Those Who Wait: An Interview with Tanya Marlow

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One of my great joys in reading SheLoves every day is the phenomenal writers who contribute. I am always amazed at the quality and beauty these women bring to the conversation and it is a great delight when their words are compiled and put into print.

This month, our very own Tanya Marlow has released Those Who Wait, a book about the holiness of waiting and of finding God in that waiting. I had the pleasure of reading Those Who Wait earlier this month and Tanya has graciously answered a few of my questions.

I hope you enjoy our conversation and, whatever season of waiting you’re in, I’d encourage you to read Those Who Wait. You’ll find it encouraging, hopeful, and honest.

unnamed-1Formerly a lecturer in Biblical Theology, Tanya Marlow is a writer, speaker and broadcaster on faith and spirituality. She is the author of “Those Who Wait” (Malcolm Down, 2017), “Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty” (2015) and a contributor to “Soul Bare” (IVP 2016). You can find her in a vicarage in Devon reading fairy tales to her son or via her popular blog, Thorns and Gold, www.tanyamarlow.com

Annie: Those Who Wait follows four well known biblical characters and their journeys of waiting on God. Tell us a bit about the premise of Those Who Wait

Tanya: Whenever we think of how Christians “should” deal with times of uncertainty, we conjure up a picture of stoicism and simultaneous holy joy. Plus a thriving prayer life and complete trust in God.

Well, if that’s what makes a good Christian, call me a failure.

I’m the girl who can’t wait. I struggle with disappointment and doubt.

The Church rarely admits how hard it is to be waiting, day after day, for that one thing—a spouse, a baby, a better job, relief from financial worries, a place to call your own, a church where you belong. We’re all waiting, but it’s hard.

I asked the question: What if the Bible characters were actually human and struggled as much as we do with waiting? (Spoiler alert: they are and they did.)

This led me to the second, and more intriguing, question: What if even our frustrated longings have spiritual value, in and of themselves? (Spoiler alert: they do.)

You picked four characters who wait. What drew you to these particular stories?

The idea came from the candles on the Advent wreath, symbolizing those who waited for Christ’s return: the patriarchs, prophets, John the Baptist, and Mary, mother of Jesus.

I tell the stories in short chapters like a gripping novel. Instead of a patriarch, I chose a matriarch—Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who had to endure 24—twenty-four!—years of waiting for a promised baby whilst not getting pregnant.

I chose Isaiah for “the prophets.” We know his prophecies, but I wanted to show the person with his family—this justice-loving prophetic voice to a society that refused to listen. (He should be the Patron Saint of Campaigners.)

Likewise, John the Baptist is a character we often overlook. How did it feel for him to be this famous, promised prophet—who then got arrested, spending the end of his life waiting in prison, doubting his life’s work?

It was finding the humanity and reality in the Bible that gave the book vitality.

Tell us a bit about your own story of waiting. How did that infuse the way you narrated these familiar Bible stories?

Until I was in my twenties, I didn’t have to wait for much. Married at 21, I quickly entered my dream role as a paid Christian minister and lecturer in Biblical Theology. But an autoimmune illness, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, crept up on me. When I gave birth, it dramatically worsened. As I write, I have been housebound, mainly bed-bound, for seven years. I wait for healing, not knowing if I will be one of the few who recovers or one of the quarter who deteriorate further.

I am not someone who waits patiently. I wrestle; I struggle.

I yearn for more—more freedom, more independence, more life. But don’t we all? I wanted to enter into the lives of the characters in the Bible, but as I wrote them, I found they were writing me.

That’s my hope for the reader, that as we immerse ourselves into their lives, we’ll find ourselves in the pages, and there we encounter the kindness of God, even in our frustrations.

You talk a little bit in the appendix about how you researched these stories and how you combined scholarship with storytelling. Can you walk us through your process a bit more?

I read the relevant Bible passages over and over again until I lived and breathed them. Then I wrote the stories from the characters’ viewpoint, in one go, because I wanted it to be that fresh, emotional response, without shoe-horning in my discoveries about Ancient Near Eastern writing. I wanted the scholarship to serve the story, not the other way round.

Readers have reacted with, “me, too” and have used the creative exercises, reflective questions, and prayers as a spiritual response. It’s a devotional without preachiness; a novel that yields spiritual revelations.

Once the core story felt emotionally true, I filled in the historical details. Most theological books debate sources and word-meanings endlessly. I kept thinking, “Never mind about the original Hebrew—if Sarah was thirsty, what kind of vessel would she drink from?” I can’t tell you how many days it took to find that answer …

I knew some would object to my choices (in Those Who Wait, Mary gives birth in a cave, not the traditional stable—and there is no inn), so it was important to explain them at the end. For more complex theological issues, I left ambiguity in the narrative to make room for different interpretations.

But my real hope for readers of the book is to make the tired Bible stories strange and wondrous again. I’m hoping it will raise questions as much as give answers because questions are the precursor to discovery.

How has writing Those Who Wait changed the way you read the Bible?

Most of the Bible is story, yet we preach it like it’s math—a distilled principle. This book has reminded me of the value of story—including our stories within God’s story.

It’s also made me look harder for God’s gentleness and kindness to those who struggle. That’s what really came through to me.

As a writer, what’s next? Where can we find you and how can we best connect with you?

In my immediate future, I predict a lot of trashy TV and takeaways—I need a rest! But in addition to my previous short book, Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty, (available for free on my website), I’ve got another two or three books that need to be written. In the meantime, I write for SheLoves, blog at tanyamarlow.com, and keep threatening to make a podcast. I’d love it if you kept in touch.

Thank you, Tanya, for giving us a deeper understanding of Those Who Wait. We are thrilled that you chose to tell these stories!

Those Who Wait is available on Amazon.com at a special introductory offer of $8.99, down from $13.99, and the ebook is reduced to $3.99 until 26th October. Addie Zierman has contributed a beautiful foreword; Ed Cyzewski and David T. Lamb have endorsed it. So if you’re tempted, now is a good time to grab it!

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Tanya Marlow -Those Who Wait -Book

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Annie Rim
I live in Colorado where I play with my daughters, hike with my husband, and write about life & faith. I have taught in the classroom, at an art museum, and now in the playroom. I am honored to lead the Red Couch Book Club here at SheLoves. You can connect with me on Twitter @annie_rim or on my blog: annierim.wordpress.com.
Annie Rim

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  • Abby

    I loved this interview – I’ll definitely be buying Tanya’s book. Thank you!

    • Yay! Let us know your thoughts when you read it! 🙂

  • Thanks, Annie, for this interview and glimpse of the book.
    And, Tanya, what a challenge! Thanks for breathing life into the stories of these biblical characters.

    • I love reading the Bible in new ways, with a new lens and Tanya is so gifted at bringing these stories to life!

  • I enjoyed this interview Annie! I will definitely read this. : )