... that is, praise, criticism, and the random weird other stuff that's neither one thing nor the other. And, more specifically, what to do with it.
Here's the thing. The book came out in June, so obviously lots of people have now read it. And I'm hoping more will do so. Many have been kind enough to get in touch to let me know that they've enjoyed it/been moved by it/found it helpful/challenging/encouraging etc. That's truly wonderful. I have been really moved by some of the emails I've received. To know that something I've written has been helpful to someone else in their journey through life, and perhaps specifically in their walk with God - well, that's pretty amazing, and I don't think I'll ever get tired of hearing about it!
Also, there have been some great reviews which have been published, which is also fantastic. There's one here - https://www.10ofthose.com/products/15243/SinglendashMinded/ and (so far) 3 here - http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0857214306/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=10269ADJ01WKJXZG0GWD&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=418448307&pf_rd_i=468294.
I'm so grateful to people who've taken the time to comment on what they have and haven't found helpful about the book. I know there's also a review in Woman Alive magazine this month, and one coming soon in Christianity magazine. Even writing those words sounds crazy in my head! I've read hundreds of book reviews in my time, and written a fair few myself, and yet now people are writing them about MY book. What's that all about?!
The problem is, how do I get my head around it all? Lots of the things which have been said about the book have been nice. Really nice. Flattering and kind and generous. What do I do with that? How far do I go saying "thank you" and "you're so kind" and "I'm just glad it was helpful" before it all goes to my head and I explode in a big ball of pride?! How do I take on that which it's truly helpful for me to hear, without being swayed and distracted by stuff that will just puff me up? And yet at the same time how do I avoid the "cheesy Christian" responses of "oh no, it wasn't me, I didn't do anything, it was all the Lord"?! Don't get me wrong - I really believe God encouraged me to write this book, and that he has worked and will work through it, but hey, I was the one who stayed up till 2am for a fortnight to get it finished ;-)
And how do I walk the fine line between promoting the book, which I must do out of fairness to the publisher (and my own bank balance!), and promoting myself? Even by posting those websites above I'm laying myself open to criticism of bigging myself up and boasting. But I want people to buy the book, so I need them to hear from other people who have enjoyed it and would recommend it!
But there's another problem too, isn't there, because fairly obviously not all of the comments have been good ones. I always knew this would be the case, of course I did. It was something I was quite concerned about, actually - how would I feel when people slated the book, either because they didn't agree theologically with something I'd written, or simply because they thought it wasn't a good book. Would I cope with nasty comments and criticisms? To be fair (so far!) there haven't been any negative reviews (or at least none that I've seen!). But there have been some negative comments on a post I wrote here - http://www.threadsuk.com/10-things-single-people-wish-married-people-wouldnt-say/.
Threads is a fantastic website and I was delighted to be invited to post there. I reproduced the list from the book on '10 things single people wish married people wouldn't say'. I hope the list is funny - that was the idea! It's a certain type of humour, I realise, and one which not everyone will understand or appreciate, but it was definitely meant to be funny rather than bitter or nasty. It wasn't meant to be mean to married people either, although obviously there's truth behind each of the statements (all of which have been said to me and to lots of single people I know!) - and obviously I hope that the end result might be that fewer crass comments are made and fewer people hurt!
It was brilliant to get such a good response to the article (in fact, this then happened - http://www.threadsuk.com/threadsis1/ - which was nothing short of crazy!). There were loads of good comments, and loads of people saying they identified with what I'd written, and that the same things had been said to them - quite enough, in fact, for me to be really glad that I'd written it and posted it. But of course, there were also quite a lot of negative comments - people who didn't 'get' what I was trying to say, or didn't agree, or simply didn't like it. And that's fine, of course it is, everyone's entitled to their opinion. But it was still very odd to read some quite critical comments about something which I'd written and which was really important to me.
I realise it could have been a lot worse (and I'm not so naïve that I don't realise it could very easily get a lot worse, at any moment!). There's been lots of publicity around recently about some of the truly awful abuse which people have been subjected to online. But for the moment, that's not what I'm thinking about. What I'm concerned with here is simply the weirdness of being wildly praised one minute, and harshly criticised the next, by people who don't know me, and don't know anything about me, and yet have a right to say what they're saying because I've chosen to put something of me 'out there' into the public sphere.
And so my question, again, is 'what do I do with this'? How do I hold all this stuff together, in a right tension? How do I take on that which is genuinely good and helpful for me to hear, but protect myself from the stuff which will either wrongly puff me up or wrongly bring me down? How do I make sure God gets the glory he deserves through it all? How do I guard my heart, in the midst of this incredibly private and personal thing which I have chosen to share with the world?
I don't know if I know the answer, or at least not completely...! But I do know, that like in all the best Sunday School jokes, the answer pretty much has to be Jesus. I'm doing it all for him. I made all the decisions I made, which I talk about in the book, because of him. I first spoke on this subject because of him. I wrote the book because of him. I live because of him. So when good stuff comes my way, or when bad stuff comes my way, I need to remember to take it all to him. He'll know what to do with it! He'll help me carry it. He'll show me which stuff to keep hold of and which to chuck away. He's cleverer at that than I am.
I think it's a lot about this, in the end, as Paul knew when he wrote to the Galatians - "Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ."
It's all about Him.