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A Jane Austen valentine

"A Jane Austen valentine" Continued...

Issue: "The other campaign," Feb. 9, 2008

WORLD: You describe yourself as shy. How hard was it to write down for public consumption what you were thinking?

SMITH: It was very hard at times-[I was] incredibly vulnerable. Sometimes I still want to take it back. But I don't really know any other way to write. It can be tough to find the balance between sharing enough and sharing too much, but if you don't expose yourself a little, readers have nothing to connect with. I'm always pleasantly surprised when I hear from someone who says, "I thought I was the only one who felt that way!"

WORLD: You make a list of traits you hope to find in a man. It ends with this: "He'll be normal-someone I could actually introduce to my non-Christian friends without cringing." Could you elaborate?

SMITH: There are some Christians who are only really comfortable in the Christian world. They're not entirely sure how to talk to people who don't have faith or perhaps have wandered away from faith. There's a whole subculture that listens to only Christian music, embraces entertainment with Christian themes, and doesn't appreciate or relate to anything outside of that. I lived there for a while and can't do that anymore.

WORLD: You make some sharp observations, both positive and negative, about the evangelical subculture in which you grew up-and you criticize "a Christian culture that is incredibly uncomfortable with lamentation and rushes to happiness." Where have you noticed that aspect of Christian culture, and what effect has it had on you?

SMITH: Perhaps I should say that I'm still very much evangelical, but have found an expression for that within Anglicanism that I'm more comfortable with. I'm very thankful for the biblical training I had growing up, for the godly men and women I had the chance to learn from. The culture that has grown up around evangelical Christianity in the United States I think is not entirely healthy, though.

When I talk about that culture being uncomfortable with lamentation, that's something I've rarely heard from the pulpit, but it's an undercurrent of thought that's been common among my evangelical friends, especially women. There's a need to put a positive spin on things, to immediately turn things into praise or gratitude. Sadness or depression are seen as suspect.

As a result of that, and my own personality, I think I learned to suppress those negative emotions and view them as bad, and that didn't work for me. I had to learn that lamentation was part of life, to live through sadness and grief. I take comfort in the fact that this is the faith of Jeremiah, and David, and that Christ on the cross expressed anguish.

WORLD: You were sick for a long time without knowing what was wrong. How did discovering that you had Lyme disease change your life, both physically and mentally? Are you sleeping?

SMITH: The diagnosis was a gift from God, a grace I never expected. I thought I would always live with a mysterious chronic fatigue. The last year and a half, though, has been incredibly difficult-the treatment made the condition worse for a while. But after 18 months on large doses of antibiotics, we're making progress, and I'm actually sleeping at night (except when my new English Lab decides she would rather play). It may be something that I always live with, because it was years before I was diagnosed, but it's improving, and I'm very thankful for that.

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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