Here’s the latest dispatch from the crossroads of faith and media: A Christmas Carol. Christmas episodes used to be a staple of network sitcoms but seem much less common these days. Since Carol Second Act is pretty much an ode the art of the traditional sitcom, it’s nice to see the show which stars Patricia […]
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.
Car Trek. Addie Zierman is a popular blogger and writer whose first book, When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love and Starting Over (Convergent Books), was named by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the best books of 2013.
Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark (Convergent Books), her highly-anticipated second book releases today. In it, she recounts how in the winter of 2014, she embarked on a 3,000 mile road trip with her two young sons in tow. It was a spiritual journey in which she literally confronted the dark night of her soul.
AZ: What was your experience with God, faith and religion before writing Night Driving?
ADDIE ZIERMAN: I grew up in an evangelical free church that was mostly safe and lovely and full of people who were good to me. My faith became core to my identity from very early on, but in junior high and high school it sort of began to consumed me.
Those were the days when “Christian rock” was just becoming a thing, and Christian bookstores were selling thousands WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets and “Witness-Wear” t-shirts. I became very swept up in this loud, fluorescent, extreme version of faith where the goal was to be “on fire for God” and to “do great things for the Lord.”
Much of my adult life and writing has been about untangling the threads from that time in my life and to find a faith that is sustainable outside of a culture that, at least for me, wasn’t.
JWK: The book’s subtitle is “A Story of Faith in the Dark.” What does it mean to have “faith in the dark?”
AZ: In that “on fire” version of faith that was the backdrop of my coming of age, there was a lot of emphasis placed on “feeling God.” If you were serious about your faith, if you were “growing,” if you were really “seeking the Lord,” then it was something that you felt in your bones.
We were forever going to conferences to reignite our faith. We were all the time going on retreat weekends in Florida to “get close to God.” There was a palpable sense that your faith was a fire, and that you could keep it alive if only you fed it enough. And if it went out? Well, that was your fault too.
What happened to me in early adulthood was that even though I continued to do all the “right things” – reading my Bible, journaling, praying, attending church and small groups – the fire of my faith was dimming. I couldn’t feel God. Everything felt shadowed, and I couldn’t seem to haul myself back into the Light no matter how I tried.
For me, that darkness turned out to have a very particular name – clinical depression. But I talk about it more generally, particularly in this book, because I think that there any number of things that can create that same dimming effect. Fear. Failure. Broken relationships. Loss. Anxiety. Pain.
And what then? If you don’t feel your faith, does that mean it’s no longer real? If there doesn’t seem to be any light anymore, does that mean that God is no longer there? For all of the lovely things my adolescent faith gave me, it didn’t give me a theology of darkness. All I knew about darkness was that it was something to get though.
JWK: What finally led you to take your literal journey into the dark and how did your family feel about it?
AZ: Winter is always tough for me, but the winter of 2014 was too much altogether. That was the year of the polar vortex, the coldest winter in a generation, and my depression felt unrelenting. I felt like I was treading water, and the things I was grabbing on to keep from drowning were completely unreliable. I was drinking too much. I was having a hard time getting out of bed.
I went because I felt desperate. I went because I felt like I was going to blow up my life if I stayed. I think on some level I went because that was what we always used to do when we needed to “reignite” our faith: leave. Go on a “retreat.” Get to the light.
My kids had no idea what was going on. They were so little. My husband, who is familiar with wanderlust, was on board. I don’t think either of us knew really what the trip was about when I set out, only that I needed to take it. And Andrew has always been solidly in my corner – even when I’m a little crazy.
JWK: How long did the trip last?
AZ: Two weeks, about 3000 miles, 30-some McDonalds cheeseburgers, and 8ish gallons of Diet Coke.
JWK: What did you learn about yourself — and about God?
AZ: Do you really want me to ruin the book for everyone? Come on now. I will say this: I did not find God where I thought I would. But I did find God.
JWK: How about your kids? What to you think they learned from it?
AZ: My kids were too young at the time to really understand what was going on, and I don’t know that they’ll even remember the trip. But if they read this book someday down the road, I hope that they see the love. It was unconventional and cliché all at the same time – this winter trip to Florida – but I hope that they see that underneath it was an act of hope and courage and love for them – and for myself.
Darkness is a regular part of anyone’s life. It comes as surely as the winter season, as day and night. I hope that by telling the truth about what that looks like for me, the mistakes I’ve made trying to quell it, and the small ways I’ve made peace with it, my sons will learn that they don’t have to be afraid of the dark. That God is there too.
JWK: What do you think readers take from your story?
AZ: I hope that in telling my story, readers will feel less alone in theirs. I hope that those who have been scrambling to try to reignite a dimming faith will be able to stop, let go of sunny faith fictions, and to believe that there is space in faith for both light and darkness.
JWK: I could see a nice movie coming out of your book. What do you think?
AZ: It could make a nice indie flick, I think. Only16 people would watch it…but it would have great music
Who could you see playing you?
AZ: Kristen Bell. It’s below her pay grade, but she would do it for love, like she did the Veronica Mars movie.
JWK: What are you working on now?
AZ: Right now I’m doing my best to usher this book out into the world. I continue to blog at addiezierman.com. I’m also writing at Off the Page once a month – a Dear-Sugar-inspired advice column on questions of faith…which has been challenging and energizing in all the best ways.
Writing Night Driving was a consuming, intense process, and I’m looking forward to spending a little time resting, reading, and thinking about what comes next.
John W. Kennedy is a writer/development consultant specializing in teleplays, screenplays and novelizations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11