Ann Voskamp is a NYT bestselling author who lives and writes on a working farm in Ontario. Her latest book is WayMaker: Finding the Way to the Life You’ve Always Dreamed of. She spoke with FT’s Karen Stiller.
Faith Today: WayMaker (Thomas Nelson, 2022) is very transparent and, in many ways, it’s a book about suffering and finding our way through it. You write that suffering is the way, not because God doesn’t love us, but because He does. Why do you think suffering has to be the way?
Ann Voskamp: I know, it’s so hard. We don’t want suffering to be the way. At the beginning of WayMaker, I write that I really believe there was a time that I wouldn’t have said it that way.
The subtext of my life was that if you did everything right, you should be able to avoid the way of suffering. It’s the way consumerism actually works – if I buy this, if I do this, if I take this, my life should be good. And with the way social media is, if I can put this filter on, and I can frame things this way, I should have a lovely, beautiful life. That isn’t the way of Jesus. His is the upside-down Kingdom. And when we as believers are living in Jesus’ reality, and He is the suffering Saviour, it is upside-down. Jesus took the via dolorosa. Why did I think I could follow the way of Jesus and not have to take the via dolorosa?
When you speak to people who have gone through suffering, almost incomprehensible suffering, suffering we wouldn’t wish on anyone and we wouldn’t want for ourselves, there is a profound encounter with God in those places that they couldn’t encounter in any other place, which we think is such a beautiful thing.
But we think, Oh, can I get that encounter with God without having to take that road to Gethsemane, without having to take the via dolorosa? Can we as people who take the way of Jesus accept that the way always involves suffering? And it’s not because you did something wrong. It is the way of being human in a broken world.
FT: You also write about the role of attentiveness as part of a sacred compass, which is a way of living through suffering. Why is attentiveness such an important part of this?
AV: That is part of our work. We can’t live a life of devotion without living a life of attention. And a life of attention means you have to live a life of intention. It requires intentionality because you have to wake up all the time.
To really see the hand of God is going to require me to first be still and know that He is God, and then be attentive to what is happening around me.
Over and over again as the children of God (the extended people of Israel) we say, ‘God, pay attention to my cry, be attentive to my prayers. Where are you God? Will you be attentive to me?’
But how attentive am I to Him? How much have I paid attention to Him throughout the day? How much have I stilled my own soul?
I think I always thought ‘abide’ meant that you had to stay in one place. But abide actually means that you are staying on the way. So even though you are moving forward during your day, you can have an interior stillness. You can be abiding in Him as your home, your abode.
What does it look like to pay attention to Him? We want God to divide our waters and make a way forward, but in how much of my own life do I have divided attention?
If I really want God to divide my waters, then we can ask for His grace to have undivided attention. How do you walk on waves in the New Testament? You keep your eyes fixed on Him. It’s in fixing our attention on Him that interior things in our world are fixed.
… with the way social media is, if I can put this filter on, and I can frame things this way, I should have a lovely, beautiful life. That isn’t the way of Jesus. His is the upside-down Kingdom.
I think sometimes we can think that If I fixed my attention on you, Lord, I have some kind of transactional relationship, so you should fix things in my life. The way of Jesus is that you are safe, not that your circumstances are safe, not that you are physically safe, but you are always, always so safe.
FT: Some of the promos about WayMaker have said this book is you at your most vulnerable. You write about your wedding night and the early days of your marriage, and I wondered if you could talk about some of the courage required to write that transparently and honestly.
AV: There have been five years between The Broken Way and WayMaker. There’s a life that is lived in the middle of that. But also, I did not want to have to write the whole story. It’s hard, very, very hard to write the whole story. But we do each other a disservice when we don’t tell the whole story.
And I believe if you’re going to follow the One who says He is the Word, and you’re going to pick up a pen metaphorically (or a keyboard) and write words, then you too must pick up a cross, and you must see it as an altar to let yourself down as a living sacrifice and tell a whole story – so the reader knows they’re not alone in their own suffering, they’re not alone in their own stories.
They feel deeply seen and known and safe that they’re entering a story with broken-hearted people too. It shows that we are all leaning on the wounded healer Himself, who shows us that even when Jesus was resurrected, He still has His scars on His hands.
If your theology doesn’t make sense in the worst places in the world, then you’re not writing the heart of God.
I am not the hero in WayMaker, in any capacity. I am revealing a lot of very deep scars and wounds that in all honesty would be a lot easier not to share. WayMaker tells my broken-hearted story. WayMaker is unpacking, through what I went through, the fact that what I ultimately need is a way of life. I need a rhythm of life, a cadence to my days that follows the cadence of the way Himself.
Really, the heart of the broken way is the surrendered life that is broken and given out into the world to live with intentionality. It is a journey I’ve been on for a long time, I guess.
FT: It strikes me with this third book, and I’m assuming there might be others to come, that you have now created a significant body of work.
AV: I never thought of that.
FT: How do you define that body? What do you think is the big idea of your work?
AV: When I think about what to do, I don’t think in terms of What do I need to write? We are living a story and that is the unfolding of my own life. So, I’m always writing in memoir and my own story, and then unpacking it. Everything is formation, and everything is forming and shaping us, whether we see it that way or not.
I’m really writing about how God is using everything to reshape me and reform me. I think in all three of the books I’m working out the big questions of Where’s God in the midst of suffering? and How do I live joy in the midst of a suffering world?
One Thousand Gifts says that, in the midst of suffering, I can trust that all this grace is actually a gift – all is going to be worked into being a gift. One Thousand Gifts is so much about how you live a life of gratitude in the midst of suffering.
The Broken Way is about living sacrificed and surrendered in the midst of suffering. If I can live given, broken and given out into the world, that actually blesses me the most. The way you destress is to bless other people so, in the midst of suffering, you can give your life away.
In WayMaker I’m looking at how do I live a life, a way of life that keeps me close and keeps close company with the way Himself, so there is always a way through. How are you finding a way through suffering to joy? And I think maybe that’s what we’re all trying – to find our way through in a broken world. We are in a world where bombs drop in theatres where little children are in Ukraine. And if your theology doesn’t make sense in the worst places in the world, then you’re not writing the heart of God.
FT: It’s been a horrible few years in terms of Christian leaders falling. Whether you intended it or not, you are a person with a large platform now. How do you stay healthy and holy? How are your feet planted so firmly on the soil of your farm?
AV: That is such a thoughtful question. Just this morning in our family prayer circle, we prayed for leaders in the Church, and how our own hypocrisy and sinfulness become a stumbling block for seekers and sojourners on the way. My heart breaks for the weight of my own brokenness and sinfulness. I am alongside all of those leaders who have fallen, and we are fallen. But I have shed a lot of tears.
We can turn inward in ways we don’t even realize that we’re turning inward, and we become selfish, and we become unwittingly self-focused, and entitlement can slither in, in ways where we don’t keep ourselves in accountability and transparency.
If we turn the nose of the plane a couple of degrees, you don’t land in NYC, you land in Washington D.C., and as a leader, I think there’s a temptation, and I say this kind of nauseated, that we might be working for God without having profound intimacy with God.
Eugene Peterson talked so much about the need for deep congruency in our lives. We can all get caught in this trap of overactivity and productivity for God that doesn’t keep us in deep communion with God.
We can all get caught in this trap of overactivity and productivity for God that doesn’t keep us in deep communion with God.
We can find ourselves in places where we are surrounded by "yes people," and then if we are surrounded only by people who say, "Yes, yes, yes!" we are not living in transparency or congruency or accountability. For me, that looks like being part of a confessional covenant or community of six other women, so there’s seven of us who are in significant leadership, but in the upside-down Kingdom that looks like significant service.
These are other women who also find themselves walking a similar unexpected journey. That looks like us being profoundly transparent with each other and holding each other accountable, and also feeling deeply safe to say the things we feel ashamed of and to say, ‘There’s no shame here’ and ‘How do we come alongside you?’
So, I think it’s ministry that is healthy and whole that looks holy like Christ Himself, who is the triune God of relationship. Our ministry has to be rooted deeply in relationship, and a relationship of integrity and concurrency with Christ Himself.
There’s good soul work to washing your own toilet bowl and having dirt underneath your fingernails. For me here on the farm, that means we do everything. We remember who we are, and that He is the only one who is God. The closer you can be to the earth and away from being elevated on any platform, that’s the way of Jesus.
FT: Thank you, Ann.