recently submitted a 365 day devotional /commentary  tentatively titled A Day at a Time to a publisher. Now she's working on another novel. You can find out more about Dale at www.daleharcombe.com and you might like to follow her blog at Write and Read with Dale http://orangedale.livejournal.com/

13 comments:

  1. Thanks for those thoughts Dale. I've read a few books where the Christian characters were just too good and it was hard to relate to them. Terri Blackstock is one of my favourite Christian authors. She often shows Christians struggling with issues, arguing etc, but God works through them (e.g., the Cape Refuge series). I think that comes across as a lot more real. May God continue to bless you richly as you write about real struggles.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for a very wise and thoughtful blog, Dale. I can hear your pain too over the severing of that relationship and the resultant fallout--God comfort and bring good out of that situation. Such a good point that, as we shape our own fictional characters, we need to keep them real and remember the daily struggles we all go through and how God still uses us. It has been an ongoing journey for me in my writing to make my characters less 'good'! I tried hard in that area in writing my latest novel 'The Inheritance' and I hope I've succeeded.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for sharing Dale. I can see how disappointing it is for you when you find Christians unable to deal in a healthy way with relationships. It can be very hurtful, I know. I think it's a great reminder that Christian, just like other people, need to keep learning about healthy, safe relationships and practicing good conflict management. It's more important for us if anything, as we need to be good examples. Good on you for raising this. And of course I agree, in our writing we should betray the reality of relationship difficulties, and personal growth issues. Otherwise readers will quickly see that we're not in touch with reality.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dale, wonderful post. When I find myself grappling with a critical spirit about another person I remember a little saying, "Everyone needs healing" and this some how humbles me to start praying for the other and my own sinfulness.

    And yes complex characters in fiction are always best, however, I find are very challenging to write. I'd suggest that may be the reason why so many of us struggle with not producing stereotypes. But this is what makes writing so much fun and hard work.



    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for that post, Dale. It was very timely for me as I attended a church meeting just yesterday where I witnessed a whole church in this situation...divided right down the middle. I so agree with Carol about the need for relationship and conflict management skills in the Christian arena, and not just for leaders. Even church mediation is often just a band aid job to make things look good on the surface, with the cancer continuing to grow under cover. Satan is certainly active among the church, and also our own lives. Thanks again for the reminder, Dale, and for encouraging realistic Christian fiction.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wow Dale. That was exactly what I needed to hear. I have been in a situation of late where the expectations I have of another Christian are not being met. I choose at times to let go of my expectations. But then.. struggle at other times because it's not just me - but a whole bunch of others who are affected. It is a dilemma.

    Thanks for sharing and thanks for the challenge. Yes, there are no stereotypes in life are there? Each person is unique and made in the image of God. I loved it that you mentioned that often there is conflict in our lives when we hunger after God and try our best to please Him. It is so true.

    Thanks for speaking to me.
    Bless you Dale,
    Anusha

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks Nola, Jo-Anne, Carol, Margaret, Ian and Anusha for so many encouraging comments on this post. It seems it struck a chord with a number of you. That's very encouraging, as I was initially hesitant about writing this. But then, isn't that the way God works when we are obedient? He uses it to challenge and bless others. What a mighty God!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks for such an in-depth post, Dale. I have just finished reading Peace Child and the struggle of the new Christians of a stone age tribe to learn forgiveness when for thousands of years they viewed revenge as a quality to be admired.

    Holding grudges when we need to forgive is exactly on the same level. I've discovered that really hampers prayer.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I enjoyed your article. Grudges and gossip are very destructive, but thank God He is sovereign! In a novel of mine soon to be released, a schizophrenic teenage boy runs away from home, and is eventually brought back to his Christian home by another delusional schizophrenic boy. God can use anyone he chooses to do His work. Thanks. Geoff.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks Rita and Geoff for your encouragement and input. Holding grudges does hamper prayer. Praying for the person helps dissolve the grudges even if at first it seems almost hypocritical to do so. And yes, thank God he is sovereign indeed!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thanks Dale, seems like we all struggle with the expectations we place on other Christians and how critical it is for us to take a look at ourselves in light of this.

    Quite often I have to remind myself of what it says at the end of Romans 12. Not to repay evil with evil to vindicate myself but to live peaceably with others, as far as it depends on me.
    Importantly the chapter finishes off with Overcome evil with good.

    Certainly the evil one wants to keep us busy holding onto grudges and pointing fingers to put us off what God calls us to do - Love Him and others!

    Great challenge for us all Dale....thank you for your post!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi Dale,
    Thanks very much. I appreciated this message too, especially after some experiences I had this past week. And I think some of the best Christian fiction is that in which characters struggle in these areas.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thanks Di and Paula. Yes, the enemy does love to stop us doing what God has called us to, Di. We have to be careful not to let him. Sounds like you have had a hard week too, Paula. I needed some encouragement this week, so thanks Di and Paula. It's good when we can encourage and support each other.

    ReplyDelete