Profound insight from a mystery novel
I must admit, though I search for the most literary of mystery novels, so that they’re not a complete waste of time, mysteries are probably the closest I come to a “guilty pleasure.” I don’t read them in order to stretch my literary mind; I read them because I like them. I also don’t expect to glean deeper understanding of myself, nor do I read them with my ear attuned to what God might be saying to me through them. Maybe, though, I should start.
I recently finished A Matter of Justice by Charles Todd. Other than The Murder Stone (which I couldn’t even really start, let alone finish — there were about twenty billion characters in it, and none of them were sympathetic), I have so very much enjoyed Todd’s fiction this year. Charles Todd is a mother-and-son writing team, and I’ve now read thirteen of their fifteen published books (not read: The Red Door, which is calling to me from the library’s hold shelf).
All of the Todds’ books are exceptionally clean (with text like, “Rutledge stepped into the passageway and swore under his breath” instead of actual swearing), good mysteries, focus on character development, and are set in post WWI England. Even though they’re squeaky clean, it would be my best guess that the authors are not Christians, with some recent dialogue between Rutledge and a rector mentioning that the main business of the rector’s job was something akin to trying to get his flock to be “good.”
There was a passage in A Matter of Justice, though, that I read and re-read, as the light dawned more and more brightly. It was at a point in the book where Rutledge was reflecting on a man and his wife. Each were afraid that the other had committed the murder, but neither wanted to believe that the other were capable. So, each worked to cover up any evidence that might point to the other, and each sought to take the blame, to save the spouse. In the meantime, neither actually spoke with the other, for fear of actually hearing a confession.
Here’s the passage (from the top of p. 203 in the 2009 hardcover edition):
Sometimes doubt was the deadliest of fears. It grew from nothing more than a niggling concern until it overwhelmed trust and shone a new light on small inconsistencies, white lies, honest mistakes, and human frailty. And as it distorted perspective, it could also distort the truth. Words taken out of context loomed terrifyingly large, and in the end, doubt could convince a loving husband or wife that their partner was capable of the unthinkable.
No, don’t worry for my marriage! 😀 This passage was incredibly revealing to me, in the light of a semi-recently failed friendship, one whose history and failure, until reading this, still rested uneasily in my heart, with not a small amount of attendant confusion.
In spite of multiple years of relationship, my friend continually mistrusted me. She questioned, criticized, and disapproved of virtually everything about me, from my parenting choices, how I communicated with my husband (or vice versa), the books I read, the music I listened to, my political beliefs and actions (or non-actions), how I spent my time, how I inquired about her life and how often, how I reciprocated (or not) gifts and cards. She repeatedly set up little “tests” for me, which I repeatedly failed, thus sealing my unworthiness, in her mind. She even doubted and questioned my pastor and his trustworthiness and Godliness (to me, not him), which was just about the last straw.
The thing that was a consternation to me is this: I am trustworthy. Am I perfect? Absolutely not! Will I fail? Certainly, at times. Do I have frailties and inconsistencies? Sadly, yes. And, I freely admit to NOT being the world’s most attentive friend. So, I don’t want anyone to read this as me saying, with blues guitar in the background, “She done me wrong! So wrong! And now, she’s gone, gone, gone…” I believe that, when relationships fail, that 99% of the time, there is mutual culpability, and I certainly had my share of missteps.
This passage got me nearer to understanding the why on her end. It wasn’t just “insecurity”, as others (including my husband and my other most trusted counselor) have suggested. My friend had a deep, overriding tendency to doubt. Then, like the passage stated, that doubt overwhelmed any ability she had to trust, and it cast all my frailties and honest mistakes (hopefully, no lies, even “white” ones!) into the most unfavorable light, distorted her perspective of me, and beset any truth of who I am, and what my motives, goals, thoughts, and so on, actually were. It made her think, time and again, that I was not only capable of the impossible, but culpable for it! It was as if I had done that thing, or thought that thing, or whatever — things I had never thought or done — but in her mind, it was so, and there was no convincing her otherwise.
And the root of all of that? Doubt. Deep, deep doubt.
Who could be friends with a person of such doubt?? Somebody, perhaps, but not an ISTJ who has a desperate need to be trusted.
When I ended the friendship, in short, I told her that whatever kind of friend she was looking for, I was clearly not it, and that it would be in the best interest of both of us to discontinue our relationship of five years.
But, in retrospect, I still feel like it was the right decision.
And, I dearly thank Charles Todd, Inspector Rutledge, and the Holy Spirit, for further insight into that sad chapter of my life, profound insight, really, which I greatly needed.