Monday, September 26, 2011

Is My Heroine Psychic?

Today a reader wrote to me about my new novel, The Baker's Wife: "I wanted to ask about the 'gift' that Audrey has. I'm having a hard time understanding it, to be honest. Is it a psychic gift or a gift of discernment? I know that God does not give a gift of being psychic so I'm a little surprised this is in a Christian book. In many ways I know she feels she's being led by God to those who need help, but does He really work this way?"

This is such a great question. I'm grateful this reader stopped to ask it. I'm sorry that my answer must include some plot spoilers, but for some, the answer is more important than the suspense.

In all of my stories I use supernatural elements to explore the ways God works in us and through us. I intend for my stories to be read metaphorically rather than literally, though they are not true allegories. I realize not all readers are comfortable approaching a book this way.

Audrey's gift is not psychic. It is, rather, a look at empathy and compassion taken to extremes. We Christians often speak of "sharing one another's burdens," and sometimes we say this glibly without examining what we really mean. This has been true in my own life. We might help another person to the extent that we feel relieved of our Christian duty. It is more rare for us to share another person's pain to the point that we have the capacity to feel it ourselves. Audrey's tangible experience of Julie's pain is merely a metaphor for what real, deep, honest Christian empathy MIGHT look like. I think God sometimes asks us to go farther than we are comfortable going, to share a burden of pain by taking it upon ourselves, the way Christ took up the pain of the cross on our behalf, because he loved us so much, while we were yet sinners.

In the opening of The Baker's Wife, Audrey reaches out to a woman in pain, but then finds herself unable to press through a particular level of discomfort when the woman rejects her kindness. In Audrey's journey, this "mistake" (which is hardly a black-and-white moral mistake, but a spiritual challenge she lacked the courage to see through), puts her entire family at risk. As my editor put it, perhaps some of us ignore empathy for others at our own peril. Julie ultimately rejects Audrey's compassion. Not everyone will accept what we have to offer. But Audrey matures in her own ability to reach out to others, so that in the end she doesn't turn away from Julie's daughter, who needs the love of Christ as much as Julie ever did. I see this as a personal spiritual victory, and an illustration of how listening to the promptings of God, whether visceral or not, can move us to greater work on his behalf.