Sarah Bessey is the author of Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith and the best-selling book Jesus Feminist. She is an award-winning blogger and writer who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia, with her husband and their four tinies. You can find her online at SarahBessey.com or on Twitter at @sarahbessey.
Every once in awhile I “meet” a refreshing human online who makes a huge difference in my world. For me, that human is Sarah Bessey. This past year, I have consumed Sarah’s words on her blog and have read both of her books.
I had the honor of interviewing her over her first book, Jesus Feminist (Find Here) a while back, and now I have the honor of interviewing her over her newest book, Out of Sorts. Sarah also told me that I could ask her a few practical blogging questions, so you won’t want to miss this interview new bloggers and wannabe authors!
Let’s Talk Your New Book, Out of Sorts.
1. Oh Sarah, how I love you and I know I am not alone in this. Women (and men for that matter) are looking up to from all over the world. In my opinion, your secret ingredient as a person and as a writer is “rawness.” In the Church we grew up in (the evangelical church), I feel like “rawness” was discouraged.So, the women who preferred their “cookie dough” baked & perfectly round did just fine; but the women like myself, who preferred to break some of the silly rules and eat the cookie dough raw (egg and all), sort of got turned off by the Church as adults. In Out of Sorts (and on your blog), you are refreshingly honest for a Christian. Have you always been that way as a person or have you learned to be more open through the years?
Well, thank you so much, Jory! And the answer is no, I haven’t always been that way. My nature or inclination, I was much more of a people pleaser, an approval addict. I was also very fragmented, I felt. Like I was one person at church and another person at school or work and another at home. Blogging is a great cure for being a people pleaser – there’s always someone who disagrees, right? 🙂
But it was only through Christ that I found the healing for that. As I followed Jesus, I became less fragmented. Jesus brought a seamlessness to my life, removing all of my masks and my inauthenticity and even my need to be “liked.” I became the same person online, offline, everywhere. I remember Nadia Bolz-Weber once saying that she wanted to write out of a healed scar, not out of an oozing wound. And that’s how I approach authenticity/vulnerability as a writer. I wait until that wound is healed, until I’ve wrestled the power out of it and submitted it to Christ, until it doesn’t sting anymore before I bring it out for anyone else to see. I’m not seeking healing anywhere else anymore.
2. In the book you talk about how you love to pray and how it comes naturally to you. I am the opposite. I love to sing to God and “worship” (I am a happy clappy charismatic too), but I honestly don’t know how to pray all that good anymore (maybe I never have). I think a lot of people struggle with prayer. We don’t want to treat God like Santa Claus and give Him our “want list,” but we also know God cares about the desires of our hearts.
On the other hand, we are told to pray for God’s Will, so why pray for what we want to happen at all? Yet, if all we say each day is “God, let your will be done and meet needs,” then we won’t have much of a prayer life. I struggle with prayer. I do. For me and others reading who know the Lord’s prayer and are still confused, how would you instruct us on how to pray?
I think prayer changed for me when it became bigger. If prayer was restricted to just the old steps or checklists that I was once handed, I’d see it as a phone call I had to make out of obligation! Instead, a pastor of ours once told me that the same part of us that worries is the part of us that prays. And I don’t know about anyone else but I can worry without ceasing!So learning to tap into that part of my soul or my mind, that undercurrent of conversation, was like finding a whole life waiting for me. Now I pray in so many ways – in that current of my life, in words, in deeds, in work, in my life. It’s air to me now, friendship, conversation. Sometimes it’s simply companionable silence and abiding for seasons, too. I think we’ve had too narrow of a definition of prayer perhaps and so we forget that this is actually our first language.
3. You talk about how Christianity is sorting through its religion as the Universal Church, so things look pretty “messy” right now. You are so right. My favorite quote in the whole book is this, “We are dying, perhaps, but even death is part of our story: it comes right before resurrection. It’s already happening globally – on the margins and among the disenfranchised, in the outsiders and the grass roots.
I’m sure the great bastions of power and leadership within the Church are feeling the strain of the shift.” I started blogging seriously just about a year ago and I too have felt things shifting in the Church and people seem to be freaking out. How have you been able to maintain peace in not knowing all the right answers, when I am sure there has been a lot of pressure from others to know what you think on all the hot topics?
Well, I find a lot of comfort in the idea that the Church has survived so far and so I’m pretty sure none of us can wreck it now! It survived all the crap we’ve done and been over the millenia and so it will survive and be born afresh yet again. In the book, I talk about Phyllis Tickle’s rummage sale idea but she taught we were moving into the Age of Spirit in another book of hers and I haven’t been able to shake that image out of my mind. The Spirit is moving.
It’s exciting but change is always disorienting. I feel that peace is a good barometer for me. If I find myself in a place of fear and worry or anger, feeling like it’s my “job” to “defend” then I’ve gotten off track. Jesus doesn’t need me to defend him. He needs me to walk with him and follow him out of love – there is no fear in love. Besides the point is never to have all the right answers: the point is to know and love God. I find the bigger indicator of our walk with God is how we embody and demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – than it is about a checklist of proper opinions. If we start with Jesus, with abiding in his love, we might be surprised where we are lead but there is no fear there.
4. While I was reading the book, I kept envisioning myself walking towards the cross in complete peace, even with the full knowing that the cross is painful, because there is resurrected life on the other side of the pain. You encourage us to “lean into the pain” because when we “lean into the pain,” things are less painful. I have never had a baby, so I don’t fully understand the analogy of having babies. Is there another example you can give that can help me (and others) understand how we lean into the pain and fully let go of whatever is holding us back from our most fulfilling life in Christ?
Well, it’s a simply metaphor, for sure. But at the core, it’s about the idea that we often fight the very thing that is meant to free us. We pretend and ignore and resist instead of leaning into the healing and into the release. There are many places in our lives where we see the same idea. For instance, Jesus talks about how the seed must be planted, it must be placed into the darkness and the dirt in order to “die” before it can grow and live fully and bear fruit. Leaning into the pain is a death of sorts; we allow ourselves to go into the dirt and the darkness in order to rise and fulfill our very purpose.
5. You write about how you and your husband, Brian, had to overcome your “evangelical hero complexes.” I related so much, especially to your husband’s struggle to let go of “full time ministry.” I too was called into “full time ministry” at a very young age and was pretty sure I was going to be the next Joyce Meyer (hehe). I did all the right things, went to seminary and kept focus on being a “world changer,” only to find myself teaching kids (something I never felt called or wanted to do).
I think for many years, I felt like I was not enough because I was not in full-time ministry or doing what I thought I was called to do. Maybe I still do sometimes. I think I have always pictured myself as a preacher, and I think I will still get to do that, but today I find myself as a small-time blogger, not making a paycheck and without a title. Although I love it, it feels small. What is your best advice to those of us who feel like we are not enough today in whatever work we have found ourselves doing?
Yeah, it’s a real thing! I think it’s so difficult to reconcile because it’s so much more than your “job” or career, it’s really a fundamental question of our identity. And we found our identities for too long in the hero thing instead of in Christ. It’s also about untangling our false demarcations between “sacred ” and “secular,” about what is good work and what is holy work, about what is worthwhile and even letting go of the celebrity fixation. So a lot of relearning and reorienting – which can be painful, I know!
My best advice is to be faithful where you are. That sounds ridiculous but it’s true. God is not exclusively located on the stage or in the book deals or in the big influence. God is hiding in plain sight in your right now life. My greatest seasons of ministry and transformation happened in those places.
Out of Sorts has been refreshing to my soul. I will be honest, I don’t read whole books much these days because serious blogging demands that I skim a bit of everything, but I was captivated by every page of this book. This would make a great Christmas gift for a loved one or for oneself. I recommend it wholeheartedly!
Link to the book: www.sarahbessey.com/out-of-
Ok Sarah, Let’s Talk Blogging!
1. It seems that one important aspect of blogging is connecting with other bloggers, authors, and Christian leaders. You have done this well. Rachel Held Evans forwarded your first book. Jen Hatmaker forwarded your second book. Even Christine Caine endorsed your second book. How did you connect with these female leaders and what advice can you give new bloggers in networking?
Oh, it’s never been about networking for me. Honestly, I feel kind of gross about that! That’s a big part of my own story as a writer actually because my background is in marketing and strategic development. But when it came to getting published, it never “worked” because it was inauthentic. It wasn’t until I laid down my ambitions, until I simply began to write in order to meet with God like an altar, that people began to read my stuff. And then I found it grew into friendships.
It’s not a good seven-step for aspiring writers, I know, maybe even frustrating to hear. But for me, influence was never and is never the point. And all of those relationships are just that – relationships. They are actual real friendships born organically out of conversations and mutual friends and fun and shared passions.
So I guess my advice is to write as you feel led by the Spirit and to make friends well. Don’t seek people out to use them or to leverage them but rather to love them and to celebrate them. Really, I don’t want to establish my own little “kingdom” or platform – I want to tell the story of Jesus, I want to embody a life of reconciliation and love and truth as I’ve found it in Christ, I want to build up the Church, I want to see people set free, and we’re all partners in that.
2. Do you attend and/or recommend any specific writing or Christian leadership conferences in which bloggers can connect with other writers/leaders and also sharpen their skills?
I don’t actually. I never could afford it! I also couldn’t afford the time with a young and busy family. Instead, I’ve found a good replacement in online writing groups. I have two groups that are very dear to me now because we’ve been together for a long time. We meet in a FB group but now we get together once a year as life permits and we talk on the phone, that sort of thing.
We do everything from write together and support each other’s work to sharpen each other, challenge each other, that sort of thing. It’s been so key to my life personally and professionally. I am a better woman and a better writer and a better follower of Jesus because of them.
So I’d recommend that you build your tribe. Find a few people in the same stage of writing life or ministry life and make your relationships together a priority. Keep showing up for each other and you’ll be surprised by what happens. Some groups I know do each other’s editing, help title books, help with pitch crafting, all the stuff. I like the idea of actually going to places and there’s no substitute for face-to-face friendship but for anyone who is limited by time or money or accessibility, there isn’t a limit on what you can build.
3. What year did you begin your blog and how long did it take before you grew a large following? How often do you recommend posting each week the first couple years? Can you give us your best practical advice in growing an “award winning blog?”
I began blogging in 2004 but it wasn’t public until 2005. So I’ve been doing this a long time in Internet years! No one read it for the first 7 years. Here’s a post I wrote about all of that: http://sarahbessey.com/
4. You have a pretty fabulous following on both Twitter and Facebook. Social media seems to be very important in “blogging world.” Can you share with us your best advice on growing a faithful following on social media?
Well, I was an early adopter and the internet felt a lot smaller then. In the beginning the blogging community was very comment driven because social media wasn’t really happening yet. So when Twitter and FB came along, it was an extension of an already-in-place conversation with people you felt you kind of knew.
I haven’t really pursued any big strategy here but no matter how many followers I have or don’t have, I try to remember that it’s people. I try my best to treat it like a conversation and not a megaphone. Sure, I promote my own stuff but really I try to connect with my readers and with my friends, I try to answer people who reach out personally and participate in the larger conversations that aren’t centred on my own self.
5. Lastly, lot’s of female bloggers have stories to tell and opinions to give, but they are afraid of the criticism they will receive from both loved ones and strangers. Many of them have blogs already, but are too fearful to write what they really want to write. What is your advice to these women and how did you handle criticism when you were first being discovered and writing about some pretty controversial topics in the Church?
Criticism comes with having an opinion. I have received my fair share of criticism. There are a few ways I approach it to keep myself healthy and teachable. First of all, I sort out the difference between critics and haters. A hater is someone who just isn’t interested in conversation but blindly hates everything I do or say and is generally an ass.
That happens, for sure, and it’s unpleasant but it doesn’t dominate my peace by any stretch. I get consigned as a heretic plenty, you get used to it. There’s also people who are abusive online and don’t put up with that at all: block block block, report report report.
But then there are legit critics and I have learned a lot from my critics. I never want to be immune to be being taught or corrected. Sometimes that is a bigger gift than encouragement! I find the idea of consigning everyone who disagrees me with me or pushes back on something I wrote as a hater to be dehumanizing and prideful.
Sometimes I have had to change my opinions or approaches based on thoughtful pushback – those aren’t haters, those are refiners. Criticism is part of the package of making anything worthwhile but the whole package includes so much more and it’s worth it. it’s worth it every time.
Sarah, thank you so much for your time, your voice, and your heart for Jesus!
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