Naked and Unashamed—Friendship and Dating

As mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve recently had the joy of publishing, along with Jerry and Claudia Root, a book on marriage called Naked and Unashamed: A Guide to the Necessary Work of Christian Marriage (Paraclete Press). For the past fifteen years now, the material at the heart of this book has been shaping and nourishing my own marriage to Liesel. It’s a huge pleasure to be able to share its blessings with more people now.

Jerry and ClaudiaLiesel and I met with Jerry for five or six sessions back in 2003. We’d come over to his house, hang out on couches, and listen to him talk about marriage. Then, we’d stay afterwards and pepper him with further questions about life, marriage, parenting, and faith. It was a fantastic series of months. Those five sessions have now become a book of fifteen chapters, digestible, straightforward, and hopefully easily accessible to couples of all types and stages of life.

In today’s excerpt, we’ve got a passage on friendship and dating. As I said last time, please read! And be encouraged! Be a little challenged! If you feel like you want more, you can find copies in bookstores, on Amazon.com, and on the Paraclete Press website. (Also, if you are interested in a review copy, send me a note with your email address and I’ll pass your information on to the publisher!)

“Friendship and Dating”
Excerpted from, Naked and Unashamed: A Guide to the Necessary Work of Christian Marriage (Chapter 4)

As we hope you can see, these shared interests become the basis of your ongoing friendship as a couple. And it is important to note that a couple with good experiences together, common interests, and positive regard, is significantly buffered against the everyday stresses of life in the world and life together. A couple who commit to being and becoming friends very nearly guarantees the success of their marriage as well as a high level of relational happiness.

Why should this be the case? Consider something C.S. Lewis wrote in his book on the four loves,

Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever talk about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. (The Four Loves)

The gaze at, while wonderful, is insufficient to keep a couple throughout life—there must also be a gaze alongside. In this, the couple strive to find places of commonality—shared books, shared experiences, shared interests—which will keep them fresh and interesting as the years progress. All too often it happens that couples neglect this critical aspect of their relationship, allowing work, then children, to crowd out their investment in one another. The result, tragically, is that at some point the children move out of the home and the husband and wife discover to their mutual dismay that they are married to a virtual stranger. If you would have love thrive in your marriage for the long term, you would be wise to seek to share passions beyond simply one another.

Many couples implicitly feel that dating belongs to the time before marriage, and that once they are married they no longer need to date. Indeed, many challenges begin to arise as life becomes more complex. Finances, children, hiring babysitters—these things can make dating your spouse seem like more trouble than it’s worth. But dating clearly is a key way to continue to develop friendship and interest with one another—whether it be eating at a favorite restaurant, or seeing the latest film together, going on a walk, attending a play, sitting on a blanket together in a park, or simply getting dessert and talking. A date is an activity which bridges the gap between the gaze which looks at your spouse, and the gaze which looks together with your spouse. In the words of the author of Ecclesiastes,

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

Perhaps, in this circumstance, the third strand of the cord which strengthens a couple is their cultivated interest in subjects which bring life to their relationship—in their commitment to friendship, dating, and a life together grounded in a look alongside one another.

So, I Wrote a Book…

I took the picture, but Liesel put it all together.

I took the picture, but Liesel put it all together.

Dear Friends, the time has come for me to tell you something: I have written a book.

Truth be told, I’ve been working on it for the past two years, and quite intentionally I have not talked about it. Why? Because I didn’t want to be one of those people who talks about writing a book. I actually wanted to write a book. And I didn’t want to mention I’d done it until it was really done, as in really published, as in actually a book in my hand. That time has come, and now I feel that I can finally say, “I’ve written a book.” Whew.

Now, the fact that I have a book in hand is an occasion for some self-reflection, and I find myself asking the following question—does this book make me an ‘author’? I’m not sure. Snobby critics conclude that only someone published by a publishing house is an ‘author’ and that everyone else is playing at kiddie stuff. Certainly the ease of self-publishing makes this a somewhat legitimate critique. Any bozo can throw words on a page and publish it and call him/herself an author. Publishing a book yourself gives you about the same level of credibility which you get from one of those $25 online certificates you can send away for—which is to say, none. All that said, I’m not sure I’m comfortable applying a title to myself, so maybe I’m only an ‘aspiring author.’ You’ll have to read my book and decide for yourself if I qualify.

Let me take the next couple of moments to tell you about the project. If you don’t care about any of that and just want to find out where to buy one, scroll on down to the section labeled, “How Do I Get a Copy.”

Why Write A Book?

Believe it or not, almost two years ago I was in a prayer meeting talking to God about my future. During that meeting He spoke to me, clear as day, and said the word “Write.” So, in obedience, I started writing. I began blogging (which is a discipline all its own) and then while I was blogging I began working on a book. But what should I write about? The most obvious subject was the work I was doing for my church at that moment. Since I had been teaching the members of my church how to pray, I had scribbled some basic teachings on a half-sheet of paper which I pulled out at our weekly prayer meetings and talked through. Those notes, which developed into mini-lessons in prayer, became the skeleton structure for what would be the content of the whole book.

But that doesn’t really answer the question. Yes, I wrote because I felt it was an act of obedience, but I also wrote because, well, I wanted to write a book. I felt there was a genuine need to help Christians gain a better grasp on the basics of a prayer life. I felt that while there are abundant books on prayer available, many of them are inaccessible or focus on some unhelpful elements and/or excesses. But even more particularly, I wanted to write a book that would help my church.

Why Self-Publish?

The publishing world, and perhaps especially the Christian publishing world, is a fairly competitive environment. It is also an environment hostile to new and unknown authors (*ahem, like me). You don’t have to search the website of any publisher for very long until you come right up against the hard rebuttal that “We accept no unsolicited manuscripts.” In some ways this makes good sense—every Pastor under the sun and a good many Christians in general fancy themselves as the next great Christian author. The refusal of unsolicited manuscripts must be, as much as anything else, an act of self-defense.

But more even than this, I recognize that I am, by and large, precisely nobody. Now, if I was pastor of a church of 500 or 1000, a publishing company might look at me and think, “Regardless of content, if he publishes a book we’ll sell several hundred copies.” But I have been pastor of a church of around 35 people, and I host a blog whose readership is equally unremarkable (no offense if you’re reading this). In the eyes of a publishing establishment, I am not a particularly great investment.

Furthermore, it is my understanding that with modern publishing, authors are largely responsible for their own marketing. In other words, even if I were to successfully get a publishing company to look at my book, it would still fall to me to do the work of getting the word “out there.” Marketing was the only major service for which I would desire a publisher—I felt confident to do the work of editing, copy editing, and proofing myself. I also felt capable to typeset, format, and design both the interior and exterior of the book. (For the record, I had my wife’s help for the cover.) All those things being the case, I concluded that I might as well do the publishing work myself, and harvest a greater portion of whatever revenue might come my way. Do I have my sights set on fame and fortune? Not really. But hopefully I’ve been able to produce a quality product.

What’s the Book About?

Well, obviously, it’s about prayer. More specifically, it’s about petitionary prayer. As I explain early on in the book itself, I began working on a prayer course while I was in Seminary. I looked at all different kinds of prayer—the Lord’s Prayer, the Dark Night of the Soul, the Book of Common Prayer. I had set aside one lesson for petitionary prayer—prayers where you ask God for things—but didn’t really have anything to say in that lesson. Later, when I began the prayer group for my church, we got together and—guess what?—we began asking God for things. So that lesson about petitions which had nothing in it became a really important lesson. Then, the more I considered petitionary prayer, the more my sense of its importance grew as well.

I’d always felt a little uneasy with petitionary prayer, and I figured that most people were in the same boat as me. So the book, essentially, is written to help people pray in petitions. There’s a chapter explaining why we pray in petitions, a chapter on how to pray, a chapter on preparing ourselves to receive God’s answers, a chapter on the kinds of answers God gives us, a chapter on divine providence, and a chapter on praying with a group. There are also discussion questions so that you can read this book as a small group.

How Do I Get a Copy?

Getting a copy is super easy. Advances in print technology have made it easy for book printers to print books one at a time, rather than in large print runs. Since I’ve published this book through Createspace (which is the Amazon.com self-publishing division), there are two ways to purchase Ordinary Prayer. Unfortunately, at this time it will not be available in any retail stores.

First, you can go to my Createspace store by clicking on this link. There, you can order a copy and plug in your address. They’ll print and ship it to you right away.

Alternatively, you can go to Amazon.com by clicking on this link, and there you’ll find Ordinary Prayer looking all nice and official in the Amazon.com store. Order it there, and Createspace will print it and ship it to you just the same. (Bonus: For friends in the UK, it’s also available through Amazon.co.uk. Just click here!)

However, there is one key difference between the two stores—although the price is the same at each store ($12.99), I get significantly more royalties from the Createspace store than I do through Amazon.com. Part of the reason for this is Amazon’s free shipping—in other words, the cost of shipping gets passed on to me (which makes you think about all the other authors on Amazon.com as well…). And another reason is Amazon.com’s recognizeability (if people search for a random prayer book, they’re more likely to search on Amazon.com than Createspace!). Now, let me be clear: I’m not really here to make a lot of money, or really any money for that matter. That’s not the point. But if you were thinking to yourself, “Hey, I really want to support Jeremy in what he’s doing!” then you might want to purchase through Createspace. But if you’re thinking, “I like Jeremy, but I’m poor and/or cheap and I hate paying more than I have to” then go ahead and purchase through Amazon.com. I’ll never know what you did, and I’ll never judge you (at least not openly).

Will there be an E-book Edition?

Yes, there is, although you should know that I believe the very soul of a book has been removed from it when it is reduced to mere digitality. (You can read more of my thoughts on ebooks here, if you dare!) For the Kindle edition of Ordinary Prayer, please click here. Yes, the book is slightly cheaper there, and for the price of immediacy, you can have it for $9.99.

What Next?

Ordinary Prayer is going to be an entirely grass-roots project. I have no advertizing budget, so it’s up to you, O Great Reader, to tell other people if you liked my book or found it helpful. You can do this in a variety of ways. If you like it, you can give a copy to your pastor, or small group leader. You can buy a copy for a friend, or give one away as a Christmas present. You could also write a review on Amazon.com to help other readers decide if Ordinary Prayer is the book they need to read. (But please, don’t write a review that says, “Pastor Jeremy’s awesome and you should read his book!” Write an actual review where you talk about the book, and not me!) Maybe, in addition to these, you have other ideas of your own—and if you do, please let me know! I need all the help I can get—after all, I’m only an aspiring author!!