Jen Hatmaker has earned a devoted following by writing with humor and heart about mothering five children in Austin, Texas, a city she calls the home of the hipsters. In her latest book, For the Love, the popular Christian writer and star of HGTV’s “My Big Family Renovation” encourages readers to embrace imperfection.
You write that as you look at young women today, you see a generation “on the hook.” What do you mean by this?
We are tough on one another, starting with ourselves. Despite our culture of empowerment and freedom, most women feel really wobbly about how they are doing. Consequently, the self-critical person becomes others-critical. We “love” people the way we “love” ourselves, and if we are not good enough, then no one can be. We keep ourselves brutally on the hook, plus our husbands, our kids, our friends, our churches, our leaders, anyone “other.” I think we can do better than this.
What does radical grace look like for someone feeling the weight of impossible standards?
I think I spent too much time in my earlier days of leadership trying to “fix” us all. If we could simply focus on x, y and z, then we would discover that elusive peace. At this point in my life, and particularly in For the Love, I spend way less time pushing people toward change and far more time assuring them they are already OK. Life is not waiting for better-crafted people to step into some future place of significance. We already matter and we already count, and we have these beautiful lives in front of us waiting to be lived today.
People often talk about searching for their “calling” from God, but you write that this idea is limited and misleading. What do you think is a better approach?
“Calling” is such a loaded concept. It evokes images of world-changing purposes and complicated (but admirable) job descriptions. It diminishes what most of us will enjoy: simple, quiet lives where we work hard and love our people and do the very best with what we’ve been given. I believe every woman has access to full meaning and purpose exactly how and where she is today, because ultimately the building blocks of significance include everyday accessible treasures like love, connection, generosity and hospitality.
You care about loving others well. What are some ways to do that?
In my faith, my primary marching orders are simple: Love God and love people. That’s basically it. So I take this super seriously because evidently it’s at least 50 percent of my whole life’s substance. I guess my basic definition of loving others involves practices that actually feel like love: affirmation, compassion, a cheese-based casserole when someone has a baby, a last-minute invite for chili and cornbread, a kind word, noticing someone. Super basic stuff, but it requires getting out of our own heads and sometimes out of our own houses for the glorious risk of connecting. Loneliness does not have to be a prison; we have too many keys.
Your love of food and the act of coming together with people and eating come through so clearly in For the Love. Why do you think food and friendship go together so well?
A shared table is the most common expression of hospitality in every culture on earth. There is something timeless and universal about sharing a meal with friends and neighbors. In Spain, a perfect stranger we met in the market invited us to dinner at his house, as if it was the most natural, obvious response to a lovely conversation with visiting Americans. If we aren’t sure how to connect with folks, a burger on the grill and corn on the cob is a good starting place. I am obsessed with the goodness that begins around the table together. It is the starting place for almost every good memory I have.
You talk about the importance of listening to those whose stories are often ignored, like teenagers and those whose experiences are outside of the majority. Why is listening so powerful and necessary?
My basic approach is this: Whenever two people (or groups or cultures or tribes) combine, we should listen to whoever has the least power. The dominant majority usually has no concept of their privileges, preconceived ideas, inherent bias or emotional advantages. The powerless or minority voices are typically silenced because they can be, with little to no effect on the majority experience. The path through equality, justice and empowerment has always begun when someone with power began to humbly listen to the minority perspective.
How do we listen well?
There is an enormous difference between listening to understand and listening to craft a rebuttal. When we sit across from another human being, we let each other off the hook when our only objective is to connect and understand the other person. This is harder than it sounds because our instinct is to fix, advise, disprove or hijack the conversation, but most of us just want to be heard and loved. Full stop. It is quite powerful to look into someone’s eyes and bear witness to their story.
What do you hope readers take away from this book?
I hope readers close the last page and breathe an enormous sigh of relief. I hope they laugh out loud because they just got free. Then I hope they look with fresh, renewed eyes at all their people—the ones they married, those they birthed, the ones on their street and in church and at work and around the world—and they are released to love them as though it’s their job.
Maybe we can lay down our fear and criticism, self-directed and otherwise. We don’t have to be saviors and critics for each other; we’re probably better as loved people beside one another. We aren’t good gods, but we can be really, really good humans.
This article was originally published in the August 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.