IVP - Strangely Dim - What I'm Editing: The Easy Burden of Pleasing God

January 17, 2013

What I'm Editing: The Easy Burden of Pleasing God

By Dave

Next week we will send a PDF of Patty Kirk's The Easy Burden of Pleasing God (on my short list for favorite book of 2013--sorry, everyone else) to the printer. Six weeks from then we'll get it back as a book. Then, God willing, we'll start shipping it to readers, mostly via other booksellers.

That's all in the future. Today I'm simply taking my last look at it.

Easy Burden 1a.jpg

The last look is always a little angsty for me. What have I, the editor and primary interface for the author to date, forgotten to deal with? What new errors have entered the book since the look before this one? Is this book the best it could be? What will the reviewers say? What about the readers? What will the author think of the finished product? Of me?

Ah, the perils of people-pleasing. They can make what should be a celebration into an existential crisis.

In this case, thankfully, I feel pretty good. Patty Kirk is a great writer, and editing her (for the second time now; you can get her first book with IVP here) has been just a little bit like a master class for me. She's also a relatively unique persona in my network of author relationships. She's the only author I've edited who lives on a farm (some of my authors, frankly, give me the impression that they were born in a barn, but that's a different story), and her sensibilities reflect the farmer's life--something that for me evokes memories of my childhood, when I would play in the fields and occasionally assist in the chores at my grandparent's farm in northeastern Iowa. I've developed a great fondness for Patty as this book has made its way through our publishing process.

Moreover, I've developed a bit of a dependency on her thesis: that the work that God expects of us is nothing more and nothing less than to believe in Jesus, the One God Sent.

That's a burden, because any claim to godhood and messiahship is a totalizing claim on an adherent's life. Paradoxically, however, it's also a relief. As we've proven over millennia, we're not comfortable accepting simple belief as the whole work of faith. So we come up with burdens of our own devising, telling ourselves that they please God or somehow save us. And then we start judging ourselves and, worse, our neighbors by the quality and weight of our burdens. Every time we do that, Jesus suggests, we're missing the point; more than that, though, we're missing out on the rest that Jesus promises as a side effect of the burden he places on us.

Kirk demonstrates this insight into the gospel throughout the book, going so far as to reinterpret the ethical burden of faith in Christ not as human work but as the gift of a divine parent who knows us better than we know ourselves. For just one example, Kirk recounts a story of a conflict she had with a fellow teacher who "shared" (in the bureaucratic sense) equipment and facilities with her. When her best efforts to use the equipment well came into conflict with his own thoughts, the you-know-what hit the you-know-what:

He yelled at me as at a child, right in front of my students and his, and I went home that day angrier than I'd ever been at someone not related to me.

Coincidentally, I had been reading about anger in Scripture, hoping to convince my husband that anger was not sinful.

She had just read Matthew 5:21-22, however, which doesn't entirely subvert the argument that anger is not sinful but does complicate it quite a bit. Here is where Jesus associates anger, as it is practiced, with murder, going so far as to say that "anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment." Patty "detected the unmistakable trail of the Holy Spirit" and took on the burden inherent in the passage: not the burden of forgiveness, as we might expect, but one of confession.

The smile he had for the student or colleague he assumed would be opening his classroom door vanished when he looked up from his gradebook and saw me, and it took every ounce of who I am to force myself to express convincing remorse. I lied that I should have shared authority over the lab with him, should have consulted him before making changes that would affect his teaching. If I had it to do over again, I told him--if I had our entire acquaintance to do over again--I would have operated so differently.

The curious thing was, as soon as these words left my mouth, I actually felt them to be true. . . . I confessed to my innermost self--who knows such things anyway but likes confessions--that I'd felt as intruded upon by this man and his snooty high-schoolers as he must have felt by me and my ridiculous seventh-graders. Our distrust and hatred was mutual, our culpability in the conflict about equal.

My apology tipped the balance, though. Expressions of remorse tend to disarm an opponent, I have since learned. In any case, we forgave each other, on some level, immediately. We even hugged. . . .

Every new time I offer myself in this way, I think of my girls and how I feel when they reconcile after a fight, and I know that God is thrilled.

Imagine God thrilled, the way you're thrilled when your kids hug it out and stop hating each other. Imagine the bizarre physics of taking on the burden of confession only to feel the burden of a strained relationship fall off. Imagine a world in which everyone abandoned the various burdens of their own devisings, or the burdens laid on them by people who loved them but didn't know how to love well, and instead took up the burden of believing in a God whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, for whom in fact the believing in is the burden itself.

If you have trouble imagining that, read Patty's book when it drops.

***

Patty's book is one of the first in a new line we've launched here. IVP-Crescendo offers dedicated space to showcase women we should all be listening to, women whose insights into the faith and the human condition are worth simmering in for 180 pages or so. You can take a look at some of the other initial offerings in the line here.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at January 17, 2013 2:52 PM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a writer and copyeditor on the communications team for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. She likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a founder of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs occasionally at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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