Most 20 something’s are still navigating how to successfully cook dinner, excel at work and maintain a decent social life. However, there are a select-few who have figured out how to not only accomplish these tasks but also get married, raise a whole child, and publish a book along the way. With those credentials alone, it was necessary to interview author Ariel Jacobs on her debut book The Yoke of Perfection.
Jacobs, who has a duel bachelors degree in African American Studies and Creative Writing, a masters degree in Professional Writing and is currently working on her second masters in Practical Theology, is obviously an inspiration. The L.A. native and soon-to-be mother of two boys is also under 30!
Describe yourself in three words.
Creative, passionate, and…loving.
Give us an overview of The Yoke of Perfection.
The Yoke of Perfection is basically a companion book for anyone who is trying to balance the intricacies of our outward identity with the acceptance and beliefs of the Christian faith. It is my personal understanding of how God works to heal those broken places that tend to fall in the “gray areas” that are not always taught or handled properly, especially for young Black women who have gained any form of education outside of the mainstream curriculum we are used to. A friend described it to me as a “healing tool” to which I really couldn’t agree any more. It was healing to write, so I am glad that it has also served that purpose for others.
Have you always been into writing? When did you know you loved it?
I’d always used writing as a way to explore my own thoughts and voice. I grew up very shy and quite introverted. Writing was very personal and private for me, but it gave me strength and power to keep going.
I think I fell in love with writing before I knew I had. I realized it when I saw my writing reaching other people, not just me. From then on, I’ve had a burning desire to make sure I write and to make sure what I write would be beneficial, not just something else out there to populate the masses with more ideas and information.
Did you go to school to write?
Yes. I applied to one program, not really sure if I would be accepted, but I told myself that if I did, I would have to pursue this thing, full throttle. I got in and it was an amazing experience.
“Our lives can be a demonstration of our beliefs.”
Why did you decide to publish this book now?
There are several factors as to the “why now?” For one, when I found out I was pregnant with my second son, I had this, revelation that if I wanted to really live the life I’d always dreamed of, I had to stop postponing it. For the sake of my own sanity and for the sake of my children, I knew I had to stop waiting for “that moment” when I would be able to live the life I’d promised the little girl inside of me to live.
Secondly, as someone who is very aware of the times and the concerns of her people, as well as being deeply in love with Jesus, it is very hard to sit back and not say something. Our lives can be a demonstration of our beliefs. But what is affecting our communities goes far beyond just the people we know. There are certain things that I have seen unravel and unfold that break my heart (like the institution of marriage and the value of a two-parent household) and even deeper than that, the disregard for humanity.
When I was starting college, someone told me I was too smart to study African American studies. What complicates my stance is that most people who study race and culture tend to veer away from anything that is remotely connected to organized religion. I have drawn closer. And that is a difficult place to stand in these times, but it’s necessary.
“From the home and family, to civil rights movements, and even in churches or independent branches of faith, women possess a natural ability to breathe life even into what seems dead or useless.”
There are a lot of themes involving perfectionism and Christianity in the book. What misconceptions do you think are commonly associated with perfectionists?
I think that perfectionism was once a standard that created a part of a generation that did not learn how to forgive themselves for failing or even acknowledge falling short. It created a, clique, if you will, of people that would define and redefine what was acceptable based upon their own successes and then judge others for not meeting it. The misconceptions that come along with perfectionists, is that 1) everyone should have that mindset, and 2) perfectionist don’t struggle with the same issues others do.
What misconceptions do you think are commonly associated with the modern Christian woman?
For starters, we would have to look at how influential women are to the body of Christ, as with any group. Women typically are the backbone of any living, breathing, functioning group of people. From the home and family, to civil rights movements, and even in churches or independent branches of faith, women possess a natural ability to breathe life even into what seems dead or useless.
With that being said, Christian women have a major role to play in what is seen and unseen, known and unknown, about the state of the Christian faith. So, from the outside looking in, because there are so many different ways people choose to live out their faith, Christian women are seen as weak, and from the majority lens, that’s not completely hard to understand. I recently watched an old clip of Dick Gregory speaking on the issues of America, and, to paraphrase, he said America is the way it is because America has no mother to force it to clean itself up, teach it manners, etc. America behaves as a motherless child without any instruction, and I would say that if you look at the population of people who call themselves Christians, they would be the reason such a claim holds validity.
But I would argue that even though what is largely broadcast about Christians and women and their roles in the faith, it is the Christian woman’s love, grace, compassion, patience, longsuffering, and all that good stuff, that has allowed for any form of progress to be made. If we use Dick Gregory’s analogy of America needing a mother, I would say that it is the mothers who haven’t lost their faith, who prayed when people mocked them for praying, who believed when people and even reality gave them reason not to, that preserved what little true faith and hope we have, and has allowed room for the grace of God to remain. I also refuse to place all blame and/or success on women without acknowledging the role of men in faith, but I do recognize that just as a mother nurtures her own children, women of faith nurture even the motherless back to love, safety, and security. What the world sees as weak, or even irrational, Christian women understand and know is often their strength…and there is no one stronger than a woman who has endured for the sake of the greater good.
“We are not fighting to use the same bathroom or work in the same job, we are fighting to not get shot for driving to that job, or walking into that bathroom alone.”
Do you feel like millennials are straying away from traditional Christianity? If so, why do you think this is happening?
Absolutely. “Traditional Christianity” goes against almost all forms of logic and understanding. In this time where information is so accessible and we have been taught to question everything—which is not necessarily a bad thing—much of what has been accepted by our elders and ancestors just isn’t good enough. We need answers, and we need them now. Our society and culture has embedded the “right now” so much that anything that takes time is suspect. We also have the ability to create information and fact checking has not been well mastered, but our minds are made up, sometimes, with one tweet or meme. Sometimes. I am not one to believe that all millennials are thoughtless and can’t make informed decisions. That simply isn’t true. But we do live in a time where popular opinion dominates personal conviction.
The faith that our parents, or more than likely, our grandparents had, was rooted so deep in basic needs and or decencies that we don’t always recognize. Millennials face a different beast of opposition, discrimination, racism, etc. We are not fighting to use the same bathroom or work in the same job, we are fighting to not get shot for driving to that job, or walking into that bathroom alone. And unfortunately, what encouraged and promoted the faith of those before us simply isn’t strong enough for most millennials. The church no longer feels like the safe haven, but a silent bystander to our problems. It has become a place for the “spiritual elite” or the “religious” to congregate, like an old country club, instead of a refuge and a hospital for the homeless, endangered and the sick.
Most strands of Christianity practice a safe and comfortable Christianity that doesn’t rub millennials the right way, or even worse, doesn’t support or even understand our reality. The practicality of the Christian faith is lost in rules and expectations, whereas other religions have more immediate answers. It goes back to what I was saying earlier about perfectionism. Let me be extremely clear, I do believe God has a standard for which He expects and desires us to live. However, I do not believe that he has given us the right or authority to determine how we respond to people based on their actions, lifestyles, or choices. We can have our feelings about certain things, but it does not give us the right to refuse showing the love of Christ to anyone.
I feel as if many millennials have left the church or simply chose something else because no one relates to them. They don’t feel love, they don’t feel support, they don’t feel understanding. They feel judgement, and condemnation, and pressure to perform that which they don’t even understand. Which goes against everything Jesus preached, taught and demonstrated. Christ has been left out of Christianity and those who have become comfortable in their own lives have replaced his commandment to love (which does include correction, but not condemnation) with rules of seclusion.
Combine all of that with the abuse of power that comes from behind the pulpit and you have an apparent nail in the coffin. Why would millennials follow a faith when the very people who claim to represent that faith behave the way they do? No one is taking the time to cultivate relationships and build bridges. There is a generational divide and breakdown that is unfortunate and detrimental to this generation, that most millennials do not have the patience or desire to deal with. And so they simply don’t. And members of older generations chalk it up to arrogance, entitlement, or whatever else they perceive millennials to be.
But there are a few of us who haven’t lost hope. Who haven’t completely abandoned the faith. Who have made it a personal mission to know God and the love of Jesus like never before. Which, in my opinion, is far greater than believing simply because we’ve been taught to.
How has your faith aided you in publishing this book?
My faith. Well, for one, I had to develop real faith. And all of my life experiences prior to publishing aided in that cultivation. Faith is not choosing to believe whether or not Jesus is real, or even to follow the ideals of Christianity. Faith is deciding that beyond believing in Jesus, beyond trying to follow the “rules” associated with Christianity, it is trusting God with my life. It is relying on Him to sustain me. It is denying myself and my will and submitting to His will for me (which is also a concept that ids hard for most people, not just millennials, to grasp). I reached what most people only dream of, and yet, I was empty. Not that God was telling me I wasn’t good enough, but He was trying to get my attention and show me, “I have more for you.”
My favorite scripture is Jeremiah 29:11, which states that God has a plan for my life, not to harm me but for me to prosper, to give me hope and a future. So, what do you do when everything you’ve planned for yourself, you actually accomplish, but are unfulfilled? You begin to understand that you must answer to a higher authority. You must activate the power of someone stronger than you, but first, you have to check yourself and decide if you really believed in everything you claimed.
I cannot say that before the process of this book took root that I practiced real faith in God. I believe I practiced faith in what I could see, which is hardly faith at all. I was comfortable with safe, with what made sense, until all that self-reliance left me hanging dry. I recall a time when I looked at my life and was like, “wow, somehow, I have reached almost all my goals and by the time I wanted to!” I did not say, “God, thank you for your favor, for your grace and your mercy, for giving me what I didn’t deserve anyway.” I hadn’t developed the understanding that in EVERYTHING, God’s hand was over me.
I have always acknowledged my Christian faith but I had not always positioned myself to allow my life to be an honest representation of what FAITH in God looks like. And so, everything that made me comfortable was threatened, and I had to draw closer to God, for myself, and allow Him to reveal to me the ways in which I was wrong, needed to grow, needed to change, and ultimately, what HE wanted me to do. I had to recognize that while there really wasn’t anything wrong with my own plans for my life, I had often left Him out of them. And I realized how scary of a place that was to be. I didn’t want God to be absent from anything in my life but I hadn’t made the room for Him to take that leadership role. And perhaps I didn’t because once I did, life got real uncomfortable, and if I’m being completely honest, it still is. Because what God has for me is bigger than me, it is bigger than what my mind can conjure, and that can be scary. But I have found that it is only when I am in His will that I feel safe.
So, as uncomfortable as it may be at times, I don’t feel lost or confused. My faith has grown to a point where I know that my obedience is all He asks of me and He will provide everything I need. This book was very personal, and at times extremely difficult to write. But it wasn’t really about me. My faith had to get me through to completion so that someone, somewhere, whoever else it was for, would read it and get what they needed. And that for me is enough.
How has motherhood and marriage molded you as a writer?
Marriage and motherhood…the most challenging and rewarding roles in my life. Both have taught me a new level of humility, balance, sacrifice, responsibility, and love. Before both, and I say both because I think the two-combined made me reevaluate everything about life, I was comfortable with allowing life to happen to me. And as a writer, you have to be proactive or else what you write/say will hold no value.
My husband and children are always my first priority and as long as I sat on my hands without using them for everything God purposed them to be, I am doing them a grave disservice. The act of writing, though, does require some time alone to get it done, but in the long term, their roles and positions in my life mean far too much for me to let them down. For them, I can’t play it safe or ever become too comfortable. For them, I have to let my faith lead me and I have to choose to be proactive. I have to be diligent in my prayers and my actions, in what I choose to say and not say, and how I travel down this road as a writer. Both have taught me that loving them requires me loving myself, because what good am I to them if I’m not living my best self? They reveal to me my strengths and my shortcomings, all of which are necessary for any writer to be successful.
What was the publishing process like for you? Are you self-published? Did you use an agent?
As I mentioned before, writing this book was a step towards being proactive in my own life instead of reactive, and so for that reason I chose to self-publish. Everything I had learned about the publishing process was the traditional route but as I began to formulate pages, the self- publishing route became more and more attractive. I started watching webinars and talking to authors who had previously self-published and I prayed for confirmation. I knew that doing so would require a major sacrifice and push on my own end, but I believe that was the point. Nothing about this book is by accident.
“Start with your doubt.”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write their own book but has no idea where to start?
Start with your doubt. Start with the stuff that doesn’t sound right. Get out whatever is sitting there blocking your good ideas and write until it begins to flow. Trust your convictions. Be open to learning something new. Do your research. Don’t stop writing. Believe in yourself.
What’s your motto?
I don’t know if I have a motto…I live by Jeremiah 29:11, understanding and believing God’s plans are bigger than me, regardless of my present circumstances. But I don’t have a motto, per se. I guess if I had to sum up my life’s philosophy, I would say to take the good with the bad, and never give up. Greater is just beyond the point you feel like giving up.
Anything else you want to add?
My book is available on Amazon.com and there is also a kindle version. If you’ve previously purchased the paper back, you can get it on kindle for free!
Thank you for reading and supporting my book and allowing me this opportunity to share this insight. It truly means a lot to me. ☺