Back in October I sat down (via Zoom) with my overseas friend, Cassie Watson, a writer and avid reader from Sydney, Australia whose chief goal is to point others to Jesus, to chat about books and the writing life. I hope you enjoy what she had to say and are encouraged as I was.
What are some books that you are currently reading?
Well, I am one of those people who reads way too many books at the same time. My bedside table is really just several stacks of books that threaten to fall over and engulf me. So, I’ll just pick a couple to mention. I am re-reading the Narnia series at the moment, which is always a great joy. I am very much of the opinion that it ought to be read in publication order, not chronological order. I’m up to The Magician’s Nephew at the moment, almost finished. It’s really been a great joy to revisit them, actually very refreshing for my soul. You always come away from reading them, just loving Jesus a little bit more. Isn’t that the goal of Christian writers?
I’m often reading fiction alongside non-fiction, in the non-fiction realm I am reading Growing Together by Melissa Kruger, which is a new release. It’s about mentor relationships, but it’s not really a book so much about mentoring as a tool to use in a mentoring relationship. The idea is you both read through each chapter, then you meet, and talk through some of the points she gives you there. I’m reading it myself right now and then hope to work out who I might could use it with in the future.
I also am reading The Quest for Godliness by J.I. Packer. It’s a sort of introduction and overview of Puritan writers. I love the Puritans. I’ve had this book on my shelf for awhile and when J.I. Packer died recently, I realized I had a few of his books that I hadn’t read yet, and that motivated me to open them up. The book gives a helpful overview of the Puritans so that as I read them, I understand about where they are coming from more and it’s also pointed me to a few different works that I think I would really like to read.
What are some of your favorite books from the past? Ones that have influenced both your outlook on life and the way you write?
That’s actually a pretty mean question. Haha. I’m glad you included a specification for books that have really influenced me and not just my favorites, favorite would’ve been too hard. There are too many to name, so I’ll just pick a few.
When it comes to fiction, I like the big three: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Narnia. Those are the ones I’m just going to keep re-reading for the rest of my life. I re-read Harry Potter every year, I don’t think I could do Tolkien every year. That would take quite awhile. I did just recently finish my Harry Potter read-through for the year, as I said I’m now in Narnia, and I will pick up Lord of the Rings when I’m done with that. I just find all three of those series really help me not just escape from my life into a book, but in that escapism I just see Jesus better and love Him more. It give me a better perspective, and I love them for that.
When it comes to non-fiction, again, really hard. I think one that’s been really formative is The Cross of Christ by John Stott. It’s excellent. I didn’t really understand before I read that why Jesus had to die. It sounds obvious, and I grew up as a Christian, but I didn’t really have a super well-formed theology of the cross. I couldn’t really answer, “well, why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn’t God just forgive us?” Those sort of questions. John Stott’s book is really just a theology of the cross and atonement. It was really formative for me. I’ve gone back and re-read it, and it’ll be one of those I’ll continue to look back on and see it as a turning point in my faith.
I also mentioned the Puritans. I love them. I haven’t read a huge number of Puritan books, but I did want to mention one in particular. It wasn’t my first Puritan book, but it’s one of those that’s not always talked about. It’s called Dying Thoughts. Not necessarily the cheeriest title, it it? It’s by Richard Baxter. It’s a small book. The whole thing is a meditation on Philippians 1:23 where Paul is saying that he wants to depart and be with Christ, but he knows God still has him in this world. Baxter, as he wrote this, was very sick and thought he might die (he didn’t wind up dying at this time), and it’s him thinking and meditating on how much he loves Jesus and longs to be with Him. But also the benefit of him staying and what he can still do in this world. It’s a really helpful one, especially now with the pandemic making death much more real for a lot of people. Reading books like this and thinking about the joy we’ll have beyond death, what it means to really treasure Jesus, these are important things.
I’ll just mention one more, this time an author and not a particular book though. I love Jen Wilkin. I’m hopping from the Puritans who are very, very old to Jen who is very, very new. She is excellent. Everything she writes shows how well she knows her Bible, how well she knows her theology. She isn’t hard to read either, she just writes so well. Women of the Word is excellent. It’s about how to study the Bible. I’ve actually worked through some of that material with women at my church and it’s been so helpful. She’s also written None Like Him, on the attributes of God we don’t share, and In His Image which is a sort of companion on attributes we do share with God. Sometimes women’s writing can be very feelings based, which isn’t necessarily wrong, but Jen does a good job of making her writing really meaty and theologically rich. It gives us the Bible, which is what we need. I appreciate her so much for that.
What would you say is something God has been teaching you through writing lately?
This is actually going to overlap with one of your recent articles, Ordinary, because it really resonated with me. It’s hard to say it’s what God is teaching me, because I still haven’t quite gotten it. He’s working on me. I struggle with rest, with not thinking that what I can achieve and produce is the most important thing. God has been reminding me that He cares about my heart more than He cares about anything I do for Him. I have a chronic illness, so I also have to be vigilant about physical rest. When I stay up late to get that next blog post out, when I’m neglecting time with Him to get my own to-do list done, those things are not going to effect my body or heart well. They’ll ultimately lead me little by little away from Him and make me susceptible to more sin. I’ll be grumpy, I’ll be in more pain, I’ll not be finding my joy in Jesus. God’s been teaching me that I can’t brush off pursuing Him with busyness. I need to prioritize Him, and if that means writing less, than that’s ultimately the better thing. It’s better to know and love Him than have published blog posts everyone likes and make it to bigger writing platforms. I’m definitely a work in progress, but I’m learning to care more about what God is doing in my own heart than what I am achieving.
What is a word of encouragement you’d give to other writers seeking to share Christ in the writing world?
I would say that God’s Word will work the way He wants it to. It can be tempting for us to want to have things go our way, we might labor over a piece of writing and think, “Oh, this is the best I’ve ever written, people will love this,” which is pride and that’s wrong. We might also pour a lot of effort into something with the right motive and really believe this is what will benefit God’s people, and sometimes He uses it the way you expect, but other times you don’t get a response at all. It’s out in the world and most of the time it feels like no one reads what we write. We wonder if it makes a difference at all. I just want to encourage writers to trust that God will use His Word in His time. If you spend hours getting that blog post or book just right, and no one reads it, maybe the work He meant to do with it was in you rather than those who read it. The process of writing shapes the writer more than the reader. He’ll do what He wants to do with it, and more often than not, that work will be in the heart of the writer. He is kind though, and He does use our words to change others, so be thankful for that when you see it, but don’t doubt His work in your own heart as you continue to write for His glory.
Cassie writes regularly at her own blog www.casswatson.com and included below are links to several of my personal favorites you’ll find over there. You can also find her on TGC Australia and on Twitter. While reading this interview didn’t allow you to hear her lovely Australian accent, I hope you were encouraged to read, write, and live to the glory of Christ.
Links to Cassie’s website:
Links to books mentioned in this article:
Cassie and I are both part of the Gospel Center for Discipleship’s Writers Guild. If you are a writer looking for rich community to sharpen your writing skills for the glory of God, check it out.