Becoming Who Your Book Thinks You Are

When I was in grad school, I asked a fellow student to grab coffee. She was a few steps (and degrees) ahead of me, but we shared an alma mater and enough other similarities that I hoped maybe we’d become friends. At coffee, she told me about a book she was writing on happiness and hospitality. I was interested but also slightly baffled: she talked at length about the necessity for happiness and hospitality, but when I mentioned my research, she quickly dismissed it as unoriginal.

I finished my coffee and left. My only other specific interaction with this student was at a lecture when she commented on the number of biscuits I was having with my tea, not-so-subtly implying that it would be better to count calories.

I finished my tea and sat back down.

Sometime after graduation, I noticed that her book had been published. I’ve read bits and pieces and it’s good—really good! My initial enjoyment of her writing, though, was diminished by my memories of our few uncomfortable interactions. She writes beautifully about boundless hospitality and the freedom to enjoy life’s little pleasures—such as biscuits. In reality, though, my research and even my biscuit choices were deemed subpar, and my efforts at friendship were not returned.

I was struck by this irony, and then (as so often happens) I was immediately convicted.

Writing a book is hard. Putting coherent words on a page can be grueling. More significantly, writing is soul-piercing, heart-wrenching, life-altering work. To write a book that offers spiritual advice is to project an ideal. Authors of such books risk a great deal by sharing their work. Ultimately, they face two options upon their books’ publication: 1) admit that their books represent ideals that they, like their readers, are imperfectly pursuing or 2) be exposed as frauds, people who preach what they might not practice.

This is terrifying.

More than once, I’ve berated myself internally: “What right do you have to write a book on the fruit of the Spirit?”

Finally, a brave voice whispered back: “Maybe that’s the point.”

Maybe writing a book is meant to be humbling, to remind me of the irrefutable fact that I am not able to succeed—in life or faith or authorship—on my own. From this painful, lowly state, I can strive to achieve the virtues I present in my book, and to become the person my future readers will expect me to be. Writing a book should be an act of sanctification. It sends me to confession, keenly aware that, even if I finish this book, I can never to live up to it on my own—I need an Author far more perfect than me.

What a beautiful depiction of the Gospel: to realize that I am unworthy to write this book, but that I am called to write it anyway and to be sanctified by the process. My peer from grad school may be a different person now than when we knew each other, for she has endured the refining fire of authorship. Likewise, as I press on with my manuscript, I am not merely constructing an argument but deconstructing and reconstructing certain things within myself. As I struggled through my chapter on “peace,” I had to dismantel my pervading desire for ease and clarity, building contentment and thanksgiving in their place. As I write and revise, I am, I hope, becoming the type of person my book thinks I am.

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