Last night Mary Beth and I went to hear Paul Young, author of the book everyone has now heard about, The Shack. The church was charging $10 a person to hear him, which was kind of a bummer, but I have to tell you it was totally worth it. You never know what you are going to get when you go to hear an author speak. Most authors make their money by writing and are not dually blessed with the gift of speaking. Young, however, was quick to point out that he is not an author, but became one on accident. He was humorous and engaging throughout.
He took a few questions from the audience about the book (there were probably about 700 or 800 of us there) and then segued into some personal reflections from the book. If you have done research on him, then you probably know a lot of this, but it was all new to me. He had written the book for his children, not intending that anyone else would ever see it. He has six children (I think he said six), and The Shack was a gift to each of them, and some of their close friends, as the result of a long process of Young’s travel back toward his shack. The symbolism of The Shack is especially poignant after hearing firsthand its background.
The entire discussion was worthwhile, but I’ll try to offer a few random tidbits from the night that I found memorable. If you haven’t read the book, I really would suggest it. Very enjoyable and thought provoking – and if you are a Christian, everyone’s talking about it, so join the discussion!
The first question of the night was about the name of the Holy Spirit in the book. The origin came from a phone conversation Young had while working in his previous job with someone in India. He asked her for the different names they had for the wind in Hindi. Sarayu seemed perfect – that unexpected but refreshing wind that all of us love (think of a hot day when it is almost unbearable – and then the freshness of the breeze). I thought it was great!
Another asked whether he was concerned with the controversy the book had stirred. Nobly, he answered that rather than disappointed, he was excited by all the discussion the book had stirred. He did note that some of the criticism had gotten personal which he regretted, but the vast majority of it had been the work of God. He told specifically of a women who had emailed him and just railed the book as a “juvenile piece of trash.” Young promptly responded by pasting several responses from others who had emailed him responding with thanksgiving for the life it had breathed into their spirituality. The woman responded by asking for his forgiveness.
William Young spoke humbly as a guy whose life’s baggage was now out in the open for all to see. He acknowledged that he had created something that was now way bigger than he was, and his role was to sit back and watch God work, something He is clearly doing.
With all of that said, the true highlight of hearing Young speak was gaining valuable insight into where the concept of the shack came from. The book amounts to the closing chapter of the healing process he and his family went through. Young was the overlooked child of missionaries in New Guinea where he grew up in a terrible environment. His perspective was a reminder to me to never neglect your family “for the work of the Lord.” Quite the contrary, Young’s father treated him harshly and allowed him to be severely molested throughout his childhood by the tribal people. Young tells the story of burying this trauma deep below the surface of perfectionism he constantly kept up through his young life.
He eventually married and his whole life of deception and duality culminated with a three-month affair his wife uncovered, setting off 2 years of hell. His wife was committed to keeping the family together, and so committed to being together and spent the next two years beating Young up emotionally and spiritually. She told him she would never believe anything that came from his mouth again – and who could blame her. The process of counseling was intense and long – he spent 8 months in intensive counseling with a counselor Young believes saved his life. He tells the story of his counselor, whose family life Young knew nothing about because of counselor-patient protection, whose son was addicted to narcotics, accidentally killed his father. This crushed Young to the point he could not go to the funeral.
The two years sped through eleven long years of healing and dealing with the matters of the shack, and finally came around full circle when he received a letter speaking to an incredibly healing a woman had received after her son had inadvertently killed her father. Young knew immediately the similarities were too close for this to not be the same person. He emailed her back and asked for her phone number . . . what an incredibly story of grace! He went on to talk of how his marriage was better than ever (something he said at least 10 times at the close). That the woman with whom he had an affair with had a daughter who was now a close friend of their own daughter and regularly at their home. Again, an incredible story of grace.
It was enjoyable and uplifting to hear the incredible story that now is being told all over the world. Hopefully Christians can focus on that and not let our divisive and obnoxious tendencies prevail as they so often do.
I was drawn to my own shack even deeper through Young’s personal testimony. I thanked God then and there I didn’t have to endure the journey that he has, and I thanked God that he has delivered him from his. However, it still left me to confront what is in my own shack that so often I want to avoid and change the subject. I continue that journey and need prayers in doing so.