The Wind That Destroys and Heals Interview with Stephen Broyles

Spring, 2003

The Wind That Destroys and Heals is your first book. What would you like the reader to know about you and this book?

Broyles: The book unfolds from a crisis of faith my family and I passed through. My wife died after four years of illness when our children were small. That raised terrible questions for me and made me ask, “Where is God in all this?”

I was teaching theology in college at the time, so you might think I’d know where God was. But I was as devastated and ill prepared as anyone else. How can you be ready for something like this?

So I went back to the sources—the Psalms, the Book of Job, the story of Jesus. These resources for faith were saying the same things they had always been saying. Now I was ready to listen.

Where is God when terrible things happen? He is at our side in the darkness. And he is in everything that moves us from despair to acceptance to hope. That’s the story I try to tell. And it can be the story of any of us as we go through difficult times and need to heal and recover.

One reviewer said your book could be placed on the shelf next to A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken and A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis. How is The Wind That Destroys and Heals like and unlike those books?

Broyles: All three were written out of the loss of a marriage partner. All have a Christian outlook. And all deal fairly and openly with the emotions. They are alike in those ways. But each has its own way of approach. In A Severe Mercy Sheldon Vanauken told of the love affair between himself and his wife, Davy. He described his book as “the spiritual autobiography of a love.” The Wind That Destroys and Heals is more like a spiritual autobiography of despair that became hope. In A Grief Observed, Lewis recorded his feelings of despair, fear, and rage when Joy died. In other words, it has the human dimension that is missing in his earlier book, The Problem of Pain, where he wrote as a scholar and logician. The Wind That Destroys and Heals tries to bring both dimensions together, the head and the heart in conversation with one another.

The title of your book is intriguing, The Wind That Destroys and Heals. Will you explain the meaning of the title?

Broyles: The image of the wind that destroys and heals comes from the Book of Job. In the beginning of the book, Job’s children are killed by a wind. At the end of the book, the wind is the place where Job meets God and so is able to go on. The wind is a symbol that life can be very painful, but life is also where we encounter God, and life is where we know joy.

In reading this book, readers will feel that they are walking right alongside you in your story. How were you able to communicate that feeling?

Broyles: I began keeping a journal at some point in the last two years of my wife’s illness. I took almost all the stories in the book from my journal. Those parts were written on the spot. I wrote them with no idea that they would ever go into a book. So they tend to be honest and truthful. If readers feel they are walking through these experiences with me, I think that’s the reason why. There might be another reason, too. At some time everyone feels disappointment and doubt and faith and hope. So you will really be walking through your own story, too.

Many times books on grief or difficult times try to give solutions or quick-fixes. The Wind That Destroys and Heals seems more like a guide to processing feelings spiritually. Is that the book you set out to write?

Broyles: Yes, it is, exactly. There were lots of books I decided not to write. I resolved very early not to write a book about the illness my wife died of. People’s problems are more than illness, and faith can speak to all of our problems. I resolved, too, not to try and hurry people over their feelings of loss or disappointment as if they were trivial and easy to get over. I wanted to write about faith, but not faith as a technique for feeling better fast. Biblical faith is a response to God that we can adopt in any season of our lives. In The Wind That Destroys and Heals, I have tried to show that we can express our feelings and process them honestly in the context of our faith.

I suppose I wrote the book I wish I had had when my family went through our pain and bewilderment. A book that admits the reality of our loss, affirms the legitimacy of our grief, and shows that God is trustworthy.

In different ways throughout your book you say that life is a mixture of sadness and joy. Why do believers have such a hard time developing that well rounded view?

Broyles: For most of us, life has its ups and downs. The downs hurt. The ups feel good. The downs raise a problem: why does God let this happen! The ups, apparently, don’t raise any problem at all. I think that’s why it’s hard to develop a well rounded view.

The reality is that in this present world, life is mixed. On any one day, something good can happen in the morning and something bad in the afternoon. What we have to learn is that God is just as present with us, and just as trustworthy, in the bad times as in the good.

God is even able to take this pattern of down and up and make it the story of redemption. It is the story of Christ. He went down into suffering and death and was raised up to the presence of God. When we embrace this story in our own lives, we find our way to God.

What would you tell people to do to help them move from hopeless grief to a better place emotionally?

Broyles: A friend said to me, “Don’t let anything take away your joy in Jesus.” That thought can help us keep our troubles in perspective.

Other things help, too:

Don’t numb the pain. You have to go ahead and feel all there is to feel.

Talk to friends and put your feelings into words. There is healing when you do that, so talk to people.

You can write your feelings down, too. Write your thoughts and feelings in a journal. Don’t hold anything back.

Slow down on the inside. Breathe in deep and let it out slow. Pay attention to the present moment. Find some small thing every day to admire and enjoy.

These are simple, commonsense things we can do. They help us work our way to a place where we can remember hurtful events in our past without feeling the intense pain we once felt. I don’t mean that our grief goes away. I don’t imagine it ever does go away. But other things come back in: peace, acceptance, hope, joy. We will be able to laugh again, and take pleasure in work and play, and think of happy memories, and step out into the future.