Tilted world {guest post}

Preston Yancey‘s writing is hypnotically good. Once you start reading, you can’t tear yourself away. As well as devouring his perspectives on theology and spirituality, I also hop over to his food blog, Coffee & Brown Butter from time to time, just to salivate. He’s American but I’m delighted to say we’ve borrowed him (St Andrew’s University). It’s a privilege to have this post here today – over to Preston:


After this long, you would think it would be easier to write about this.


She was diagnosed maybe fourteen years ago now—after a decade, numbers are harder to hold onto with clarity. (This is actually a defense mechanism. More on this to come.)


It was called something else then, if I remember, now it’s Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. I have done the research, I have checked the symptoms, have studied the outline from Mayo Clinic Online that serves as a concise explanation of the after. (Everything about diagnosis is about the after. There is no prevention for this sort of thing, so you make do with coping. Coping, managing, quality of life. You will use these terms with liberal thrift for the first few years. Then some day you will find that you’ve stopped. It’s another year. What’s to say? You’ll arrange the flowers in the vase and bring the chicken out of the oven. The world, your world, on its tilt, spins on.)


I was writing about the symptoms. Mayo Clinic Online.


She’s described it as someone pouring gasoline on her flesh from head to toe and lighting a match while simultaneously taking a hammer to every one of her bones.


This is my mother.


This has been the past decade and some change of years. I think four.


This is a defense mechanism, only knowing so much. You’ll find it keeps you sane.



I was in sixth grade when I thought I heard God tell me that she would be healed on her birthday.


You’ll do this. You’ll look for important dates, for omens, for good signs. You’ll pick out likely intersections of Divine poetics and you’ll hedge bets around your hope.


And you’ll pray it out. You’ll pray out toward the date, because terminus is power. Definite end is easy to reach toward. Slouching toward conclusion, you can be a cripple the whole way knowing there is rest at the end.


But then it doesn’t come.


But then there is no terminus. There is no clarity.


There is a vague but profound feeling in you, in people you love, in people you trust, that healing is going to come in this life, but the details—the how, the when—are abstracts. And so where do you go, orphaned child, reaching out to all that is solid that has melted into air?


Defense mechanisms.


You try and know as little as possible. The less you know, the less you feel the potentiality of her pain. The less you are concerned with every bump in the road, every shake of a step.


You try and know as much as possible. The more you know, the more you feel the ability to control. The more you are concerned with every new medication and new treatment.


This is the first decade.


Afterward you have to do something else. You’ll go crazy otherwise.


And you stop praying.


I mean it.


You stop.


You can’t pray for this about this in this by this through this—you stop.


But you tell no one. This is a defense mechanism too: other people don’t understand. They experience the pain by proxy, the romanticised version they think tells the whole story. To tell them you don’t pray for the healing anymore is to tell them you have given up on God.


They can’t understand that you’ve stopped praying for the healing because it’s all that’s keeping you still believing in God.



The Psalmist becomes at once wonderful and terrible in these times. You hate his or her conviction that God is truly present in the suffering, but you need it more than anything else.


The psalms serve as your prayers for a handful of years. Maybe you say nothing of healing. Maybe you say nothing of asking, but you are, in a way, through those psalms, you’re getting at it.


When you’re putting the flowers in the vase and taking the chicken from the oven, it will be the psalms that keep you from shattering the glass and throwing the chicken on the ground. You won’t know that explicitly until later, but in retrospect you’ll see it, and, in a way that seems impossible, you’ll see Him.


And you’ll pray again, directly, and you’ll round out the words a little bit more boldly than the first time with a little more grace for the timeline.


Until it hurts too much again and it’ll be back to the psalms, to the not praying praying, and you’ll find that He can walk in that, too.


You and your tilted world—His tilted world—it keeps spinning right along.


Preston Yancey is earning his Master of Letters in Theology, Imagination, and the Arts from the St. Mary’s School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He runs on a diet of caffeine and God’s grace. His first two books, Tables in the Wilderness: Scripture and the Enchanted Creation and A Common Faith: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again, are under representation with Darrell Vesterfelt and being written now. He blogs about the intersection of faith and his daily life at SeePrestonBlog.







Over to you:

  • What defence mechanisms have you developed in the face of unanswered prayer or ongoing disappointment? Does reading the psalms help or hinder?

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17 Responses to Tilted world {guest post}

  1. AndrewF 8th January, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

    One of my few childhood memories is of the elders anointing my Dad with oil, and praying for healing. Another is of my Dad sitting my sister and I on his knee to tell us that he was going to die. But I don’t know how long between there was between those events, nor how long it was then until I hugged him for the last time, in the hospital, where he was on such strong pain-killers that he barely recognised us. Looking back, all I can think is that he must have been praying Phillipains 4:7, for himself and for us. I pray that for you too; may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

  2. HopefulLeigh 8th January, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    Oh, friend. I get this. Not on behalf of your mom’s circumstances but my own. My family has walked through loss and grief too many times to count and my prayers have taken on a vague silent quality. I no longer know what or how to pray when it comes to my loved ones or even painful circumstances in my own life. Just “Lord, have mercy” and “Holy Spirit, take over.” It’s enough for now. And yes, absolutely a defense mechanism. God bless the tools we use to stay sane and persevere.

  3. Janice 8th January, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

    ” They can’t understand that you’ve stopped praying for the healing because it’s all that’s keeping you still believing in God.”. That’s one of those lines I’ve been longing to hear without even knowing it. Yes, exactly. And my time frame only encompassed praying for a few months. But your post is the first time in years I’ve recieved words that describe the way I have felt. A bowing, stiffly and reluctantly but still a bow, to the otherness of God. The narrowing of my focus from everything i think I know of God to just clinging to the belif in his goodness. And knowing that just focussing on that took everything I had. There was nothing extra to invest into prayer.

    Beautifully written.

    • Tanya 10th January, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

      I thought of you when I read this post… Much love x

  4. Joy Lenton 8th January, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

    Thank you, Preston, for this deeply personal reflection. As an M.E, Fibro, Hypermobility Syndrome and Arthritis sufferer and the mother of two grown sons, your words resonated with me on many levels. The pain never leaves but nether does the longing to be healed. Yet the intensity waxes and wanes. There was a time when I ‘named and claimed’ with the best will in the world and with every expectation of prayer being answered soon (God had spoken that promise into my life) only to be met with many years and walls of silence. Last year was one of my worst physically but it also brought a degree of acceptance and peace not felt before. Not a quiet, shoulder shrugging resignation. This was a dark soul night wrestling with God over months and pillows wet with tears.
    Eventually I have come to see that my life has meaning and purpose even in this. In fact, what the enemy intended for harm has thrown me in greater dependence upon our Father God as I need His help and support each day. And He has and is teaching me so much, graced me richly with His lavish loving presence and caused me to be thankful to be in this situation. I can honestly say, while I sill desperately want to be well and many days are dark indeed, I am willing to stay this way if God can be glorified by the life I live through it. I also pray that my family and friends can see the light and life being wrought out in my life even if healing is delayed in this lifetime.

  5. Ahna 8th January, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Thank you for these words, Preston (and Tanya, for hosting). So honest, so true. It’s almost like a dance — the repulsion from God and prayer, where one steps purposefully away from the offending partner, and then the fleeting moments (perhaps, sometimes) where one is being dipped anyway (helplessly but a little beautifully despite the flailing) by the lead. If only the music would end there. But it doesn’t. On it goes, and so must the tired, tired feet.

    [I hesitate before posting because I don’t want to offend anyone by this imperfect analogy. It’s one that matches some of my own experience, and is not meant to be prescriptive for anyone else.]

  6. Anon 8th January, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    It breaks my heart to turn my thoughts to God and talk to him. It just hurts too much. As a defence mechanism to stop myself breaking down in tears, which I am too ill to do as the exertion of crying makes my health deteriorate, I have to constantly distract my thoughts, to not think of God or of my situation. To stop myself from making my health worse, I have to block off God from my mind. It’s just too much otherwise. So distraction and escaping into my imagination are what I have to do to keep myself going. Thank goodness for imagination!
    It wasn’t like this for the first few years of being ill. I prayed all the time and read the Bible lots. But there’s only so long you can do that for. I can no longer do either (pray or read). So yes, I completely understand what you mean. If it’s bad for you, Preston, just think how bad it must be for your Mum – a million times worse!

    • Tanya 8th January, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

      It breaks my heart to read this. And I understand it, I do. It’s not a measure of faith, or lack of it, it’s a measure of how to cope best with the situation you find yourself in.

      To be too ill to cry, for years and years, is a suffering that few people know or experience. I stand in awe of your perseverance, your tenacity, your ability to invent worlds for yourself, the constant discipline of focusing on other things. I think the situation you find yourself in is beyond crappy. And I think you are amazing.

      • Anon 11th January, 2013 at 10:49 am #

        Cautiously came back to this site wondering if anyone had replied to my comment, expecting to have been ignored or criticised or shot down. Not only pleasantly surprised but your depth of understanding and empathy for my situation is amazing. Your words to me are powerful and emotionally healing. ‘It’s a measure of how to cope best with the situation you find yourself in’ and ‘to be too ill to cry, for years and years, for years and years, is a suffering that few people know or experience’ were a particular balm to my heart. I’ve felt burned by other people who have suffered but not so intensely and for so long, who have dismissed me because they think that because they have suffered too in some way in their lives, that my suffering is the same as theirs and so try to impose their pat answers/clichés/trite responses on me. Christians do this especially and are keen to tell you ‘what they learnt from their suffering’ and think it can apply to all suffering. While I do believe that everyone has their own suffering and troubles to bear, the depths of extreme suffering are outside of their experience and so they have been dismissive and not truly understood my situation. So thank you, Tanya Marlow. Bless you for your kindness and courageous and powerful words. Thank you for understanding that my comment was coming from a place of hurt, so were careful with my feelings and empowered me instead of cutting me down. Thank you.

        • Tanya 14th January, 2013 at 6:16 pm #

          I’m SO glad you came back. And thank you for articulating all this so well. It’s important, and I think often it doesn’t get said – people don’t have the courage to explain the hurt. Thank you – and do drop by again sometime!

        • Janice 14th January, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

          Anon, I do hope you come back as well because Tanya is all about kindness and courage and powerful words and being careful with feelings. So are most of the comments that show up here. And there isn’t enough of that around. You deserve to have a part of it here, too.

          Your comment made me think in a new way of how much of a blessing our imagination is and how often, even in the midst of small suffering, my imagination has rescued me. And it’s making me think a bit about how much it can rescue us when the suffering becomes so much stronger.

          And I salute you for your bravery in posting such an honest comment in the first place.

  7. Mia 8th January, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    Dear Preston
    Like our dear friend, Tanya and your Mom, I suffer from Fm/Me as well and felt so comfortable reading your words. I relate to that your family doesn’t want to know to much about this illness as if it will cause them to feel even worse heartache on your behalf. As debilitating as this disease is, it has brought me so close to our Pappa God, that if I had to choose again I would choose the same road. I don’t ask for healing anymore. He hears very good and can heal me if it is His will. Yes, that saved my faith too.

    I am amazed how people can keep on nagging God for healing, but I have learned to ask Pappa to glorify His name in me and through this illness … and to commit my spirit I to His hands. That He does with pleasure!

    Thank you and dearest Tanya, this has spoken to my heart.

    Much love XX


  1. tilted world — today with tanya marlow | see preston blog - 8th January, 2013

    […] world — today with tanya marlow 8 January 2013 — Leave a comment Today, I am honoured to be sharing over with Tanya Marlow … After this long, you would think it would be easier to write about […]

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