This is an open letter of gratitude to the staff and elders and people of Bethlehem Baptist Church at the end of my two-month writing leave. If writing books can be compared to having babies, there were two births on this leave. And, like a mother rejoices over her newborn children—and the end of labor—I rejoice over finishing these books.
There are five similarities between the gestation and birth of these books and the experience of pregnancy, labor, and delivery. I’ve stood by Noël through the births of our sons and have at least a little empathy for what she went through.
1. A drawn-out season of pregnancy—will the labor ever begin?
I compare this to the difficult process of conceptualizing the book. This feels like the most difficult stage for me. Later there will be labor pains. But this season is hard because nothing is clear. Everything seems like a muddle of disconnected ideas and documents. Nothing fits together yet. You stare at a mountain of notes and sermons and articles and journal entries and blogs and scraps of paper, and the thought of it ever coming together in a coherent book seems impossible. This is the most frustrating time. This is where prayer feels more necessary (it always is necessary) than any other time. Here is where desperation makes me feel: This may not really happen. I can’t see it yet.
I passed through two of these seasons. One, by God’s grace, gave rise to a conception of a book that tries to show how serious thinking serves passionate love for God. We are considering a title something like THINK: The Life of the Mind in the Pursuit of God. The conceptualization that became clear was that I would rivet my attention especially on the cross and the gospel, and how thinking functions in relation to this central revelation of the glory of God.
The other conception that became clear was that the second book, on racial and ethnic diversity and harmony, should also be tethered to the gospel. How does the gospel—the death of Jesus for our sins and his resurrection—make racial and ethnic diversity and harmony possible? The title we are working with has layers of meaning: BLOOD LINES: Race, Cross, and the Christian. Blood flows in our veins, creating lines defined by race, and blood flowed down from Christ creating a new line. Racial harmony, as we have often said, is mainly a blood issue, not mainly a social issue.
2. When the labor begins there is a rhythm—pushing on, pushing off.
One of the frustrations in the writing process is that once you have your conceptualization, the actual writing—pushing—is not constant. There are torrential moments when you burst a blood vessel in your face. And there are the moments in between when there is no impulse to push and nothing you can see clearly to push on. This makes one feel like he is not earning his keep. Looking back, I am deeply thankful for your prayers, because those seasons did not result in quitting but waiting, praying, thinking. Then the writing—the pushing—came again.
This is what most people think of as writing. In fact, the pregnancy is long, and the waiting in between pushes is much longer than the actual writing. One sits and stares at the screen more than he sees words appearing. But the pushing comes. And the more I can forget myself in those moments and be lost in the subject matter, the better. Being too self-conscious about style will get in the way of thinking clearly. One must be who one is. You can go back and clean it up in an hour or two. But for now the energy and the ideas are taking verbal shape in the mind, and the faster they can get on to the screen, the better.
4. Sibling similarities and—O my!—twins!
The two children have the same God-centered, Christian-Hedonistic DNA. They also bear the same grace-shaped shoulders, and mercy-moulded noses, and piercing Don’t-Waste-Your-Life eyes. That’s not surprising. They are brothers. But what was surprising was that the second birth turned out to be twins. I had one clear book in mind based on a dozen sermons I had done. When that child was born, I felt this strange stirring and said, “O my, there’s another baby in there, and the race book jumped from 150 to 300 pages. They really are one book, one baby. But the first one is a cluster of chapters called “Exposition of God’s Word” and the second one is a cluster of chapters called “Exposition of My World.”
5. We have dreams for our children.
I pray for these little ones. Lord, grow them up and propel them, as only you can do so that they make a difference. I, and my offspring, exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things (including thinking and race relations) for the joy of all peoples, through Jesus Christ. Lord, have mercy on this little family and use us beyond all proportion to our merit.
Thank you for giving me the time away to give birth.