Listen: Paul Young in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty
W. Paul Young, NY Times Best Selling Author of the Shack, was in denial. It was a denial brought about by decades of self-protective behaviour. Sexually abused as a child, he says he learned to “hide everything”.
“I learned to become a performer in order to try and win approval and affection. There was an absolute denial of my own damage and hurt.”
That pattern of behaviour would discolour all of his relationships, including his marriage to Kim.
“Six years into our marriage I was exposed,” he told Open House. He was a discovered in a three-month relationship with his wife’s best friend. His pattern of denial, this time, was unable to save him.
“At that point what are you going to deny? I couldn’t shade the truth, I couldn’t spin the story, I couldn’t lie… it was either I have to find a way to heal or I’m not going to take the risk of ever hurting anybody like this again.”
Today he sees that moment as “the kindness of God”. At the time it was “terrifying and humiliating”.
Paul Young’s pathway to finding forgiveness by confronting his hidden reality is told in a new movie, The Heart of Man.
It is a powerful, very moving and beautifully constructed piece of cinema. Both beautiful and confronting, The Heart of Man mixes interviews with an unfolding portrayal of the story of the Prodigal Son.
Jesus told the story of a young man who, given his inheritance early, squandered it all on prostitutes and unhealthy living. Desperate for help but sure his father would be angry and unforgiving, he returns to beg only to be taken in as a servant. The father, who had been grieving the fate of his son, welcomes him with open arms – throwing a banquet in his honour. It is one of Jesus’ most powerful depictions of God’s unending love for us.
The movie, like the parable, explores what might be called the paradoxes of forgiveness and free will. By our own free will we make bad choices, hurting ourselves and others. It also takes an exercise of free will to return to a loving God for healing, and yet the decision to return can be so much harder. Sometimes it only comes when we are at our most broken, paradoxically feeling that we are so unworthy that we are beyond forgiveness.
We were made in the image of a God who has never been alone
That’s how it was for Paul Young.
“We were told by the world, by our experience or even by our theology that the truth of our being was that we were worthless, we didn’t matter, maybe a piece of trash trying to become righteous. That’s not the truth at all, not the truth as revealed by Jesus.”
“So how does God get inside the darkness that we have learned to accept as home? We’ve put a sign above our prison saying sanctuary or home because the certainty of our pain often gives us more comfort than the terrifying reality of freedom.”
And perhaps it is just when we feel the most distant from God that we need him the most. He hid his infidelity and pornography addiction from others, and from God.
“We keep these secrets – why? Because we are broken, we have addictions. It is contrary to what we would hope for ourselves but we are lost in it.
“I come from a modern evangelical/holiness/protestant thread. A lot of times we thought if we just had enough self-discipline or something we could just find a way to heal ourselves without anybody else finding out about it.
“And so we even deny community – we don’t let anybody in, and in our isolation try to find a solution, which is never going to happen!
“We were made in the image of a God who has never been alone and were going to end up moving in the direction of community. Even as most of the damage that comes in our lives comes through relationships so too does the healing, and that’s a hard thing to swallow when we’ve learned to protect ourselves from relationships because we were hurt by them”.
My conversation with Paul Young is an intimate exploration of the journey to forgiveness. Click the red arrow at the top of this story to listen or download. More Open House conversations are available on iTunes.
More Infomation – See The Heart of Man Movie
The Heart of Man movie is showing nationally in late June, and groups can book a special screening. See the website for more details about locations and times.