You know better. Of course, you do. You know better than to read blog posts about your book. You know better than to Google yourself. You know better than to troll a list of “best blogs” looking for your own absent name.

And you know better than to ignore the 5-star reviews and only read the 1- and 2-star reviews of your little yellow book. You know better than to measure your self-worth by the measuring sticks of another.

Of course you know this. But some days…. Well, some days, you forget or you violate your own boundaries and you do it anyway.

So this is what people think of me.

And then you sit in their thoughts. Deflated. Out of breath. Hot. Why does your face always get so hot when you feel exposed?

They’re right. Of course, they’re right.

Who do you think you are?

That hiss always comes on the heels of these moments. Who do you think you are? And in this moment, you can’t remember the answer or can’t muster the words aloud.

So this is what you do first: you walk away from the reviews, from the criticism, from the mockery, from the ways you’ve disappointed.

Then you call your sister and you call your husband. You call your friends. You get mad and dare to say it out loud. You admit that you’re hurt. You admit that you made a bad decision by choosing to read them and now you’re living with the consequences but they seem a bit too harsh in your soul.

You admit that you’re feeling vulnerable and exposed, ridiculous and small, worthless and foolish. You are trying to harden your heart so it doesn’t hurt anymore.

Somehow saying it out loud helps a bit.

But you don’t want to have a hard heart. You’d rather be hurt than impenetrable. This is the price of living without armour, of making art with your life and stories and faith: you are vulnerable.

Every attack feels personal because it’s your heart-and-soul-work. And that’s okay. You might need a bit of time before you can sort through the legit criticisms – the kind that will make you better – from the hurt. Maybe it will make you a better writer. Maybe. Reason and logic seem insufficient at the moment.

You go for a walk in the sunshine. You remember that it’s spring and so you take pictures of the pink and white trees. You hold hands with your littlest girl and stop often to look at the wonder: look, a ladybug! look, a rock! look, a cigarette butt! look, a dandelion! And you carry her treasures in your pockets (except for the cigarette butt). You tip your face to the sky and breathe deep. This is real, this is real, this is real.

You argue and defend yourself and justify to a closed computer. Then you pray and you find comfort. You keep praying like you always do, throughout your life.

You consider quitting writing but first you’d have to quit living, quit caring.

You go home and clean something. You make supper. You bath your children and quiz spelling words. You sweep the floors and put away laundry. Your life is achingly normal and today this comforts you.

Then in the night, when everyone is asleep, you run the bath and sink into the warmth. Your damp hands hold up a book you love, and the pages absorb the warmth. You read and soak until your hair is damp and curling around your neck.

You rise up out of the water and stand. You look in the mirror at your bare face and you say it out loud this time: I’m a beloved warrior.ย 

Then you go to bed and sleep.

In the morning, when you rise, you already know that you will pour a cup of tea, sit your bum in your chair, and write again. And someone will not like it. But you will write anyway and you will keep writing because this is where you find God most clearly and most profoundly, this is your sanctuary and this is your work.

In which I am gratefully disillusioned
In which we visit "our" school in Haiti for the first time
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  • This is your sanctuary and this is your work. But also this is MY sanctuary, that you make for me. Never write for me, Sarah. Because someday I won’t be here. But always write for me. Because I might be here. And today might be the day that I really need you.

  • JennaDeWitt

    Love. Saving.

  • Elizabeth Keith

    Remember, everyone is a critic in a consumerist society. The only criticisms that matter are from mentors and those who have established a tent of meeting with you. Family members and JANE Q. Public are sometimes the same troll. “I shred thee” mantra haha, me and the girls and the hubby think u rock.

  • This is lovely, and bracing, and so ordinary, Sarah. Thanks for showing up to the page. It really makes me braver to watch other women write out of strength and keep going despite the pushback. We won’t live afraid. We won’t write afraid. We won’t love afraid. We will stay still in deep shalom with God instead.

  • Admittedly, I haven’t gotten a lot of negative feedback (I’m not published yet, though, so there’s that), and yet, I feel a small twinge of jealousy over people who get it a lot. I actually sort of want to be not liked by everyone, to be a little bit too controversial. I’m so uncomfortable with being either liked or ignored by everyone. I’m not saying “be glad for the negative reviews.” I’m not saying that at all. Some I’ve read of others are truly terrible & I wouldn’t wish that kind of trolling on anyone. But part of me, maybe, wants to externalize the negative voices–to give them names. That person thinks this about me. But when it’s the voice in my head that tells me, it’s only me (but it’s not me, it’s the enemy of my soul telling me lies), and I almost can’t bear it. I hate tension, yet I long for it. And when the reviews pour in, I’ll probably read the negative, too.
    PS I would love to have tea with you some day.

  • such deep courage, sarah. your words remind me that i can be courageous, tooโ€”particularly in ordinary, everyday, keep-on-keeping-on ways.

  • Just lovely!

  • Kelly Ropson

    I’m about halfway through your book right now, and I love it! I’ve actually cried a number of times (and that’s significant cause I rarely ever do so). It’s easily one of the most moving, freeing books I’ve read. Keep up the good work!

  • Rob Carmack

    So good. As always, I am grateful for your voice, Sarah.

  • CindyHSmith

    Was reading Jesus Feminist on the airplane last night. I LOVE LOVE your book. Love your blog. And most of all your heart. I am likely your mom’s age…so here’s a big hug and kiss on the forehead and a pat on the butt to say, “get back to what matters…you rock”. Keep loving Jesus like you do and keep WRITING!

  • Jonathan

    So great. “That hiss always comes on the heels of these moments.” I see what you did there ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Thank you for your sacred work. It becomes a sacred place for all of us. Or at least, for me ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Well, I sent your book to my best friend, and today I got a text from her that said, “Jesus Feminist is wearing out my favorite pen! This is balm for my soul.” I responded that I underlined half the book to the point that I had to just circle some passages to keep from using up my pen. So, despite the Negative Nellies, you are bringing the love of Jesus to lots of women (and men too). Just keep doing what you’re doing.

  • This is a wonderful post. Many people have walked this same path. As you say, it’s a matter of remembering that truth you know and all of us should remember – you’re a beloved warrior.

    And as by way of encouragement, I’ve recommended this book to many people. They’ve come back to me and told me how wonderful it is, how it changed them, inspired them, and challenged them. Still others have said how discovering your blog through my social media sharing has been wonderful for them, and what a good writer you are.

    Finally, a word about my own view. This is, hands down, my favourite blog. I’m not dressing this up, I’m not attempting to curry favour here. It’s the truth. This is the most inspiring, honest, powerful and encouraging blog I read, and it connects me to God in ways no other blog does. Be encouraged today Sarah, and allow the negative voices to go silent.

  • Having just recently (last nine months) found you, I am so very glad that you breathe into new mercies and rise again to write. I am grateful for your sanctuary; your sacred space; and your work. Be blessed Sarah.

  • lndwhr

    Yes.

  • I’ve lost count of the times I have sat down to read your latest post, and said to myself… “just what I needed”. Thank you. x

  • SortaCrunchy

    Your book is one that I will pass on to my daughters, and by then there is no telling how tear-stained and time-worn my copy will be. Your words bring life and healing and hope, but there are those who stand against life and healing and hope. There’s nothing to be done about that, but absolutely you keep getting up each morning, offering the sacrifice of words (and heart).

  • Mallory Pickering

    LOVE

  • Mary Swan-Bell

    You are beautiful, kind, and lovely. Your writing is lyrical,
    thoughtful, and filled with insight. You’re changing the world, one
    heart at a time. Although Taylor Swift is rarely my go-to guru, her words
    seem to apply here: “Don’t you worry your pretty little mind; people
    throw rocks at things that shine…”

  • I love you, warrior woman.

  • kim

    I so look forward to all you share with us here… and I love your fabulous book. On my very short of “I must read,” is anything written by this girl named Sarah Bessey.

  • Alison Stow

    You couldn’t possibly know how much I needed THIS today. Thank you

  • Andrea

    You are the eloquent voice that so many of us can’t muster for some reason, be it inability, lack of courage, fear. I am so, so grateful that you write. Your thoughts and work have, quite literally, been a huge part of changing my life and my faith. Take heart and please, please continue writing!

  • I needed this.

  • Frances

    I’m a children’s book author, and this year my resolution was to not look at Goodreads reviews. I have mostly honored it, and the few times I’ve peeked, I’ve regretted it almost immediately. You do a beautiful job of describing the visceral reaction to reading bad reviews. We give them so much power, and what’s worse, we don’t point to the wonderful reviews, the 5 stars, the starred reviews from major journals, and say, “These people got it right.” No, for some reason, we think the mean people got it right. I remember the first negative review I got on Amazon of my first book. I spent the whole day telling myself, “It could be worse; you could have cancer.” But in my heart I thought that the bad review was worse than cancer. At least cancer wouldn’t make me feel so ashamed and exposed.

    One of the most healing things you can do is laugh about the reviews, although it takes a while to get to that point. For me, a lot of the toxicity that had built up inside of me washed away when I watched these videos: http://noblemania.blogspot.com/2014/02/childrens-authors-read-reviews-of-their.html Dozens of children’s book authors read terrible reviews posted about their books on Goodreads and Amazon. I know you don’t write children’s books, but I wonder if it would help to watch these videos and know that all of us writers, in this day and age, have to deal with toxic reviews, have to live with those one-star wonders in which books that contain big chunks of our heart and our best ideas are lacerated.

    I have had a very successful career as a writer, and my books have won awards, but you know what? It still hurts when I don’t find my name on blogs or my books on “My Favorite Children’s Books of 201-.” I’m trying to work through this. I’m trying to work through my envy of more successful writers. Because I don’t think that path leads to sanity or wisdom, and it certainly doesn’t lead to God’s good dream for what my life could and should be.

    I hope writing this post was healing for you; reading it was healing for me. Thank you for your honesty. Now go back to your desk. Don’t let anyone stop you from doing the work you’re meant to do.

    Peace,
    Frances

  • Kelly Greer

    Sharing this one on my writer page, as I have not yet shared in writing the many truths that God has shared with me in a hostile crowd or a like-minded crowd, or any crowd at all. You see, my audience is mostly an audience of One. I am just a number to most. But you are brave. You are a warrior. And I remember that they first hated my Jesus. And God made us. And our relationship with him is personal. And he speaks to us if we listen. And we keep pressing on towards the prize. And we clean house. A lot.
    Hugs,
    Kelly

  • I wish I had written something that had enough attention to warrant a review! Maybe someday. ๐Ÿ™‚ Though, I would be just as red-cheeked if I had the courage to read an unfavorable one. You KNOW what God has called you to, just follow His voice and the others will be drowned out. Keep it up, I love your writing.

  • Erin

    I blog about books and this why I don’t review. I refuse to tear apart someone’s hard work. Many blessings. Your blog was lovely and reminded me that all creations of expression come from someone’s soul.

  • Ignore the flattery and the criticisms and just keep writing.

  • “This is the price of living without armour, of making art with your life and stories and faith: you are vulnerable.”

    Learning so slowly how to live with this.

  • Elin G.

    Oh, I hear you. Do I ever hear you. And I don’t even have a blog, or a published book! But when I preach or give a presentation somehow those one or two negative comments become etched on my brain in FIRE, replaying themselves whenever I have a quiet moment, while the positive comments seem to run off like water from the proverbial duck’s back… But “you’d rather be hurt than impenetrable.” You will keep doing what you do “because this is where you find God most clearly and most profoundly, this is your sanctuary and this is your work.” Amen. Thank you, Sarah, for keeping on keeping on, for being vulnerable and honest and true to your calling. And for showing the rest of us how to do it.

  • Rebecca Trotter

    I think that part of learning to be free is getting to a place where you’re no longer seeking the approval of those who disapprove of you. The thing is that when God looks at you, he sees all the same things that the people who love you see. He never looks at you and sees what the people who are criticizing and condemning do. Sure, he knows you’re not perfect, but so do your fans. You’ve been honest enough about that, right?

    It takes a lot of courage to let go of that need to win the approval of your worst critics and just rest in God’s view of you. But the truth is that what your fans see and what God sees is right there for your critics to see as well, should they choose to do so. I for one feel sorry for someone who looks at you and doesn’t see what you look like through the eyes of love.

    Sorry if I sound like the bossy, know-it-all big sister. I don’t mean to lecture. It’s just that this is a lesson I’ve been in the process of learning myself. It’s been a painful struggle, but it’s definitely helped me learn to ground my image in Christ.

  • “This is the price of living without armour, of making art with your life and stories and faith: you are vulnerable.” Sarah, I love this. And I love you. And I loved your book. And I can’t wait to read every other book and blog post you ever publish in this lifetime. Carry on, warrior. Thank you for making this your sanctuary and your work.

  • pastordt

    AMEN. Please don’t read those things ever, ever again, okay? YOU are called, you are gifted, you are a gift. Love you.

  • Jenny Foster

    Something I have learned, even without ever being a well read blogger and/or book author, is that no matter where you stand, whether it is on the hefty left side of things or on the way-over right side of things, whether it is democratic or republic, whether it is evangelic or Presbyterian, or nazarene or humanistic, scientific, or naturalistic…Whether it is right smack dab in the middle ground of all of this… NO MATTER WHAT… you will always get picked apart by SOMEONE…no matter how good you feel about your words, no matter how enlightened the rush of peace of understanding that has filled up your mind and soul and poured out from within you through words of light…no matter what… someone, many ones, will leech onto those words and try TRY to suck the life out of it…whether you are right or they are right, or I am right; it is all the same…what matters most, is that what you do and what you say causes you to feel peace, to feel love, to show peace and to show love, and if what you are doing is lifting people up in their places, pulling people out from their seats, and causing some scales to fall from some eyes… I would say it is plenty good enough… and I can vouch that your book and your words have done just that. So stand tall beloved warrior… as I love love love…deeply love God’s light that flows through you!

  • one billion daleks

    It’s not what you say, it’s what you don’t say here that’s kinda interesting …

    For your post has a subtle / implicit subtext – it almost reads like you’d prefer it (really) if everyone on the planet gave your book a 4 or 5-star review (Heck no! 5 stars only thankyou! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    So, is that what you’d prefer …? Maybe you should imagine yourself in that space and contemplate what it might be like in reality …

    Then you might actually find y’self somewhat relieved that some folk think you’re a sandwich short of a picnic.

    OK then,
    All The Best!

    • I think it probably goes deeper than that. We know that there are going to be people who disagree with our stance. That’s not the problem with most bad reviews. Most bad reviews are just mean. But also: why should we spend our time reading things by people who vehemently disagree with our convictions, especially if we’ve got a solid grounding for those convictions (read: I’m pretty sure Sarah’s done her research on her beliefs). And it’s ok that people disagree. But going out in pursuit of those who disagree with us isn’t the healthiest thing to do in the first place. Cheers.

      • one billion daleks

        Hello Abby – thanks for your thoughts about my comments!

        Well er, I ‘vehemently disagree’ with your opinion that most bad reviews are just mean. There are bad reviews and there are mean reviews, the latter mostly written either by young males with severe testosterone poisoning, else hateful bigots. Either way, they’re a tiny minority.

        I’ve posted thousands of album reviews on my website, and most of them are ‘bad’ (cos there’s far more poor-quality music out there than there is good music). But my reviews are never mean-spirited – they’re my genuinely-held opinions. Nevertheless, I’m sure the subjects of my reviews – with but a nominal amount of effort – could readily construe them as being mean.

        As to ‘why should we spend our time reading things by people who vehemently disagree with our convictions’. Well, there’s a lot of reasons actually, the least of which would be: They spent time reading something they vehemently disagree with, so the least we can do is reciprocate! ๐Ÿ˜‰

        What’s more, if they’d handed over their own hard-earned cash to Sarah, for the privelege of reading her book – and then found themselves fervently disagreeing with her views – then they’ve at least earnt the right to express an opinion (which at least Sarah didn’t have to pay THEM for).

        More significantly though, democracy is based on adversarial principles. Tyranny on the other hand is based on an absolute intolerance of dissent – of folk disagreeing with you and saying so (which would of course equate to a ‘bad’ review, for which the reviewer would be inconveniently shot).

        But as you say, ‘going out in pursuit of those who disagree with us isn’t the healthiest thing to do in the first place’ … which is in a way what Sarah has did and gone and done, as indicated by the title of her post.

        As to whether it’s healthy … well, it wasn’t for Sarah’s role-model Jesus was it. Which is maybe why the more devout of his subsequent followers preferred to remove themselves from the world – in monasteries and convents, else as wandering saints, or solitary hermits on their proverbial mountaintops.

        OK then,
        All The Best!

    • I don’t really know that it’s that Sarah would “prefer” that everyone write a good review all the time, just that it’s very human to be hurt even by the bad reviews you expected/were warned about. When you put your words out into the world and someone goes, “Well, you dumping out your heart and soul just isn’t very good”… it’s natural to be hurt by that. It doesn’t mean that she wants the bad reviews to have never existed; just that, as she says, it’s generally better not to read them. Because we’re human, and stuff like that gets under our skin.

      Especially when you’re new to being published and not used to them yet.

      • one billion daleks

        Hello Katie!

        Well, it wouldn’t ‘get under your skin’ at all if you were fully confident of your position, if your thesis was watertight.

        Under such circumstances, far from getting under your skin and becoming a source of distress, a contrary opinion would instead be a heaven-sent opportunity to expand and consolidate your arguments – through the act of successfully refuting the negative opinion.

        Thus just as ‘what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger’, then likewise every negative review that is vanquished simply lends more strength to your case.

        So negative reviews should be relished for the opportunities for rebuttal that they create in their wake.

        And a sure sign that you’re getting there is when your opponent has run out of arguments, and they start resorting to mere infantile abuse. Then, if you’re really really *ahem* … lucky … once they discover abuse doesn’t work either – they’ll give up, and just crucify you.

        If your naysayers ever resort to such violence, you know for sure that you’ve defeated all the arguments they’d arraigned against you, once and for all (though thankfully, whilst not unheard of, such extreme outcomes are rare in modern liberal democracies).

        So:
        Bad reviews = counter arguments to be refuted.
        Mean reviews = oops! no counter argument – just abuse.

        OK then,
        All The Best!

  • Sarah S

    Thanks Sarah. I love the last line. “…this is where you find God most clearly and most profoundly, this is your sanctuary and this is your work.” I love that the last line is about writing. Last month I got sick, forgot who I was, what I liked, lost myself. Really. I spent a month sorting through delusions and reality. I deleted my blog, my facebook, all social media. But, I do love to right. It is my sanctuary and my work. I will begin again. I will work it in to my restart. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Jessica

    Oh, Sarah. What a lovely and encouraging piece. Keep writing; you’re such a wonderful writer! This blog is a sanctuary for not just you, but so many of us…can you feel it? A few months ago I was asking for guidance from a priest friend of mine (I live in a place where spiritual community is difficult to find) and he told me he would pray for some people to enter my life in a meaningful way…the next day I stumbled upon your blog. And through it, other blogs by exceptional women. After such loneliness for a community, I feel like my heart overflows with connectedness now. Let your mind be at peace, lovely.

  • LN

    A-Mazing. I’ve been here. A-Mazing.

  • Bonnie Simon

    Criticism is the price of … well, I want to say that it’s the price of living your life according to God’s plan, but to tell the plain truth, it’s the price of living at all. I try to remember that while some people are loudly critical, others are quietly benefiting from my work (and sometimes loudly benefiting too). Lots and lots of people (including myself) love your writing and look forward to it. I’m so glad you’re willing to take the risk of being criticized and bring us these beautiful moments of reflection and peace.

  • Were you in my head? Reading my thoughts? This is spot on and you beautifully put words to what I too feel. Writing is how I make sense of the world around me and see Jesus woven through the day. Writing heals the pain by showing me His mercy. Thank you for this post!

  • BobG_2013

    People can choose to create, or to react to things other people create. You’ve chosen to create, and that’s awesome.

  • The best reviews (and the ones to truly listen to and embrace) are the ones where people say you helped them. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Lindsey Paulson

    For what it’s worth, I thought your book was lovely. I bought 3 copies so I can share them with like-minded women. You bared your sole in that book and I cannot imagine how deeply it hurts when people criticize your work. Jesus spoke to me in the pages of that lovely book. Please keep writing :-).

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  • Angela Parlin

    Sarah, Just today I finally opened your book (it’s been part of my tall stack of waiting-to-reads), and read half of it. What I appreciate most is the humble way you approach the subject. Not as an angry, cynical, disillusioned with the church, up-and-leaving-them woman…but simply, hey, I had questions, they weren’t welcome, but I asked them anyway, studied scripture all by my big self, and here’s what I found. I also didn’t feel you were starting with YOUR POINT and trying to prove it. You can always tell when writers tackle an issue from that perspective. But you didn’t, and I thank you for your COURAGE. I’ve asked some of the same questions through the years (even though I grew up thoroughly evangelical, stateside, and I’ve been taught “the right answers”). Once I started studying the Bible for myself, that’s when the questions surfaced, because many of the traditions in our church culture DON’T FIT with Jesus. So far, I mostly agree with you in Jesus Feminist, but there are some things I want to study further for myself, and some interpretations I’m not sure if I agree with. But that’s something else I appreciate about your writing. If I was in your circle, I don’t think you’d be bothered by my disagreeing with you. I love that, b/c I’ve experienced more of the opposite within church circles, and it’s something I’ve never understood. Why people get all hot and bothered if you think the Bible is “saying” something different from what they think it’s saying. I just wanted to encourage you, my sister. Because your words and your story have encouraged me in a huge way today. Thank you!!! ~Angela Parlin

  • Victoria Kuttainen

    Don’t listen to the specialists, the experts, the academics who make no impact. I am a specialist, expert, academic who is so jealous of the Awe Inspiring Impact of wholehearted passionate writers like you who make an impact. I write, by nature of my work, esoteric articles that get cited and read by esoteric people in academic journals with tiny readerships of expert specialists. I fall at your feet and ask the likes of writers like you, Shauna Niequist, Rachel Held Evans to reveal to me your secrets, your expertise, your mastercraftsmanship. Ignore the jealous experts and critics. You have been set upon a high rock to speak to nations. It’s awesome, and your voice and impact are long overdue. Oh by the way–I’m originally a Fraser Valley girl but now live very far away in Australia. Your book is starting to make a big impact here and as my hometown was Abbotsford, I am claiming you as my homegirl. You are doing us Canadians proud throughout the nations. Go you!

  • Sarah, your post caused me to chuckle as it reminded me what I do and did. From experience, I suggest the bad reviews often have little to do with you. We want honest critiques to help us improve but frequently we read the result of emotions versus a reflection of our content. Still, I am laughing at myself again, KNOWING I will read “those” reviews, in the future.

  • Pamela

    This post reminded me of just yesterday morning, when concerned about a minor, yet unknown, medical problem my hubby was having, he texted me DO NOT GOOGLE________! WHATEVER YOU DO DO NOT GOOGLE IT!
    I waited as long as I could. While he was on hold with the doctor I opened the laptop. Ugh! Everything is fine but WHY do we do that to ourselves? The internet is such a powerful force for good AND evil.

    Like anything in life, we tend to forget the positive, or just take it for granted, and camp out in the negativity. You’re only human. It’s what you DO with the opinions of others that matters. Do we let them paralyze us or move on even stronger?

    I think you made the right choice!

  • This is beautifully vulnerable, Sarah. You ARE a warrior, and your writing is a gift to others. Thank you for continuing to share the gift!

    I may have to put this on my wall: “And someone will not like it. But you will write anyway and you will keep writing because this is where you find God most clearly and most profoundly, this is your sanctuary and this is your work.”

  • Beth

    I’m new here. I just read your book yesterday. I cried, and immediately ordered 2 copies, one for my mom and one for my friend. I loved it so much. That is all.