One of my favorite quotes from Tolkien’s The Return of the King is spoken to Pippin in a moment of calm as war approaches the gates of Minas Tirith: “It is but the deep breath before the plunge.” Put on the lips of Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s wonderful adaptation, in the book the words are spoken by Beregond, the faithful guard who had befriended the hobbit. The words capture the “hold-your-breath” intensity of the scene.
In the life of an author of books there comes such a moment on the brink of a book’s release. The frantic rush to get words on the page, edits done, design-decisions landed, and final page proofs read (again), is past. The thing is out of your hands until of course it flies back to your hands as a finished product.
The book arrives in the mail. Elation. You like the feel of the book, the dream having become waking reality. The freebies sent by the publisher are distributed; friends and family celebrate. They assure you that your book will change the world (but will they really read it?). And now, now in this moment of the deep breath, you wait. You wait to see if anyone in the wider world will take up and hold this baby you have birthed and thrown out into the world, vulnerable; will anyone at all be drawn to it with affection? Will they share that affection with others (say, on Amazon, blessing your baby with 5 stars)? Surprisingly, in this moment of birth, which should be all joy and hope, the storm clouds of war loom on the horizon. For it is not the book that is vulnerable; it is you. The book, solid paper and ink, can last for years on dusty shelves in obscure used bookstores. You are flesh and blood and raw emotion.
The war is within. It is a war of numbers, for in the world of publishing books, numbers mean everything. Numbers mean that you truly have something to say, which is recognized as worth reading. Numbers mean money, dollar figures beyond the limits of your advance, paid out by the publisher in hope. Numbers mean the publisher was not a complete idiot for signing you up in the first place. Big numbers mean you rise in visibility in the broader world and get another book contract—so you can go through all the pain and stress and joy and hope again—and perhaps send your children to college. Little numbers mean your plunge has become a plummet off a cliff, a fall into continued obscurity.
So the Christian author is confronted with a spiritual challenge in this war, a clarion call to come over the ravine and face Goliath; for in the quiet of this moment before the plunge or plummet, a still small voice reminds you that this work cannot be summed up with numbers but rather has to do with individuals and ministry and integrity, has to do with gifts given and gifts opened with joy, and a different set of measurements altogether. Hopefully, you followed the Lord into the pages of this book, and the Lord is with you here in this moment of crossing the ravine, in the gibbering insecurity you feel. The angst of rising and falling rank on Amazon, of the number of twitter followers and blog posts read, must be crucified with Christ, must be resurrected in a clear-eyed, authentic living, day by day, moment by moment focused on the advancement of the Kingdom that lasts.
What then are the spiritual disciplines by which you can live in this moment?
First, go deep with God each day in the Word and in prayer, remembering who you are and who you are not and why you are doing what you are doing.
Second, in the activities related to your book, gaze at the Lord and refuse the incessant checking of the numbers to “see how we are doing.” Be clear on the difference between sales and success.
Third, remember that the only reason for the book is to advance the Kingdom in the lives of individuals and churches. Glory in the gospel and not in your own “good news” about your project.
Finally, live with integrity the things you have taught in your book, not getting so busy with the work that you destroy the work of God in your own life.
“It is but the deep breath before the plunge.” The only safe place to be on the brink of war is in a Mighty Fortress. Thankfully, we have such a retreat, a refuge from ourselves, a place of peace and perspective.