Elkhart, Indiana (Mennonite Mission Network) – Linda Oyer – theologian, professor, spiritual director, pastor – has served in France through Mennonite Mission Network for nearly three decades. She has also spent much of her time writing books and articles on spirituality and theology from an Anabaptist perspective. Her most recent book, La souffrance, un chemin de vie? (Suffering: A Path of Life?), searches for God's presence in the midst of pain.
Oyer writes from first-person acquaintance with grief and loss, as well as from a depth of biblical knowledge. For five years, she struggled with chronic visual impairment due to ocular toxoplasmosis. She lost sight in one eye and experienced a significant decrease in vision in the other eye. This caused difficulties because her ministry requires constant reading and frequent travel on public transportation for lectures and conferences.
Oyer chose Janet Brooks Gerloff's painting, On the Way to Emmaus, for the cover of her book. The painting hangs in the Bienenberg Mennonite Study Center in Switzerland, one of the institutions in which Oyer teaches regularly. The image "followed" Oyer as her physical sight diminished.
She said the essence of the book began as a reflection on two realities co-existing in Gerloff's illustration of Luke 24. On the left, two figures stumble along in dark clothes, bowed heads and stooped shoulders, revealing the disciples' dashed hopes. Alongside them, walks the barely discernable, resurrected Christ.
"We humans, who are used to thinking in dualistic terms, tend to focus on only one of these realities," Oyer said. "Yet, we need to maintain these two co-existing realities together if we want to traverse a period of suffering in a transformative way."
Her latest book explores how to hold suffering and hope together, without denying one or the other. In an interview with Christ Seul (Only Christ), the French Mennonite Church's periodical, Oyer said that the Bible doesn't explain how Jesus' followers should reconcile acceptance of hard times with trust in God's deliverance.
"God's speech at the end of the book of Job would have been the ideal place [to show us how to balance suffering and hope]," Oyer said. "It is difficult for human beings to hold these paradoxical stances together without denying the reality of one or the other. This generates a lot of uncertainty and discomfort, because we don't know what life holds in store for us: healing or absence of healing, change for better or worse."
Oyer makes a distinction between resignation, which is a passive state of despair, and "fully living into one's less-than-desired situation."
"It is a matter of searching for, and living into, the 'new me' in circumstances that I have not chosen and cannot change," Oyer said. "This acceptance of reality is active. To seek to live with confidence, love, and hope makes us actors rather than just victims."
Oyer said she has been encouraged by responses to her book. Pastors and therapists have found it to be a useful tool in their ministries, especially as each chapter has a set of questions that help readers apply the content to their own life situations.
"A psychologist called and said she had devoured [the book], and that she had recommended it to several [of her clients]," Oyer said.
Oyer's books are only available in French. Order here.