I thought I would share with you an article I wrote for Among Worlds magazine, a publication for TCKers (Third Culture Kids) and those who love them and are trying to understand them. You can find them at: http://www.interactionintl.org/
The Shattered Soul
You may know that I am the author of The Shack. You may even know that I am a Third Culture Kid (four siblings, four different passports). The first born was Canadian. My parents and I (at ten months) moved to the highlands of New Guinea, now West Papua.
What you might not know is that sexual abuse was a frequent part of my childhood. In fact I don’t remember life as a little boy without it being the one constant. Everything else was motion, but this reality was present everywhere I was.
My parents had no idea. We lived in an era of frontier missions when the value was presented and perpetuated that “if one gave one’s life to the spreading of the Gospel, God would take care of the details” and these often included the children. There were languages to learn, compounds and airstrips to build, medical presence to establish, training to be done, communications to be maintained with the outside world and home front, along with a host of other duties and responsibilities.
Our parents, barely adults themselves, endured staggering workloads that allowed little time for anything but “the call.” Too often the children of the mission were left to fend for themselves until they were old enough to be shuttled off to boarding school at five or six, where it was wrongly assumed that at least there they would be safe.
Sacrificed for the “Kingdom of God,” many in our generation were left wounded and damaged without even the words to describe our losses.
At the beginning of 2008, when The Shack began its unexpected meteoric rise as a cultural phenomenon, I received an email from an author in Nashville that stated,
I don’t know anything about you, don’t know your history or back story, but my sense is that Missy (the main character’s daughter who is abducted), represents something murdered in you as a child, probably your innocence and Mackenzie (Missy’s father), represents you as an adult trying to deal with that.
She hit the proverbial nail on the head.
You can read The Shack as a story but my intent was always more than that; a parable laden with metaphor. It is a true story, but not real. The shack itself represents the house on the inside that people help you build. It is the human heart, the uniquely crafted soul that can so easily be torn from its moorings and left to flounder in the waves of a storm tossed world. Some of us had good help building the house of the soul. Many of us did not.
For us this inside place became a shattered hovel, a barely habitable dwelling of which we were intensely ashamed and into which no one would ever be invited. Here we stored our addictions and hid our secrets. It was the house of shame and pain held together by a webbing of lies and protected by an ever-growing array of survival skills and defensive mechanisms. We believed that God hated this place even more than we do.
It is difficult enough for the TCK-er or Global Nomad to work through questions of identity and belonging, but when you add to the mix abuse, especially sexual, you have torn apart the very fabric of the soul rendering the heart impoverished and isolated, unable to trust visible people or an invisible God. Every success in relationship or life becomes another expectation to disappoint, every hello a goodbye waiting to happen.
What compounds the issue is that TCK-ers are unusually adaptive to culture and surroundings, which empowers us to be hiders. Add to that the religious demands of our lives and you have a recipe for performance addiction, loneliness, relational withdrawal and often eventually self-destructive choices. To combat the ocean of shame inside the shack, we erect a thin layer of perfectionism. “Just tell me what you need me to be, and I can become that.”
We end up fractured and incoherent, a disintegrated broken heart often hidden behind a ready wit and willingness to sacrifice ourselves for any demand or cause. But if you look closely, we have one foot always out the door. We can run and try to start over…again.
Why do we keep our secrets? Mostly, because we are terrified, of losing control, of losing the little bits and scraps of acceptance and approval that we have managed to scrape together through production and performance.
The irony is that relationships will bring us healing, but we don’t trust them.
When someone comes into our lives and they offer genuine love, acceptance, forgiveness, grace – the very things that would heal our hearts – we don’t believe them, because they don’t know the secrets. We are trapped and as sick as the secrets we keep.
So what do we do? We find a way to survive. We look for ways to kill the pain while maintaining the façade. We stay moving targets, active in ministry and service. If exhaustion and the praise of performance don’t kill the pain, we find other things that will, like prescription drugs, alcohol, pornography, and affairs.
Shame becomes the prison we know. Authenticity is a wish at best. We are not trying to be duplicitous or liars. Many of us are hoping that if we can just perform perfectly, for long enough, the façade will someday become a real human being.
Others of us just give up, fading into the background noise of existence, locking away the inner world behind vaults unapproachable and hidden. We live the routines and requirements of the day, but our eyes are dead.
Mackenzie spends a weekend in the shack. That weekend represents eleven years for me. Eleven years from the day that my shack was utterly exposed by moral failure, which was adultery, and I made the choice to open my vault of secrets to my relationships. Especially Kim, my wife.
It took me four days to tell her all my secrets. I didn’t run. After all, the only place I had left to run was death, and I almost made that choice. I stopped pointing fingers and owned my own shack. The façade was rubble by then anyway.
I let go of control and for the first time in my life asked for help, regardless the consequences. It took eleven years for Kim and I to heal, for forgiveness to complete its process, eleven years to dismantle my theology and move from a purely intelligent understanding of God to an actual relationship. It took me until I was 50 years old to finally know in the deepest places that “Papa (God) was especially fond of me.” That Father, Son and Holy Spirit had never loved the façade, but dwelt in and loved the shack the entire time.
It took fifty years to find that little child hidden in a closet deep in the basement recesses of a broken structure. It is me that God loves, with all my losses and hiding and devastating choices.
And it is you that God loves. You and me, we are the ones that Jesus, along with his Father and the Holy Spirit, left the ninety-nine to go find. This love is relentless, and we are not powerful enough to change it.
I didn’t know it was possible to live authentically, without secrets. Now I have none. The façade is gone; I am the same person in every situation. I am not addicted to pornography, or to pleasing God or my dad or you, to needing to do something important and significant. I am free to live simply inside the grace of one day, relentless affection that is untethered by performance.
The process of healing is incredibly arduous and painful to the core. There is no true alternative. The façade must or will be exposed. We who build such houses of cards often knock them down with our own breath. The risks of relationship and trust are terrifying.
God will not heal us apart from our participation nor apart from relationships. But neither will God yank from our hands the very skills we adopted that kept us alive. He will wait until we are ready to let them go ourselves. God is not an abuser. God does not heal us because he wants to use us. God heals us because God loves us and then invites us to finally play.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. (And be sure to give your email at the bottom of this page, if you haven’t already, so we can keep you up to date on our unfolding conversation.)