Jesus taught (teaches!) with short stories. Victor Hugo wrote a long story (over 1,400 original pages) illustrating the same grace Jesus spoke of. God used yet another medium to meet Laura in her Thin Place. You can read more from Laura on Facebook, Twitter and her blog, Rise and Converge. (You can share your Thin Place story via this form.)
The darkness in the crowded theater thickened around me as I watched Les Miserables on stage. I was a college sophomore, a straight A student, a young woman who berated herself for every nuance of the law that she broke—and the perfect anorexic.
With every meal I skipped, with every laxative swallowed, with every binge, the distance between me and God grew thicker until I saw only darkness. Revelations from God? That was for other people. God as the source of light and hope? Maybe for the super saint Christians at my college, but never for me. Grace? Forgiveness? Divine pardon? I didn’t deserve it.
I only deserved to die.
Other people told me I was too thin, but I didn’t believe their words. In fact, the clouds and fog in my head somehow twisted the words into an accusation: I caused them worry, my problems made their lives troublesome and thus I didn’t deserve help.
The darkness distorted the image in my mirror: I wasn’t thin. I had never been the skinniest person growing up, and I didn’t believe I could ever really become skinny.
A friend took me to see Les Miserables. From the moment the first note sounded, I was enthralled. More than enthralled; I found myself in the characters. Jean Valjean, Prisoner 24601—yes, I had been a prisoner, too. Fantine—I understood her shame. Young Cosette, wandering in the woods, seeking her castle on a cloud—I had felt, still felt, that loneliness.
And Javert—I understood him best of all. He was the man of law, obsessed with tracking down the elusive Prisoner 24601. Grace was anathema to him. So when Valjean had the chance to kill him but instead releases him, unconditionally forgiving him for the wrongs of the past, Javert despaired. The law abiding police officer doesn’t understand anything apart from the law.
As the darkness of my depression had grown through the years, I clung harder to what I could grasp, and that was the law. I had to be perfect. I had to keep every rule imposed by my family, Christian schools, church, and I piled other rules on top of the original ones, much like I layered sweaters and jackets over my shirts to keep warm. I couldn’t keep those laws perfectly enough, but I wouldn’t accept pardon when I failed, either.
On stage, Javert agonized. Grace had turned his world inside out and he could not accept it. “There is no way to go on,” he cried out, then flung himself into a river and committed suicide.
I shivered and wrapped my arms around me. My fingers touched my elbows, feeling the thin skin, the brittle bones, the chill as goose bumps prickled on my arms. I was thin.
The despair in Javert’s voice pulsed in my veins; I understood it, breathed it, ached from it. The light surrounding the dying man on stage ripped apart the clouds distorting truth within my mind: I am thin. I am Javert, unable to accept grace. I am killing myself.
The light on stage dimmed; blackness covered the audience once more. Yet the glimpse of light I had seen remained in my heart, and with it, terror: how could I drop my self-imposed laws and accept something as counter-intuitive as grace? But what would happen if I rejected it?
Within a few days, I voluntarily dropped out of college, returned home and began therapy.
I still wrestle with what I saw in that thin place. Sometimes I don’t want to see God’s grace; the clouds and darkness and legalistic boundaries are as comfortable and familiar as hunger pains. I shift between the belief that I don’t need forgiveness and the belief that I am beyond it. But the memory of that moment remains, and I know that God’s grace is there even when the darkness hides it.