The meme you see above has prompted millions of laughs, but can you imagine a more life-changing moment than a priest, monk or nun hearing this revelation after decades of devotion?
Misperceptions like this do happen, and they can shape lives. This meme came to mind recently when a woman told me how she spent her child and early adulthood terrified of burning in hell. She knew in the core of her being that ministers thundered messages of hellfire and brimstone “all the time.”
Eventually she discovered that her particular church believed that yes, the wicked did perish in “The lake of fire,” but they did not burn forever. The perishing was mercifully quick and permanent. The wicked were punished only by being deprived of the multitude of blessings the righteous are due to receive. She did hear about a lake of fire. That was true. But the burning forever part must have leaked in from outside, according to her informant. “I assure you, that was never part of our teaching.”
By the time she heard this, she had moved away from that church. But learning this still angered her: I didn’t have to spend all those years so scared!
Now she’s wondering how to write about this: “I really did believe that. That is how I heard it. If I was wrong, and I only have that one person’s explanation to go on, I still totally believed it. But now things have changed. And I’d definitely never go back to that church. How do I tell this story?”
“That was your truth back then, and nothing has changed that,” I said. “Not even finding out you were, or might have been, wrong.” My advice to her was simple and four-pronged.
1) Write about what life was like back then. Explain what you heard and how that affected you.
2) Write about the whiplash you experienced when you heard the other point of view. Who told you? How did you know to believe it? How did that affect you? How did you and do you feel about all this? What has changed?
3) Write with compassion. True, you may feel angry and betrayed. Own that and write it. Then consider the angles. Did any one purposely deceive you? Did you ever ask for help or tell anyone you were scared?
4) Sum it all up. By the time you’ve written through steps one, two and three, you will probably be feeling some closure, if you weren’t already there. Stories demand it, whether they’re still at the stage of self-talk or written down. Readers crave it.
Conflict or tension, especially the internal sort, is the meat of this and any story. Jump into the middle of the mud with both feet and let it all rip. Be brave. Write it real. Polish it to flow smoothly, but leave those emotions in place. They are the lifeblood of your tale. They add the juice and the glue that bonds reader to story and helps them gain their own insight from your message.