“Sometimes what we see as rejection is, in truth, sacrificial love.”
An interview with bestselling author Francine Rivers, who shares her heart for God and love for her readers. (Appeared originally in the June 2014 issue of Woman Alive.)
I thought being born into a Christian family and raised in the faith made me a Christian. It didn’t. Each person makes their own choice, and it took me years to surrender to Jesus – not until after I’d gone through college, married, had children and started a writing career. My husband Rick and I went to church, but came away dissatisfied and knowing there must be something more. We both had personal issues that brought us close to divorce several times. As a child, I’d asked Jesus to be my Savior. What I didn’t understand is I needed to surrender my life to Him and allow Him to be Lord of my life as well.
Studying the Bible changed our lives. Our hearts and minds opened to Christ. Rick and I both accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord and were baptized in May 1986. Since then, God has been changing our lives from the inside out. The Lord also healed our marriage – we recently celebrated our forty-fourth wedding anniversary.
From the time I was a child, I knew I would be a writer. On a dare from Rick, I decided to write a combination of my favourite genres and wrote a “western-gothic-romance.” Romance novels were booming in the general market, publishers were on the look-out for new writers. My first manuscript sold and was published. I was hooked! I followed with eight or nine more of what I call my B.C. (before Christ) books. They are all now out of print, are never to be reprinted, and are not recommended.
When I turned my life over to Jesus, I couldn’t write for three years. I tried, but nothing worked. I struggled against God because writing was my “identity.” It took that period of suffering writer’s block to bring me to my senses. God was trying to open my eyes to how writing had become an idol in my life. It was the place I ran to escape, the one area of my life where I thought I was in complete control. My priorities were all wrong and needed to be put right. God first, husband and children second and third, work. My love for writing and reading novels waned and my passion for reading and studying God’s Word grew.
Every year I go on a “pray, plot and play” retreat. There are eleven of us, all professional writers, one of whom is retired, in her nineties and no longer able to make the trip to Idaho. She is a mighty prayer warrior who served with her husband as a missionary in India. She remains an inspiration to us all. Our group always starts our daily session with a devotional presented by one of the members. We sing hymns. I can carry a tune, but three of our ladies have beautiful voices and could go on the road as professionals. I love to listen to the harmony; it’s a sweet taste of heaven. Our roundtable discussions and “twenty-question” plotting sessions have produced numerous published novels. We laugh a lot; cry together. We’re in constant contact through the year and support and encourage one another. All of us have faced or are facing major challenges: cancer, death of a spouse, children struggling with addictions, contracts and publishers, adopting children, moving from one state to another, caring for aging parents, writer’s block, loss of job, moving into a new publishing arena (online direct). We pray and pull together. We encourage and build up one another’s faith through whatever trials this life throws at us. And we keep writing stories to glorify our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
A few years back, while in a writing competition, I saw the effect of the awards on a dear friend. She was happy I had received the award, but she longed for affirmation for her work. This writer had published far more novels than I had and is a wonderful writer. Seeing how hurt she was crushed me. Hence, I decided not to compete again. Why do we do it? We are one in Christ, and I don’t want anything to come in the way of that. And I don’t believe there is any such thing as a “best book” (unless it’s the Bible). If a novel or nonfiction work changes someone, encourages them, or opens their hearts to Christ, that is their best book of the year whether it sold ten copies or a million.
I don’t read reviews if I can avoid them. Good ones tend to stir pride and the bad ones crush the spirit, neither of which is good for my faith walk. Reviews are one person’s opinion. God is the one we want to please. I’m one of those people who would love to please everyone, so it’s better if I keep my audience to One. All I can do is put heart and soul into my work and leave what happens with it to Him.
I hope the stories I write will increase readers’ hunger and thirst for Jesus, and the characters will inspire them to be more like Him. It’s so easy to follow the ways of the world, to get sucked into following the herd rather than be among the flock. I want to encourage readers to trust in the Lord always and to remember only His Word is truth.
In Bridge to Haven, I wanted to explore how people can be bridges. Jesus is the ultimate bridge that takes us across the chasm over hell and into heaven to be in the presence of God. Each character in the novel plays a part as a bridge builder or bridge destroyer. Sometimes the characters begin as one and become the other.
The story started as an allegory about the character of God and Jesus, but how can anyone capture the immensity of God, His all-consuming love and passion for each of us? I certainly couldn’t. His love is so immense, cleansing, healing, restorative. It’s beyond human understanding. I dumped my first attempt and started over. In this rendition, two of the main characters, Zeke and Joshua, strive to be like Jesus, and often fail. The protagonist Abra represents those who turn away from the love offered, looking in all the wrong places for what they had from the beginning. It is a leap of faith to believe God’s grace is not earned, but freely given.
The Golden Years of Hollywood seemed to fit the story better than other eras. Many of the stars people idolized had miserable lives and tragic ends. I think of Marilyn Monroe in particular, who spent her life searching for love. James Dean, another Hollywood icon, died at 24 in a fiery car crash. Hollywood reeked of scandal; affairs, broken marriages, suicide, fortunes made and lost. It was also a time when girls believed all they had to do was show up in Hollywood to have all their dreams come true. Abra’s dream is to be loved, to be someone of importance. The challenge for me was interweaving the characters through World War II, the Korean War into the Cold War as well as a time of prosperity and showing how what happens in the world also impacts how we think, act and live. Only He is unchanging. Truth love and peace can’t be found anywhere else but in Him – in any era.
Children are deeply affected by early trauma. Abra focuses on the facts, believing she has been rejected by the only father she knew. She retaliates by rejecting him as well as the God he loves and serves. The seeds of bitterness and rebellion are planted at five, and Abra only sees through the eyes of a hurt child. This happens so often in life. What we see is only the surface. This was a theme in my two previous novels, Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughter’s Dream. Sometimes what we see as rejection is, in truth, sacrificial love. It takes growing up and God’s intervention to bring truth, and for some that journey takes years and even deeper heartache before we fall to our knees and seek God’s perspective.
I was like Abra for many years. Despite the truth I was taught as a child, I took hold of a wrong view of God as a constant critical eye, a Being just waiting to condemn me to everlasting hell. When I turned to God, I felt like Paul when the scales fell away from his eyes. In a sense, I awakened and knew God loved me despite everything I had done and mistakenly believed. My stubborn pride had to be broken. There were always people around me who loved me and pointed the way to Jesus. That is true of everyone. God makes ambassadors and scatters them everywhere. When we open our hearts, usually out of desperation, God pours in His Holy Spirit and opens our eyes and ears to who He is and to those He has called to help us cross that bridge of faith God uses.
Before I started writing Redeeming Love, when I was still rather new at loving God with my whole heart, I got the idea to start using what I called a God Box – an inbox for God. I would write out prayers and put the papers into the God Box. This practice helped me to let go of the issues, to put them into God’s hands by physically putting them into the box. Every few months I would read the papers and marvel at how God had answered the prayers, often in unexpected ways.
What amazing things are our five grandchildren doing? Growing up! We have one grandson learning to drive and talking about joining the Air Force, another playing secondary-school basketball and winning spelling bees, and the youngest getting ready to enter kindergarten. One fourteen-year-old granddaughter is becoming a poised young woman and our eight-year-old granddaughter is one of two girls on a Christian basketball team and excelling in school. They’re all busy and happy and making their parents and grandparents proud (in a good way). The whole family was together at our place for Christmas Eve and the house was rocking!
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will make your path straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). These are the Scriptures I go back to over and over again. The prince of the air has free run of this world, and he is the father of lies. Satan hates God and attacks Him by wounding and destroying His children. Even so, God reigns. Only God can take the worst we experience or bring on ourselves and use it to His good purpose in drawing us closer to Him as well as offering a light to others.
For me, trust has always been difficult. I trust and then I worry (doubt) and then, by submission and prayer, trust again. Our work is to believe and walk in faith one day at a time. And that is hard work at times. Some of us have to learn the hard way that life in this world is too painful to live any other way. Only in Christ do we have peace and a love that fills us up so much that we have a wellspring to pour out to others.