Bessey, who blogs at sarahbessey. com, has attracted a large, steadily growing audience through her artfully written, often deeply personal entries. The western- Canadian wife and “mum of three tinies” is the author of the provocatively compelling book Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women (Howard). She tackles a range of topics in her blog, from living out faith in Christ, to caring for children, to overcoming life’s deepest hurts.
Melton writes the popular Momastery.com blog, where her “raw, witty and relatable storytelling” gently spurs readers to live “bigger, bolder and truer” lives. The author of the bestseller Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life (Scribner), Melton draws from her own personal wells of agony and triumph as she blogs about family, marriage, motherhood, faith, addiction and recovery.
Both of these gifted women—who happen to be friends and admirers of each other’s blogs, despite their distinctive styles and niches—are veterans of online writing. Both believe in the power of a well-crafted blog. Both write with disarming candor, vulnerability and humor. Both seek to provide a caring respite for readers — while also inspiring them to make a difference for others. And both have a hard-won trove of insights to share. Read on…
HOMECOMING: In what ways has writing an online blog been meaningful and beneficial to you?
GLENNON: I am a writer who happened to use the Internet as her first medium. I’m grateful that I began that way, because the Internet has allowed my writing to be the catalyst that sparked the creation of the vibrant, diverse community of peacemakers at Momastery. For better or worse, that’s what the Internet does for writers: it makes creating our art a two-way street. Our writing becomes an ongoing conversation instead of a monologue.
SARAH: Personally, writing online has been enriching to me in terms of having an outlet, a safe place to write, particularly as I was undergoing very deep spiritual transformation. I wrote my way through it. It’s all there in the archives of my blog. Sometimes you want to burn them down, because it’s embarrassing. But it’s a very real-time snapshot of a life, of what you’re processing. Writing a blog also is a way to get past the gatekeepers of publishing. It’s a bit subversive, maybe. People are finding each other and encouraging each other. It’s quite beautiful and life-changing. Some of the bravest and best writing in the church today is happening online.
HOMECOMING: Which blog topics tend to draw in your readers the most?
GLENNON: The blog is how we find each other. That’s how we gather our tribe. In Momastery’s case, this has been a ridiculous blessing, because our tribe — our Internet community — is a place where miracles happen. My writing and others’ responses became a community, and then the community became a nonprofit that serves families all over the world. Just last week we held an online fundraiser — a “Love Flash Mob” — for four women with cancer. We raised more than $150,000 in 13 hours, through donations of 25 dollars or less.
The power of the Momastery community has to be experienced to be believed. It’s proof that truth-telling really does set the teller and the listeners free to love wildly and without agenda. If I had been a more traditional writer, none of this would have happened. The Internet’s power to bring people together allowed for this. Sometimes I wonder if every word I write is just fuel to keep the giving going through our nonprofit. If that’s the case, then it’s a worthy use of my life and gift.
SARAH: The fun thing about blogging is that it lets me write without a lot of compartmentalizing. Sometimes I’ll want to write about faith and theology, and other times about mothering and home life. And they all kind of have their own audiences, and it all sort of comes together. Most of the posts that go “viral” are the ones that carry a personal story. There are lots of opinions and facts and materials available online; the real differentiator with blogging is that you can get to know the writer. So it’s a more relational way to communicate truth, perhaps.
HOMECOMING: Glennon, in a TEDx talk, you mentioned that you’ve gone from numbing and hiding pain, to feeling and sharing it with readers as part of your healing journey. And Sarah, you’ve often blogged from the depths of sadness and loss. What does it mean for each of you to share so vulnerably with a large online audience?
GLENNON: To be a Christian is to be vulnerable. I think a lot about what Christian posture should look like. Sometimes it feels like in the media, the Christian posture is two fists up — ready to fight. But to me, when I look at Jesus and the cross, it seems the only appropriate Christian posture is arms wide open, like Jesus’ arms on the cross. And to me, an arms-wide-open posture means letting people really see me. Letting people into my heart. And then refusing to defend myself.
It’s interesting: I often see Internet writers defending themselves for being human. They say things like: No, I’m not a hypocrite! I do NOT contradict myself! I am NOT a mess! Well, of course you do, and of course you are. We’re all human, and so if you write truthfully long enough, you are inevitably going to reveal your imperfect humanity.
That’s what you’re supposed to do. A writer is not supposed to be a perfect human being, just a fully human being allowing others to watch her messy, beautiful, fully human heart open and close and open again and again.
When online writers ask me for advice, one of the first things I tell them is: “If you can avoid defending yourself for being human, you might have enough energy to keep writing. Don’t defend yourself, and don’t get your needs confused. You don’t need to be right — you just need to write.”
SARAH: One of my most widely read and shared pieces was about my experience as a young woman who had been sexually active, and how I felt the church treated me — like damaged goods — because of the “purity-culture narrative” prevalent in the early 1990s. It was a very vulnerable and open piece. I had the full support of my husband and my family, but I knew it was a risk to write it. My point was that nobody is damaged goods; everybody can be redeemed.
I put it out there knowing it would be a bit divisive. And of course it spread like wildfire because it articulated other people’s experiences. And I think that’s what the best blogging is. It’s someone coming alongside and saying, “Me, too.” You feel alone, and you find people who have similar questions or hurts or experiences.
It’s quite funny: the “damaged goods” piece did get a lot of negative backlash from certain groups. My dad heard about it, and he called me that morning and said, “I’m so proud of you. This is exactly what needed to happen.” He was on fire.
I wrote another post a few months ago that got something like 300,000 shares, about the ache after you’re done having children, what it feels like at the end of your season of having babies. So many women have said, “Yes, I have felt that.” There’s something really healing in knowing you’re not alone.
HOMECOMING: With so many places available to share your writing today, is any particular platform a favorite for you and for your readers?
GLENNON: Momastery — our blog — is home sweet home for me. I love Momastery like I love my IRL [in-real-life] home. It’s a soft place to land where the rules are: 1. Love wins; 2. We belong to each other; and 3. We can do hard things. Those are really our rules! And those rules make for a wonderful community. To me, it’s a slice of heaven.
My favorite social-media site is Facebook. It’s easy to share pictures and write out entire thoughts and converse with others. My Facebook page feels like an actual place to me. I don’t understand where to land at Twitter; I feel untethered there. My 11-year-old son tells me that Facebook is for moms and old people, so I suppose I’m right where I belong.
But — oh my goodness — the thought of folks snuggling up with a cup of tea and a copy of Carry On, Warrior still gives me goose bumps. I actually can’t believe it. Books have been my saving grace since I was a child. Reading is the only addiction God’s allowed me to keep. It’s how I connect with my world and God and people. I have always felt so unbelievably lucky to be a reader of books, and now I get to be a writer of books?! As my daughters would say: “I can’t even.”
SARAH: For me, it’s all of those avenues working together. One thing that differentiates blogging from other mediums is that it really is community based. There are conversations. It’s not just Sarah throwing a post out there and walking away. Facebook and Instagram and Twitter also are ways to interact and keep the conversation going.
HOMECOMING: For all of the good, we know there also are downsides to digital connectedness. Glennon, you’ve overcome a lot of shame in your life. On social media, shaming others can happen quickly and destructively—whether it’s blatant bullying or more subtle rejection. What’s your take on the more negative aspects of the online world?
GLENNON: Yes, there is a whole lot of criticism and unkindness. Anne Lamott said that the greatest thing about writing is that “they can’t boo you right away.” But if you are an Internet writer, that’s not true. The boos and the cheers come immediately and relentlessly, and part of the job becomes learning how to keep the praise and criticism from getting inside. That’s especially confusing for many of us because the irony is that most writers are sensitive souls. In order to write well, we have to keep our sensitivity, while simultaneously developing the toughness that survival of a critical online world requires. I’ve heard it described as a “soft heart and tough skin.”
When I first started writing, the Internet criticism used to floor me. When it came fast and furious, I’d often curl up under the covers and cry and threaten to quit forever. Like many writers, I tend toward the dramatic. Time and perspective have made it easier.
I spend half my workday writing and the other half reading letters from people all over the world who share with me their loss and pain. I consider it part of my ministry to be brokenhearted for people. I throw on a prayer shawl that a church in Cincinnati made for me, and I open my email and I read and read and let my heart break open for my sisters and brothers. What people go through and overcome is truly stunning.
And, exposing myself to that daily helps. Because after I hear from the single mama working three jobs to keep food on the table, or the father who lost his young wife to cancer, or the teenager who faces relentless bullying, it’s easier to remind myself that people are dealing with harder things than “Internet criticism.” If criticism is my hard thing, I should probably kneel down and kiss the ground. So I just keep showing up at work even when it feels hard—just like everyone else is doing.
Folks who work at the post office and McDonald’s are mistreated every day. Unfortunately, it seems to go with service. Writing is a service job, so we take our punches and we decide the only important thing: will I allow this to make me angrier or kinder? Will I meet cruelty with more cruelty; will I continue the cycle? Or will I take a deep breath — remember that hurt people hurt people, and that this is not about me—and offer love?
Usually I can. Not always, but often enough to say that my online life has made me a better, kinder, more tenderhearted person. I know how harsh criticism feels now—and so I find myself criticizing others less and less. I’ve become a cheerleader for anyone trying anything bold and kind and brave. Paul Coelho said that the benefit of our work is not what we get but what we become. I like the person that Momastery has helped me to become. After seven years of a large Internet presence, I still have a soft heart and I’m still showing up. That feels like a miracle to me.
HOMECOMING: Sarah, how do you deal with the darker side of our digital age?
SARAH: There is a tremendous amount of criticism you receive. Whole websites are dedicated to tearing people down. Those things are real and they happen, and I don’t think any of us are built to take that kind of drive-by hatred. I kind of joke with my husband that if there’s one thing that has cured me of people pleasing, God has used blogging. You can’t last long if you’re addicted to approval.
I try to remember that we’re talking with people. There are times I’ve made mistakes and been wrong and have really appreciated people who kindly and wisely helped to open my eyes to some things, or showed me a different way to talk about things. I have grown from criticism and pushback.
When I look at social media and blogging, it almost holds up a mirror to who we are. If I’m scrolling through Instagram and starting to feel really badly about my life, because these people are doing amazing things—they’re making their own clothes, growing their own food, visiting exotic places — then I know that’s on me, not them. In those cases, nobody is trying to shame me. Social media is everybody else’s highlight reel, and if you’re comparing that to your own life, that’s the danger.
I try to have boundaries about how much time I spend online. I never want to have a rich life online but a sparse life offline. I want to be a seamless person, the same person on the blog as I am in Facebook comments as I am at church on Sunday.
One of the ways I manage things is that I don’t have a cell phone. I have a home phone. So I can truly be unplugged. That’s part of how I walk through living in today’s world.
HOMECOMING: Finally, in what ways do each of you anticipate using digital media to continue building an audience and spreading your message in the years ahead?
SARAH: Things have always moved quite organically for me, and that’s a place where I feel at peace. A lot of the opportunities have arisen out of relationships that have developed. It hasn’t really been strategic.
I really have no idea what I’m doing. I am a clumsy blogger and kind of fell into it. I’m still surprised that anybody other than my sister reads anything I write. When else in the history of the church would anyone care what some starry-eyed mum in western Canada thinks about anything? Let alone about faith and Scripture and how God is at work in our lives. Never, ever. So that’s kind of fun.
There are so many different corners of blogging: stay-home moms, fashion experts, theologians and people like me writing through their lives, all over the map depending on the day. It’s so creative and unique and life giving.
One of things I long for on my blog is to do some good in the world, to include the global voice in the conversation, to be a bit of a small outpost for the Kingdom of God — a place that’s safe and brave and kind, where we honor God and honor each other.
My default is: I love to write, and I want to just keep writing. I see the blog as my lab as a writer. I can share what I’m thinking about marriage or a TV show or parenting, and it’s just fun, and it’s exciting, and it has been good.
GLENNON: Oh my gosh — I have no idea. Plans are not really my thing. I was recently asked my “five-year plan” by a business writer, and I said “Um, ‘Be still and know I’m God’?” and he looked at me like I’d lost my mind. But “Be still” is actually a pretty accurate description of the way I plan. I just get quiet and listen for the next right thing from God. And I notice that’s all God offers me. No long-term plans, just the next right thing. And that’s OK because my sobriety has taught me that you can make it all the way home just doing the next right thing, one thing at a time.
God only gives us what we need for today — our daily bread. And even though I kind of feel like a little monthly bread would be nice, I can’t deny the fact that the daily bread God offers has always, always been enough. And so I have no idea what the years ahead will bring, but I can tell you that today, it’s been absolutely lovely to speak with you. And that after we finish up, I’ll likely take my dogs for a walk around the block. That seems like the next right thing.