Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is a friend from Redbud Writer’s Guild, and someone I’ve come to admire for her insightful prose and candor. I was really excited to chat with her about how she’s healing from hurt in the church, even when healing might not look sitcom-ready.
I was really saddened by a post that described how when you were in high school, well-meaning Christians told you that God would heal your father of a grave illness if you prayed. When your father died, you were sure that your lack of faith had gotten in the way of God’s healing.
Where are you now in working through that hurt and cynicism?
It’s been twenty years since he passed away, and it’s still very painful.
But over that time, God has shown me the goodness of his people—their incredible capacity for compassion and service. So the way in which I was hurt by Christians in the past has been balanced by new encounters and new experiences.
I still get really frustrated when I read, hear, or see things that people do that are far from the example of Christ. But I’m coming to recognize that the church is a mixed bag, made up of people who are both good and evil. We need to be honest about both of those sides. We need to celebrate the wonderful things that Christians do, and also call out the harmful things.
Has anything happened recently to give you optimism about church?
Recently our family has been going through a stressful time. For weeks now, our small group, our pastor, and others have come around us, prayed over us, given us encouragement, and asked us over to dinner.
It means a lot to have people go out of their way to encourage us and give us practical support for no other reason than love. It means so much to not be alone. It has reminded me anew of the richness of community in God.
You recently wrote a post about how you’ve understood and expressed anger—instead of trying to quash it, you’re trying to feel it and express it healthily.
Could you talk about how expressing anger relates to healing for you?
Expressing anger is a prerequisite for healing because we need to fully acknowledge what happened in order to heal. Healing is a non-starter if you can’t admit to yourself or a trusted person that you’re angry.
Anger is treacherous, though. We need to express it in a godly way, which is hard.
I’m always wondering how I can get to a healthier place with my anger, so it doesn’t define me and I can release it to God. I think only after we release our anger can we move on and really grow into maturity from the experience.
I hope this isn’t too personal of a question, but did you seek healing from the community that hurt you when your dad was dying?
I’ve written about only one aspect of what I experienced then. There’s more that happened that I’m not ready to share, but suffice it to say that it was an incredibly complicated and painful time.
To be honest, no, I’ve never directly addressed this with the people who hurt me. First, I was really young–only fourteen–when my dad died. These were all adults in my life.
Clearly, I would want to have kindly and graciously expressed how they hurt me. But it was an immigrant church. In traditional Chinese culture, you don’t have these kinds of conversations. You don’t talk openly about the hard and painful stuff.
Given the disparity in culture and age, speaking up would have created more hurt. I don’t think it would have been fruitful.
In addition, over time I’ve come to recognize that though what people said to me was tremendously hurtful, their words were intended as encouragement, support and love. They spoke out of what they knew, and what they knew of Scripture. They were trying to pass on their understanding to me.
I am in a place where I have mostly forgiven them. Even if what they said and did was misguided, it came from a place of love.
You talked about how writing has released you from perfectionism, people-pleasing, and achievement. What is it about creative work that undercuts perfectionism?
Perfectionism is all about limits and boundaries and very defined ways of doing things. When we hold ourselves to that standard in the creative process, it stunts us. If we think there’s only one right way to do things, then it gives us very little room to explore, try new things, or experiment.
As the person creating the work, I have to be kind to myself. I know that I’m not going to write the perfect article in one sitting. I redo a piece and redo it again.
Anything that’s really beautiful and wonderful has to undergo a significant refining process.
How has writing impacted your faith?
If I’m not forced to put something into words, it remains a messy emotional soup inside of me. I have the tendency to feel strong emotions without being able to articulate what is going on.
In writing—even in a simple blog post—we’re all telling a story. And every story needs to have resolution, closure, or movement in the main character.
Writing down my own stories has created that movement in me.
Without putting my emotions into words, I can stay stuck. When I put something down on paper, though, I think: This is what happened to me. What was God doing? What’s the bigger story here?
It helps me see the movement in my own life and in the world around me. Writing has given me a much clearer lens to see the way God works, even in the most painful moments–especially in those moments. God is always there.
Today, I see the redemptive work of God more clearly than before I started writing. My story isn’t over, and yet there are so many ways that God has taken brokenness and redeemed it and made it beautiful. He is re-saving me, over and over and over, towards whatever final act that he’s moving me towards.
Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is an award-winning writer, blogger, and editor who has found healing and hope through words. Her articles and short stories have been published in RELEVANT Magazine, Red Letter Christians, The Well, How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia, and Environment and Poverty Times, among others. She also contributes regularly to Asian American Women on Leadership and is managing editor of the blog Estuaries. Previously she worked as a nonprofit and social enterprise professional in the US and Asia; her heart remains with marginalized and vulnerable communities around the world. She holds a B.A. in communication and an M.A. in sociology from Stanford University.
Image credit: Atomicity