I always like to know a little something about an author before I sit down and open up his or her book. Hannah Anderson’s new book, Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul, is a delight. Anderson masterfully weaves together agrarian images with spiritual analogies in an engaging and compelling way. Her storytelling captivates and her scriptural insights will keep you pondering the rich truths she reveals. Humble Roots releases next week on October 4, and I highly recommend it.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I live in a working class community in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia where my husband, Nathan, pastors a small church. We have three children from age 7 to 12, and my days are divided between caring for them, working with the church, and writing and speaking. This means that no two weeks are the same. The days fluctuate between dealing with homework and housekeeping to prepping for Sunday school to writing about the theological implications of a cultural trend. Sometimes I wish life were a little less spastic, but for the most part I feel like I’m living the dream. (Please don’t mistake the variety of my life as an ability to “do it all.” I cannot balance a checkbook, struggle with housework, and have a friend who has to text me to remind me to attend important events in our community.)
When did you first start writing? What do you enjoy about it?
I’ve always enjoyed words, but I didn’t start writing intentionally until six years ago. At the time, my daughter was starting school, and I had to face the reality that she was growing up. One day, she would be a woman, and the woman she became would be shaped by the woman I was. More than anything, I wanted her to use her gifting to serve God and her neighbors. I didn’t want her development stunted by fear of failure or cultural expectations. But if I wanted her to take that journey, I knew I had to take it first. There was also a more pragmatic reason I started writing. My husband and I were experiencing a period of un- and under-employment, relying on social services to just get by. I applied for part-time work in our town, but discovered that I had no immediately marketable skills. I’d studied the humanities at college, but for some reason, the sales team at J. C. Penney wasn’t impressed by my knowledge of the sociological implications of French existentialist literature of the early 20th century. Go figure. So I needed to develop a craft that would fit my schedule, my family’s needs, and my gifting. I committed to God that I’d spend the next two years pursuing writing. He was free to make it flourish or shut it down at any point. He hasn’t shut it down yet, so I’m still writing. I love writing for many reasons, but by far, my favorite part is the process of rearranging ideas and phrases until they “lock” into place—like a game of verbal Tetris. (Unlike Tetris, however, it is not a good thing when a block of lines suddenly disappears.)
Is writing ever difficult for you? How so?
Certain kinds of writing are difficult for me. I have a godly appreciation for (and somewhat ungodly jealousy of) novelists and poets who bravely tap into the human experience via storytelling and memoir. I find it much safer to analyze ideas from a distance. Still, even as a non-fiction author, I know that my work is only as good as I’m willing to be changed by it. If I keep myself emotionally and spiritually distant from the content, my writing ends up being emotionally and spiritually distant from the reader.
At the end of the day, the path to becoming a better writer is the path of sanctification, of the Holy Spirit revealing our fears and hidden idols and empowering us to take everyday steps of obedience. By embracing this spiritual refining process, our natural abilities are also refined. As I become less bound by fear and performance, I’m freer to write from place of grace and risk. And then maybe, someday, I’ll be able to write that novel like I’ve always wanted.
What led you to write Humble Roots?
I wanted to continue the conversation that began in Made for More, which explored our identity as image bearers. We are made in God’s image, but we must never forget that we are made. We are creatures, and there are limits to our existence and abilities. Humble Roots completes the circuit by working through the second half of the paradox. As I began to consider the idea of being a creature, I also started to see the danger of ignoring our human limits. I saw frustration, anxiety, and restlessness—both in my own life and also in the lives of others. I saw men and women trying to save the world from Facebook pages and pulpits, coming up empty, and growing discouraged and depressed. In Matthew 11, Jesus calls restless people to come to him, but the peace he offers only comes by learning of his own humility. Philippians 2 describes Jesus’s humility in terms of his incarnation—his taking on the limits of creaturehood. And suddenly we come full circle.
What’s the central message you hope readers will take away from your book?
We often misunderstand humility as a heightened awareness of our deficiencies, but humility is better understood as an awareness of our limitations as human beings. Our ability to rest and be at peace is tied directly to whether humility is taking root in our lives. Are we living beyond our natural limits? Are we putting ourselves in God’s place? Even in good things? Working with the themes of rest, incarnation, and humility, I couldn’t help but see them reflected in my immediate context here in the Virginia mountains. The sense of rootedness, of living close to the earth, of praying for our daily bread. So in each chapter, I explore a plant or agrarian metaphor to teach a particular aspect of humility. My hope is that the stories and imagery will be vivid reminders of our dependence on God and each other. When you are done with this book, I hope you never pick a sprig of basil, eat a wild blackberry, or see a crocus without remembering your humble roots.
How has writing this book affected your own life?
Writers don’t write because we’ve mastered a topic. We write because we need to master a topic. We write as a way to learn. Writing Humble Roots did not eradicate all stress from my life, but it gave me a way to get to the root of my stress in a given situation. For example, I recently found myself agitated over a situation at church. A woman was making objectively bad decisions with the potential to harm other people. For a couple days, I convinced myself that my frustration with her was justified. But my lack of peace continued to grow, dominating my days and nights. Plus, I’d just written a book that argued that lack of peace can be traced back to a lack of humility. So I finally had to stop and ask: “How is pride affecting my emotional response to this situation? What part of my ego am I protecting?” Suddenly it was clear. My anger wasn’t coming from concern for this woman or the church. It was coming from a fear that she would mess up the work I was doing, that she would negatively affect my success in ministry. Once I repented of that, I could rest and was free to engage her from a place of peace, seeking her good and the good of the church at large.
For a sneak peak, here are some quotes from Humble Roots:
Fascinatingly, while humans were made to rule over the earth, we were also made from the earth. And perhaps, even more significantly, we only came alive by God’s Spirit. Without God’s breath in us, we are nothing but a pile of dirt.
We must reject the pride that believes in humility as a concept but refuses to actually be humbled before God. The trouble, of course, is that it is our very pride keeps us from being healed of our . . . pride. So because we could never sufficiently humble ourselves, Jesus humbles Himself. And by doing so, He became both the model and the means of our own humility. Through His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus shows us our true identity as people dependent on God for life. And through His life, death, and resurrection, He imparts this humble life to us once again. Instead of asking “Do I deserve this gift?” humility teaches us to ask “What has God given and what responsibility do I have because of it?” Humility changes the frame of reference entirely. Suddenly we are no longer at center; God is. Suddenly our sense of entitlement or guilt no longer drives our choices. Suddenly everything is a gift and everything has purpose.
When you acknowledge your desires and risk owning them, you are agreeing with God about who He has made you to be. You are relinquishing control. You are no longer reserving an option on your future, believing that you can make yourself whoever you want to be. You are embracing the truth that God has made you to be something very particular. And, ultimately, this leads to rest.
Here’s what others are saying about Humble Roots:
This is an exquisite book. Anderson intends to make us gardeners . . . to plant and tend that rarest of cultivars, humility. Humility orients us rightly toward our bodies, emotions and intellect. It orients us rightly toward our possessions, desires, and circumstances. It orients us rightly toward the cross. And nurtured carefully in the fertile soil of grace, it grants us a harvest of true rest. . . . Wistful, nostalgic, and deeply wise. . . . I read it through tears.” — Jen Wilkin, Bible teacher and author of Women of the Word and None Like Him
C. S. Lewis famously wrote that humility is not thinking less of ourselves; it is thinking of ourselves less, and in such a way that frees us to redirect our energies toward God and those he has given us to love. . . . Using one of God’s favorite places and metaphors, the Garden, Hannah paints acompelling picture of why we should, and ways that we can, pour contempt on our pride. . . . Please read this book. It will renew your perspective, and it could change your life.” — Scott Sauls, senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee and author of Jesus Outside the Lines and Befriend
This is just the kind of book I love: readers are promised a meal—and Humble Roots delivers a feast. With serious Biblical reflection and vivid storytelling, Anderson compels us to seek humility. . . . Rooted in Jesus, we abandon our illusions of control; we embrace our limits; we learn to depend. — Jen Pollock Michel, Author of Teach Us to Want
If you had an afternoon to do whatever you’d like, where would we find you?
If it were a rainy afternoon—the kind that demands that you stay inside and do nothing—I most likely be curled up on my couch with a blanket and 37 coffee table books on 37 different subjects. (My library bag can get quite heavy sometime.) If it were a sunny day, I’d be driving in the mountains with my husband, stopping at old churches, wandering through family cemeteries, and piecing together bits of local history.
Hannah Anderson lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and works with her husband in rural ministry. She is the author of Made for More and the newly released Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul (Moody). You can find more of her writing at sometimesalight.com, hear her on the weekly podcast Persuasion, or follow her on Twitter.