So, I wrote a book.
Dear reader, I wrote a book!
I’m honestly still getting used to that idea. It’s been out for a little over a month now. The feedback is flooding in. I tried to go off of social media for about a month, as I just wanted to be a hobbit for awhile. April and May were full of travel and speaking, and podcast interviews, and I just needed to burrow for a bit afterwards.
I learned through writing in this space, on my own little “blog” (a word I’ve always hated), that while I can write about my life, eventually I come to the end of myself. Pretty soon it’s not about me, but it’s about you, and what we have in common. It becomes what resonates in us, and reading things that evokes the collective response “amen.”
I have a little office in my church now, where my pastors generously let me write. I come here once a week, and put in a deep work day. I often start the day out deep in study, and then the afternoon either writing articles, or preparing for my next speaking events. I have a keychain on my office key with a quote from Ernest Hemingway:
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
Writing is no longer something I do to keep up the craft I learned when I was in college. It’s no longer just a stress reliever, or way to process my thoughts. Somewhere along the way, writing became a ministry to others–a way to point people to Christ, which is, to point people to rest and peace.
I wrote a book, one sentence at a time–the truest sentences I knew how to write.
How A Book is Born
It took awhile to find the right publisher. At first, I started looking for either an agent or an acquisitions editor at a Christian publishing house that would want a book on my Gospel Mentoring program. One acquisitions editor loved it, and brought it to her publishing board, who thought it was a good book, but not a good first book by a no-name author. She wrote me the most encouraging rejection letter I ever received, and we emailed back and forth some ideas. Ultimately, her publisher decided not to go with me.
One of the suggestions that she said was that my Gospel Mentoring book idea was too specific. She wanted me to take that idea, and zoom out. I didn’t know how to do that, but I took all my notes from Gospel Mentoring, and laid them out on the floor. Then I took out all my old journals, leading up to Gospel Mentoring, and laid them out on the floor too. Then I started highlighting and underlining, and tried to find a thread throughout all of what God had been teaching me.
Zooming out ended up being me asking one question of myself. “When I am meeting with a younger woman, what is it that I want her to know? What is it that I want to teach her?” The new book idea wasn’t looking at the specifics of how to teach and form mentoring relationships, but what to teach.
It ended up being a book about the Christian life. Now that we are saved–now what?
I spent another full year looking for a publisher for this new book idea: Ragged: Spiritual Disciplines for the Spiritually Exhausted. I drove long distances as well as flew to different Christian writing conferences to meet face to face meetings with agents and editors. Over and over again, I heard that they liked the idea of the book, but they wanted to change a few little things: basically just my thesis.
My thesis of the book is that we need to look to Christ as the author and perfecter of our faith. It’s not about getting our act together, it’s about learning to depend on Christ, and his sufficiency. While systems and checklists aren’t bad, the point is to depend on the Spirit to grow our faith, not a method. Legalism in this area of our life is equally as bad as apathy. The answer isn’t one or the other. It’s Christ.
“I could sell this book if you gave a really specific method.” I kept hearing. “What you need for me to sign on this book is a fresh new twist on a Bible reading plan.”
“No one wants to read a book like this. Instead of giving them a solution to the struggle to have devotions, it normalizes the struggle. That’s not hopeful.”
In one conversation, as I was trying to explain that the gospel isn’t just for justification, it’s for our sanctification too. The reply I got was “the gospel doesn’t sell. If you added your unique proven method for spiritual disciplines…”
I began to think there wasn’t a place for me in Christian publishing. All of a sudden, I was feeling “too Lutheran” and maybe at the same time “not Lutheran enough” for other publishers. I was in no mans land. The larger Christian publishers who didn’t care whether or not I was Lutheran wanted me to get about 5,000 new readers within 6 months to sign me. They liked the book. I just wasn’t well known enough.
That whole time, my husband kept saying “submit it to 1517. They love you over there.” I had been writing regularly for 1517’s website. At the time, they had just signed me to speak at one of their events. I resisted, mostly because they were smaller than other publishers, and I was worried they wouldn’t have the support in marketing I was looking for in a publisher. I knew we saw eye to eye on my thesis of the book.
Finally, I listened to my husband, and sent in my book proposal, which they enthusiastically accepted. We signed a contract, and then they blew me away with their support. Overwhelmed would be an understatement.
I mean seriously. Look at this book trailer they made for me:
They sent a crew out to the farm in JANUARY and we filmed it. They have continued to let me speak with them, and they even sponsor a podcast with my friend Katie. I had never felt so supported as a writer.
Then they sent some speakers to my church, and held a 1 day conference, where we talked about the Christian life, and celebrated the book launch together.
You can see my talk at that conference here:
Since the book was released, I keep getting emails. One woman told me she prays all the time now, because she understands her freedom to do so better. One pastor said that he loves that it’s totally Lutheran without being overtly Lutheran. One reader said it changed her entire perspective on her relationship with the Lord. One reader said she understands the purpose of the church in a whole new light. One pastor said he’s going to do a sermon series on spiritual disciplines this fall, and is getting my book for his congregation to study throughout the week.
Many have told me they cried through the first couple of chapters. This is the most common feedback I’ve gotten and honestly it took me by surprise. I don’t cry when I read it. I wanted those first words the be curated just right. I read those pages through the lens of “is this verb strong enough?” or “is this adverb necessary?” or “does this sentence carry its weight?” I had edited so much that I saw the book through the matrix of grammar structure. I chiseled away any words that didn’t point to what Christ has done. I wanted no fluff. I wanted the depth of the gospel poured out on our lives.
I wasn’t expecting people to cry their way through it.
“I’m running out of ink as I’m underlining”
“I finished it, and then started it again, because I wasn’t ready for it to be done.”
“I can’t remember the last time I marked up a book so much.”
“After I read it, I bought 3 copies to give away. After I read it a second time, I bought 5 more to give away.”
Men and women alike are picking up the book, marking it up (the best compliment) and telling me the words were for them.
These are the emails and private messages that I’ve been getting. It’s humbling. It’s why I turned hobbit for awhile. I wanted to hide in my garden, harvesting strawberries and making pie. I wanted to take a break from podcast interviews and the month off of speaking and just paint a room in the house, and read some books. I love that it is blessing people–it was the goal–to love others well through this book. It’s just I want you to see Jesus in this book, not me. And I couldn’t show you Jesus without sharing what he did in me, and what he still does in me. And in doing so, I felt so–exposed. If you’re wondering why I’ve been quiet for awhile, this is why. I like getting the messages and reviews. It helps me remember that it was worth it.
For those who haven’t bought the book yet, here is the back of it:
When we mistake spiritual disciplines for to-dos, time slots on our schedule, or Instagram-able moments, we miss the benefits of Christ’s continual and constant work for us. In Ragged, Gretchen Ronnevik aims to reclaim spiritual disciplines as good gifts given by our good Father instead of heavy burdens of performance carried by the Christian.
Only when we recognize our failure to maintain God’s commands do we also realize the benefit of our dependence on his promises. Gretchen uses the distinction of law and gospel, presented throughout Scripture, to guide readers through spiritual disciplines including prayer, meditation, Scripture reading, and discipleship among others.
The good news is that spiritual disciplines have less to do with what we bring before God and more about who Christ is for us, not only as the author but also as the perfector of our faith.
The table of contents:
Chapter 1: God Disciplines Those He Loves
Chapter 2: Christ is Always the Way
Chapter 3: Dependence Not Achievement
Chapter 4: Enough
Chapter 5: Authority, Privilege, and Submission
Chapter 6: Freedom through Dependence
Chapter 7: Rest
Chapter 8: Bible Reading
Chapter 9: Prayer
Chapter 10: Meditation
Chapter 11: Fasting
Chapter 12: Confession
Chapter 13: Generosity
Chapter 14: Lament
Chapter 15: Discipleship