Author Anne Jackson is a refreshingly honest person. And it’s that refreshing honesty she brings to her latest book, Permission to Speak Freely, a combination of essays, poetry, and artistic confession (read review). Her message to readers is simple—you are not alone. Delivering the message via her book was a two year process that began with a simple blog post asking the question, “What is one thing you feel you can’t say in church?” Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Anne Jackson about her personal demons, confessions, and of course, Permission to Speak Freely.
Initially, when Jackson asked readers the question on her blog, FlowerDust.net, she did not know she would end up writing a book. “Once I saw the response I got, I was just blown away, and it was during the time I was thinking about writing a second book. I saw this hit a nerve and thought maybe this is what the second book should be about,” says Jackson.
Over the course of the next year, Jackson considered how the poignant answers would be best reflected in a book. She decided to add in an element of art asking her blog readers to send in artistic confessions, like the ones she saw on PostSecret. Conscious about not wanting to rip off PostSecret, Jackson decided to add in her own essays. The poetry came later, Jackson says, “It still felt a little too structured and I thought, ‘You know what? I love to write poetry. I’ve been writing poetry since high school. Why not put some of that in there?’ The poetry in the book tells part of the story, too.” One poem tells the story of how Jackson was abused by a youth pastor at the fragile age of 16.
The result of Jackson’s labor is a book that is inviting both to the eye and to the spirit, and that’s what Jackson wants—a book that reaches people on different levels. She shares, “I think people respond to written text. I think some people respond to art and some people are drawn more to poetry and obscure thought. Maybe a little bit of something will reach everybody and they’ll know they’re not alone, which is the bottom line of the message.”
When asked what she thinks is still an issue the church needs to talk more about, Jackson responds, “Self-harm. It’s a hard issue to understand, which is why a lot of people stray away from talking about it. It’s so, so common that it’s going to be like the new porn in a few years. People are going to be so broken about it that it’s going to cause irreparable damage if we don’t start talking about it.”
She passionately adds, “The church doesn’t need to fix everything, sometimes it just needs to listen.”
As Jackson speaks about a private conflict, she airs her own doubts and weakness—something not often found in interviews. Humbly she admits, “That’s what grace is for. I wrote about it, but yet I still very much struggle with understanding and grasping God’s grace for myself.”
Turning to page 95 of her book, Jackson recounts a conversation she had with a friend who is 40 years her senior (Jackson is 30). She reads, “‘…you can’t will yourself to transformation. There’s nothing you can do to make your heart “get” it. Nothing. You can prepare for it, and be receptive when it comes, but that’s all you can do. You just have to step back and let it soak in.’”
Then she adds, “I know this, I know this, I know this! Why can my heart not receive it? I felt like I needed to transform my heart, but as long as I’m faithful and obedient and open and willing to be molded—that’s all I’m really responsible for. In God’s time, He is going to transform the areas of my life that need to be transformed. It may be slow or fast or painful, but only He can truly transform my heart if I let him, and that ‘if I let Him’ is the part I’m responsible for. That’s something I learned during the course of writing the book.”
However, Jackson says that everyone should use discernment and acknowledges that some may face repercussions from speaking freely, “When I started to share my story about addictions, I was working in a church and I thought, ‘I could totally lose my job over this,’ even though I wasn’t actively doing it then. I was in recovery and therapy and had accountability.”
She continues, “I learned that God doesn’t call us to keep things in the dark; He calls us to confess. He promises us over and over again in Scripture that He will forgive us and He will show us mercy. People may not give us that same mercy because they’re broken. There may be consequences for speaking freely and that comes with the package. It may not be pleasant…at all.”
Refusing to sugarcoat the issue, Jackson says that some admissions like pornography or drug addiction require action, treatment, and may even take some out of ministry for a while. She encourages, “Know that you’re being obedient. Know that God promises to be merciful and faithful. He’s not going to leave you hanging. You’re not falling without a net.” She advises to allow God to guide readers in what to say, who to say it to, and what action to take to find healing.
In closing, Jackson passionately says, “You are not alone. There are a ton of issues that I haven’t experience, but we all experience brokenness. Please share whatever secret is that is weighing on you, at least to one person. I love what James 5:16 says, ‘Confess your sins one to another that you can live together whole and healed.’ That term ‘healed’ meanings ‘lifting,’ like lifting a weight off your chest. When you confess, you have the burden lifted off your chest.”
She adds quietly, “And you’re not alone.”