Inspired by her family history and her work in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Griese has woven a vivid, century-spanning tale which shows us how God sees both the bigger picture and the tiny details. She spoke to 20Twenty’s Neil Johnson about the truths behind her fiction, and the generational changes she’s witnessed in her own life.
Listen to the podcast of their conversation, or read on for some intriguing insights into god’s big picture thinking.
The school Griese’s children attended celebrated a Tradition Day, where students dressed up according to their family or cultural history. In her speech, the headmistress said: ‘All of you have come from different countries, from different backgrounds, but somewhere along the line, somebody prayed for you, and that’s why you’re here.’
‘I remember that really struck me,’ Griese said, ‘because I knew my great grandfather was a very strong Christian, and that he had been alive when I was born. And I knew that he would have prayed for me.’
At 70, Griese has had a chance to see God working out his plans over long periods, and she says she’s come to trust his timing. She has seen how the people God chooses to bring about his will on Earth usually emerge out of a complex web of influences going back decades, or sometimes even further.
Even if we think of someone like Billy Graham, who was such a gift to the world, that didn’t just come overnight. That would have been generations of people, and generations of prayer, that brought about that person.
This is where Gladiator comes in. ‘What we do in life echo’s through eternity,’ says Russell Crow’s General Maximus to his troops before they go into battle. To Griese, this quote conveys something about the way God works which many of us have forgotten. It shows how we can have an impact on the world which we could never have imagined.
‘We underestimate our authority,’ she said. ‘We underestimate what happens when we start to pray in the heavens, and with the angelic realm. And I really wanted to go there, because I really wanted to broaden people’s concept of how powerful their prayers are, and what incredible authority we have in the name of Jesus Christ.’
As a baby boomer, Griese grew up knowing that her life was part of a bigger picture. ‘I was aware that my father was in the second world war, my grandfather the first world war, the great depression they all went through, and the effect that had on our parents.’
Along with that awareness came understanding of the sacrifices her family had made, from her father’s and grandfather’s struggle with the impacts of war, to her parents’ commitment to their duties, her mother at home, and her father at work, sacrificing their time for their family and for the greater good.
Despite, or perhaps because of all the hardship that had come before, the post-war era offered people simple faith in a better future. ‘The churches were full, because people had a concept of a Creator, a God, after going through a war, and feeling that God was on our side.’
‘We’re part of the British empire, and we’re fighting for the good cause, fighting for freedom. And it was very clear-cut. And it’s become much less clear-cut, and there are so many alternative viewpoints. There’s so much to discourage people at the moment, whereas there was a lot to be optimistic about, and hopeful about, when I was growing up.’
Griese also believes people of her parents’ generation had a better understanding of how some things would take a long time to achieve. ‘The wheels of God grind slow but sure,’ she said, pointing out that some of the great churches of the past were built over many generations. Now we expect churches to be built within months.
God is working always over thousands of years. And he has the big picture always in mind. But at the same time, he’s totally aware of every little tiny detail of our lives, which I think is amazing.
Griese’s father was raised a catholic and became a staunch unionist. Her mother, a protestant, was raised on a farm, and was a member of the country party. Her sister became a left-wing atheist at a young age, while she herself never left the church.
Despite their disagreements, they were able to discuss politics and religion without anger. ‘I will never do anything to undermine your faith,’ her father once promised her. He kept his promise, and an open mind, and at 83, finally came to the Lord.
That acceptance of difference may have helped Griese to understand an instruction God gave her when she was writing her novel. When Neil Johnson asked her about the ‘goodies and baddies’ in her story, she said she couldn’t see things in such black and white terms. ‘I can see Christians who are very full of hate and judgment,’ she said, ‘and I see non-Christians that aren’t.’
God said to me, I want you to just love all of the characters. There’s no bad character, there’s no good character. They’re just all people.
‘I didn’t write about one that was the baddy, that was going to hurt everybody, because the evil influences were coming from the eternal dimension, and just loved all the people, who were all in the process of understanding and living their lives, and just trying to figure out what life’s about, and where they’ve come from, and how the prayers were being answered on behalf of those people.’
Griese also took inspiration from her career as a therapist. She explained that the discipline of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy she works in is quite compatible with Christianity. Both ideologies agree that people are transformed by the renewing of their minds.
‘The beliefs that we come to as a result of the things we’ve experienced influence our behaviour,’ she said. ‘Everybody is unique. Two people with the same situation will respond completely differently to that situation, and come to different beliefs as a result of it, and the belief that we come to at the time will influence our behaviour.’
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is the process of identifying the beliefs that lead a patient to behave in a way that makes them unhappy. Changing those beliefs will empower them to change their own behaviour. Understanding this process equipped Griese to empathise with all the characters in her story, and how they were each motivated by their personal experiences.
Griese’s description of her experience proves her point. The influence of her non-judgmental family, her work as a therapist, and her observations of God’s work in the long-term were the perfect preparation for her to tell a story which depicts the way God can influence a family, over generations, to prepare a Prophet who will bring about amazing change on His behalf.
Understanding God’s big picture thinking can help you, in difficult times, to realise that the struggles you’re going through now are part of something bigger. The final piece of inspiration for A Cross in Time came in a revelation from her daughter. When Griese was grappling with trauma, her daughter told her that ‘faith is believing God is good.’
‘It sounds very simple,’ she said, ‘but that’s very deep. God is good. God does love us. And he has our best intentions at heart, and he is planning for us a future and a hope.’
‘Sometimes, things are so black that you can’t even see anything, and you’re literally just taking another step, and another step. But knowing that God is there with you, even if you can’t feel him, even if there’s no concept of it in your life, God is good, and he doesn’t change. And there does come an end, and he does bring you through it.’
A Cross in Time by Yvonne Griese is available to buy now as an EBook or paperback. Listen to the podcast of her 20Twenty interview for more about generational change, the value of fellowship, and how to be loving and non-judgmental toward those who don’t follow a Christian lifestyle.