Ruth, thanks so much for speaking to us. I’ve heard you say before that you are a very ‘unlikely’ Christian. Can you tell us a bit about who you are and how you came to trust Jesus?
I grew up in the 1970s in the north of England with wonderful hippy, anti-establishment, atheist parents, so from a human perspective there was literally nothing in my upbringing that would logically lead me to Christian faith. But throughout my life, there were particular events and people that sowed the seeds for my eventual meeting with Jesus. These included an interaction with people of faith during my gap year while I was goat herding in Ireland (true story), staring at creation in the Scottish highlands, walking into a church in western Sydney in the hopes of making some friends and climbing high in a job that made me question what the purpose of life was. God prepared the soil so that when I heard the gospel I was ready to receive it. So yes, I’m a very unlikely Christian—but really, isn’t everybody? God is amazing at bringing us to him no matter what.
You have just written your first book, Are We There Yet? You describe the Christian life as “the journey of a lifetime”. How has your own experience of living the Christian life over the past 12 years prompted you to write?
When I became a Christian, everything dropped into place and I wanted to learn as much as I could. I dived into every book and course and conference I could. I felt like a baby Christian. As I went through what you might call my Christian toddler years and then my tween and teen years, I could trace the ups and downs as I fell and rose, slipped and tripped, and ultimately grew in my knowledge and faith.
The reason I called the book Are We There Yet? is because this is how the journey can feel. We start out strong with everything organised and packed neatly and feeling excited for the road. But then it gets hot and tiring and the scenery gets a bit same-y and the kids start arguing and the rubbish from the snack bags gradually spread all over the floor of the car. The journey suddenly seems to be never-ending. Now, we can go to conferences and read books to give ourselves a lift. Often when we hear that we should stay focused and abide in Christ, we know it’s true, but we don’t really know what it means, and even less what it should look like. It’s good to hear those things but when I get home from church, what should I do? We can try lots of things but it doesn’t seem to stick. And then we feel like failures.
There are even those times when we feel like we’re in a rut. We just feel… blergh! We look at people at church (who all have their best church faces on). We compare ourselves. And then we feel even worse. We don’t know how to get it back. We might not even know what ‘it’ is—our Christian mojo?
So I wanted to write a book that looked in a different way at the basic markers of discipleship (reading our Bibles, praying and so on) and work through how we can approach them in practical (and stick-able) ways. I wanted to acknowledge that we’re all in the same boat, often suffering and struggling with the same things, and offer some approaches to stay on track. Our salvation is from God and it is by faith alone—not a discipleship to-do list. But our faith (and our confidence) can get tied up in the to-do list. I wanted to re-focus and suggest approaches that would give us strength.
What are your hopes for the book? Who do you hope will benefit from it? Why is that an important target readership?
One of my dearest friends has so much love for Jesus but hates sitting down to read. She just doesn’t enjoy it. But then she feels anxious because she thinks if she’s not reading she’s not going to be growing as a Christian. She also gets bogged down by what she sees on social media and the adversarial attitude to Christians these days. It makes her feel vulnerable and exposed and it knocks her confidence in her faith.
She is such a beautiful Christian and she is so hard on herself. I always think that if I can write something that she would engage with and enjoy, then I can reach people in the “silent majority”. What I mean is that there are lots of Christians who read lots and engage lots and hold lots of strong opinions. But there are also lots of people like my friend who are trying their hardest to just do life. They’re struggling with confidence in how they express their Christianity, but don’t necessarily engage in the public debates. Or there are others who, like me, can’t find material that necessarily speaks to them. So I deliberately write how I speak in the hope that it will make the reader feel like they are in a conversation between friends.
I hope the reader will feel understood and recognise that they aren’t alone in struggling with various areas of the Christian walk. I hope they will trust me when I say that we can help each other along with it. The aim is to take the anxiety and confusion out of several Christian ‘disciplines’ and help us all to feel more confident in how we express these in every area of life.
Each chapter in the book is structured around the good things “I think I should be doing” (prayer, Bible reading, church, evangelism etc.), but you contrast that with “what generally happens”—i.e. the very different reality that we often find ourselves in instead. Why is that your starting place?
I start each chapter there because that’s what my brain is doing when I reflect on these topics. I look at what others are doing, I look at what I am doing, and then I get really down about the gap between the two. Or I feel I am trying, but doing really badly—in my eyes, in comparison to people I think are mega-Christians! So this was a deliberate starting point. I was hoping it was not just me who feels like this! If others relate to that ideal/reality concept, then it will help us to look at what is a reasonable expectation (or not) and work out how to bridge the gap from where we are to where we would like to grow to.
As each of us thinks about our walk with Jesus over many years, how would you summarise the key encouragement from your book?
The Christian walk is a journey of a lifetime. It is not a to-do list upon which our salvation depends. But it is wise to have a focus on faithful obedience, for God’s glory as well as our own good. We are not alone while we journey. Christ gave us our Christian community to help each us and this is incredibly strengthening. And journeys are always better in a group. So let’s link arms, tell jokes and sing songs all the way!
Ruth’s book Are We There Yet? is available from Reformers Bookshop, The Wandering Bookseller and Koorong, as well as the usual international sites.