David Meigs is a novelist with a background in youth outreach, specializing in ministry to at-risk youth and their families. Though his writing is enjoyed by all ages, his novels provide a unique, life-changing quality, critical for the youth of today. David and his family lives in Seabeck, Washington, where he serves his church as youth pastor.
The Life-Transforming Message
A while back, a fellow minister gave me a short story she had written. My friend asked for an honest critique and was especially seeking input on the impact value of the message. I may have been smiling on the outside, but inwardly, I swallowed hard. I read it as agreed, made a few notes, but didn’t look forward to giving her my critique.
Not that the story didn’t have promise. The narrative was engaging and the characters were adequately interesting. However, instead of interweaving the message as a central component of the story, they wrote in a super-spiritual character who came to the rescue and solved all of the protagonist’s problems. The story ended, and everyone lived happily ever after. Agk!
At our next meeting, I told her about the things I liked, congratulated my friend on her ability to tell a story, and encouraged her to continue writing. I was hoping that somehow this would be it, and our conversation would change to other things, but then my friend asked me what I thought of the story’s ability to impact the reader with its message. Inwardly, I cringed. I was about to trample her feelings underfoot with heavy hooves. I took a deep breath and as gently as I could, I told the truth.
First, I congratulated my friend on her well-stated theology but then explained how and why I felt that the presentation had zero value to persuade anyone to step outside their comfortable, self-imposed prison cells and grow. Their reaction surprised me. “Yeah, it hit me the same way, but I just don’t know how to fix it,” she said.
I am happy to report that our friendship remains intact and that their writing keeps getting better and better. For the record, my colleague’s mistake was an honest one. Quoting Scripture and encouraging others to perfection is part of any good sermon; but as a rule, fiction makes for a poor delivery vehicle for sermons.
Perhaps my favorite of all the Lord’s parables is the Prodigal Son. It is a wonderful tale that chronicles the mistakes and subsequent consequences of a young man’s wayward life, and the redemptive grace of a father’s unconditional love. Moreover, on one level or another, nearly all inspirational fiction is a reflection of this powerful parable.
For the sake of our discussion, let’s divide the story into two segments: the prodigal’s downward spiral, and his redemption. I love that the Lord chose to use a totally self-destructive degenerate as the protagonist. Though not many of us have hit bottom to the degree that the prodigal did, plenty of us could give him a run for his money (myself included). I could also argue that more of our readers can relate to this aspect of the prodigal’s life than they can his redemption. After all, it’s one
thing to believe in God’s forgiveness and entirely another thing to fully accept that love for ourselves; but let’s save that for another discussion.
So what is it about the prodigal’s demise that our readers might more easily relate to? The potential for such a list is as long and multifaceted as there are different kinds of people. Nevertheless, nearly all of us know what it is like to be young and think we know it all or to follow our hearts down a dead-end road. Anyone who has lived long enough knows what it is like to make a bad choice or even a series of bad choices that fill us with regret. Most of us know what it is like to feel shame, humiliation, hopelessness, and despair. Let’s not forget those of us who seemingly love to use our downfalls or the digressions of others as fuel for self-hatred, unresolved anger, and unforgiveness. Yep, there is plenty we can relate to with the prodigal son’s downward spiral.
Moreover, even those of us who have lived a healthier, less self-destructive life would have to admit that the prodigal’s ever deeper descent into disaster does certainly make for interesting reading. In fact, this is the stuff that a good drama is made of. You could even say that it is the glue that keeps our readers pasted to the pages. If you have any doubts about this, I challenge you to take a look at the tabloids that line the checkout registers the next time you visit your local market.
The next phase of the prodigal son’s life begins with his hitting bottom. This is the place where we finally come to the end of ourselves and, with God’s help, things turn around. Nothing about inspirational fiction is as exciting to me as is this one small fact, that God can use our stories to illustrate the eventual outcome of a person’s own choices in life. In other words, readers can, and often do, learn from the choices of our characters. Isn’t this the very reason Jesus gave us this wonderful parable? In a word, yes.
That leads us to the final segment, the magnificent redemption of our poor prodigal. But this section is more about the love and forgiveness of the father than it is about the son. While it is true that the son comes back with a completely different attitude, he is powerless to gain for himself the second chance at life he craves. It is the father alone who holds this power. This same formula works well in our novels too, when our characters come to the end of themselves and they are finally ready to surrender their own will to their Creator.
In the end, just as it is with the prodigal son, the lessons learned, if any, must grow naturally as a central part of the story. Also, just as it is with this beloved parable, it is vital to keep things gritty and real. After all, the deeper the drama, the greater the demonstration of God’s redemptive power.
Until next month, keep it gritty and real.