In her book When I Lay My Isaac Down: Unshakable Faith in Unthinkable Circumstances, Carol Kent describes the crisis of faith she went through when her only son was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Kent is in Christian ministry, and her son was a sort of golden boy (youth group, star student, Army ranger, etc) so his out-of-nowhere crime was even more devastating. Part memoir and part spiritual study, When I Lay My Isaac Down is geared toward helping Christians navigate through hard times, confront their idols, and maintain their trust in God when their faith is shaken.
Most people have times in life when God asks them to lay their Isaacs down (although our Isaacs are all different) and so I think this is a helpful book. However, I also thought it was an excellent reminder of how to minister to people who are hurting. I think sometimes the church doesn’t know what to do when people are in crisis which, when coupled with the tendency lots of people have to put on a game face at church, can result in problems being ignored or people falling through the cracks. The book is full of ways you can encourage and support hurting people.
I also really appreciated the fact that Kent did not sugarcoat suffering. At several points in my adult life I’ve had difficult circumstances, in some cases that lasted for months and months. At the time I felt like the guidance I got was “oh all things work for good, you know!” or insinuations that I wasn’t praying hard enough. In contrast, Kent is not afraid to say that God doesn’t always provide a rescue from our circumstances. People don’t always live happily ever after. But she describes concrete ways to be joyful in suffering and to grow spiritually even in adversity.
Although it sort of flies in the face of the dominant narrative of American Christianity (the shiny happy Christian idea again) I think it’s important for Christians to know how to handle difficulties in life and what it looks like to be a Christian in a terrible situation. For that reason, and because of the good insights into how to minister to others who are hurting, I think When I Lay My Isaac Down is an important book and I would recommend it.
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