A few years ago I attended a seminar called "Dealing with Difficult People." The trainer spent the introduction getting us to want to listen to him for the rest of the day, and he did a good job. But I'll never forget the unsettling (though intriguing) way he ended his intro: " . . . and then, before we're done, we're going to look at whether you are the difficult person in your office." True to his word, we surveyed the menagerie of difficult people found in offices all over the earth, and we took a further step to discover why the difficult person we are dealing with is so peculiarly difficult to oneself individually. Then the kicker—we saw how that person sees ourselves. We turned and faced the elephant: "I am as difficult a person to him as he is to me." A difficult step, but a necessary one, and far more comfortable a few moments after taking it than the moment before taking it.
This step is what Ted Kluck and Ronnie Martin write about in Finding God in the Dark: Faith, Disappointment, and the Struggle to Believe (Bethany House), released today.
In alternating chapters, Kluck and Martin each describe their parallel journeys. As their stories begin, they are dealing with the equivalent of "difficult people"—usually involving literal difficult people but always involving difficult circumstances. In Kluck's case it was a crushing year that included an international adoption stolen away and financial freefall as a result of plug-pulled book deals. Martin's story included the end of a musical career when people stopped showing up to concerts and the sudden death of his father.
Some of these might sound like fairly weak difficulties. "Wow, you lost a chance to get your name on a book. How hard for you. Looks like you bounced back." "What a shame you didn't get a fourteenth year getting paid to make music in front of people who want to hear it. A starving child in Africa is all broken up about it—as am I in my second straight shift changing bed pans." But trust me, the authors' trials don't sound weak when you read them. What makes our difficulties difficult is that they are ours. Kluck and Martin get the reader inside their heads and hearts, revealing just what made their difficulties so difficult for them and within the story making them convincingly and sympathetically difficult for us.
Then their journeys take a surprising turn for personal-disaster literature: the authors candidly reveal how the disasters expose their sin. (The most gripping chapter in the book is where Kluck describes his anger, bitterness, and jealousy over being strung along and dropped by the camp of a certain lantern-jawed, stubble-chinned, SEC football icon dubbed in the book as "American Hero.") The authors' sufferings that come from the outside are compounded by the perversion that reacts from the inside.
Eventually both men discover that they are the "difficult people." They start the hard process of repentance, confession of sin, and changing their attitudes and behaviors toward their circumstances and the people around them. They make amends. They make life-changing decisions, and they move on. They find God in the deepest, darkest place. Their pain ultimately came from the Lord's hand, a severe gift to drive them from their self-imposed death into abundant life. They describe it as "grace"—those truths of God's mercy on sinners that they had always professed, becoming existentially real in a way that they didn't know was possible.
It isn't hard to find a story in a book or a TV show about a person who experiences tragedy, digs down deep within, and overcomes to land in a storybook ending. It is rarer to find someone who admits that their victimhood reveals themselves as a perpetrator, and who has found inner peace though the denouement falls short of the fairy tale or has not yet come. If you're in the dark, alone, and wary of pat answers, Kluck and Martin's stories might help you find God there too.