JAMYE DOERFLER | CONTRIBUTOR
Behind every book, there’s a story. When I tell the short version of the story behind my book The Advent Investigator, it goes like this: no one else had written an advent devotional geared toward middle and high schoolers, so I did.
That sounds nice and tidy, but it’s not even close to the full story.
Before this book, there were others. Those books were pretty far removed from an advent devotional for teens. Before this book, there were literary novels.
One, I wrote when my three boys were young, waking up every morning before they did to work. For six years, I wrote and revised based on feedback from friends and professionals. I submitted to literary agents and had close calls but no offers of representation. I filed away the “I think you’re a wonderful writer but…” emails. I took the “almost” phone call with an agent and put my head back down and continued working and submitting. I am nothing if not persistent.
Then, one day, it broke me. I woke to another rejection in my inbox. This was nothing new, but for some reason, it was the one that crushed me. I sat in the rocking chair and wept with my husband. “I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself.”
I had to stop. Except that I couldn’t stop.
I’d been writing more or less daily since high school. I’d always had a sense that writing was a gift God created me with, that it was a key part of my identity and purpose on earth. How could I give up on that?
With my children now in school, I wrote another novel and submitted it to literary agents again. Requests for the manuscript poured in. Later, so did the rejections. “As with your first novel, there’s much to be admired in your writing, but…”
I swallowed those bitter little pills like they were nothing; everyone knows rejection is inherent in art. A couple dozen went down easily. Then, like before, one of them made me choke.
I pulled on my sneakers and went for a run. Tears streamed down my face as I pushed my body until I could barely breathe, attempting to eclipse the emotional pain with bodily pain. I pleaded with God as I ran. Why did you give me a desire only to thwart it? Why did you make me like this?
By this point, I had put over ten years and thousands of hours into my novels. I’d eschewed other career paths and had pinned my hopes on this single outcome. I’m not being melodramatic when I say that this failure is the greatest disappointment in my life.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Prov. 13:12).
So many of us have experienced deferred hope. A desire that is unmet again and again. A hole in our hearts we are waiting for God to fill with the perfectly-shaped answer to prayer. When the hope is for a good thing, something we believe is from the Lord or is even in His service, it can be especially difficult to accept the delayed fulfillment.
In my lowest moments, I cried out to God and asked, “If not this, what?” What was the Lord doing in my life in deferring that hope? If the prayers for the hope have not been fulfilled, this was the next prayer to offer up. “Show me,” I prayed, “what I’m supposed to be doing, if not this.”
If I were to shift from fiction to nonfiction, it had to be a project that was truly organic to who I was. Over time, the Lord revealed what that could be: the advent devotional that didn’t exist for my family, which by now included adolescents and young teens. It was an unfamiliar genre yet it made sense: I love my boys and want to pour into their spiritual development. (I’m also an enthusiastic Christmas lady, dancing and baking my way through December.)
I returned to the familiar routine: wake, write, revise. My husband, a pastor in the PCA, advised me along the way, loaning me commentaries and critiquing every lesson. He brought his pastor’s eye to each chapter, always helping me pull out an application for the reader and suggesting that the final lesson culminate with an invitation to respond to the gospel.
The next Christmas, friends read it with their families and gave feedback. After that, I submitted it to CDM, the PCA publishing house, and they said yes. It was released in October.
I think about the tree of life in the second half of that proverb, and I think about the tree of life that’s in Heaven, the one that bears fruit in every season. That tree will only be seen by those who give their life over to God. I’m humbled by the possibility that the work God gave me may play a part in bringing someone to see the tree of life.
I’m positive this devotional wouldn’t exist if the novels had succeeded. My greatest disappointment has been turned into a blessing to others.
I don’t know where this finds you today on the spectrum of “hope deferred” to “desired fulfilled.” If you’re able to look back at a place in your life when God redirected your hopes and replaced a huge disappointment into a blessing, take time to thank Him for that.
If you’re hurting today because a hope continues to be deferred, God knows exactly how heartsick that makes you, and He cares for you. Psalm 56:8 says that the Lord knows our pain, that in fact, He puts our tears in His bottle. Some days your prayers may be only tears. On days when you’re able, ask Him what He might do in you through this pain. Seek Him; that is a desire that is always fulfilled.
Editor’s Note: Learn more about Jamye’s new book, The Advent Investigator here.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash