One of the taglines for my book is, “There’s more than one way to be haunted.” It’s meant to pique interest, so I’ve done a bit of thinking about what that means. Someone might want to engage on that point, after all. What does it mean, exactly, to be haunted?
I’ve learned that it’s a loaded word.
At a recent book event, I was describing the premise to a woman who stopped by my table, and she broke in to tell me about her own ghostly encounters.
I have a friend who advises folks to have a “not-shocked face” for those encounters when someone gets uncomfortably revealing. And since “I wrote about a ghost story but I don’t believe yours” didn’t seem like a very good thing to say, I listened, trying hard to keep my not-shocked face steady.
After ten minutes, or perhaps less, of highly animated talk, she lost a bit of energy, revealed some of her personal circumstances, and started to weep. I didn’t have a tissue to give her. I didn’t have anything I could give her. She hurried away, maybe embarrassed at the torrent of words she’d laid out, maybe disappointed that my not-shocked face wasn’t more, well, shocked.
I’d felt the nudge to tell her that I would pray for her, but I didn’t speak it aloud. I wish I had. I wish I had done quite a few things differently in that conversation, although I don’t have a clear mental picture of what would have been better. Phrases from the book of James were in my mind…
If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” -James 2:15-16
I didn’t even do that much, though I did pray for her. I wonder where she is while I write these words.
If “ghosts” are the intangibles hanging around after the substance has passed away, then some of their names are easy to guess . . .
. . . regret . . .
. . . doubt . . .
. . . memories . . .
. . . grief . . .
. . . bad thoughts . . .
. . . embarrassment (and its cousin, shame) . . .
. . . betrayal . . .
. . . missed opportunities . . .
And from that angle, it seems my little slogan is true. There’s more than one way to be haunted. (For the record, I don’t believe in actual haunted houses. I never met a house that minded so much.)
Is it fair to call these things “thorns in the flesh,” or is that reaching? I don’t know. But I do know the grace of God is large enough to cover them, regardless of what you call them.
Concerning this [thorn in the flesh] I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. -2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (bracketed phrase added for clarity)
For the woman who let part of her heart gush out with her stories, and for me still wishing I’d done something better, there is grace. We all live with certain aches, but we’re not asked to bear them alone.