The Joys and Pain of Collaboration

I owe you an apology. For the past few months, I’ve been talking about a book I was working on with a friend from France. I told you we were hopeful for a September release, and now that isn’t going to happen. It is now quite unlikely at this point that you will ever get to see the manuscript I was working on with her. For reasons I still don’t understand, her family has pulled out of the collaboration and cut off communication with me.

I told you a few weeks ago that I was on a familiar road collaborating on a new book, though I hoped this one had a better outcome. Well, it didn’t. Unfortunately, that uncharted road quickly became a road with which I’m all too familiar. It’s hard to talk about these things and protect people I love, but I’m already getting a lot of questions I want to try and answer.

One week after I finished working on the manuscript, the author wrote me to say how incredibly grateful she was, especially thanking me for the last line, which I gave her from another novel I was writing. It fit so perfect in her story. She compared me to a diamond maker who brought the brilliance of a story she created. After I sent the approved manuscript to the editor, however, I got a disturbing email. It contained suspicions about my ulterior motives. Her tone had shifted dramatically as she told me in subsequent emails that she wanted control of everything in France and would not follow through on any of her assurances over the past eight months.

Collaboration is always a risk, and all the more so here because of the geographical distance and the language barriers. When I was hesitant, she repeatedly assured me that God was in this and that she would honor our work together. I thought the beauty in her story was worth the risk. I have a seven-year friendship with her and her family, a deep love for them, and eight incredible months working on this book with her. I am confused but not devastated.

Of the dozens of collaborations I’ve worked on, only two have gone off-track and ended valued friendships. Interestingly enough, however, they have all followed the same pattern. Other voices get involved who wanted to profit from the collaboration. They start by making accusations about my motives, then assert whatever control they can to take over the project. Finally, no matter how much they have said in the past, they now have a fresh word from God telling them not to continue. Of course, there is no way to discuss anything after that, which is why people pull that trump card. The reason it rings so hollow with me is that people who hear from God are more grace-filled and apologetic, especially when it’s a complete change of their prior assurances. Finally, they cut off any further communication and raise the drawbridge on the friendship by telling me not to contact them directly.

So, I’m there again and I don’t have the foggiest idea why. This is an abrupt end to what had been a delightful season in my life. I only wanted to help a friend get her wonderful story more widely read in the world, and gave her the best I had to help make that happen. However, she has now decided to revert to her original story and discard all I had done to help re-write it and get it published here in the States. It makes me sad to know there’s a beautiful manuscript in the world that you may never see. I still feel God was in this process, and that somehow fear and darkness have cut in to send it sideways.

People are already asking me why I do this when it can turn so hurtful in the end? I’m crazy, I guess. I believe in the power of collaboration. Everything is better when multiple people bring their various insights to give a more rounded picture of God. Scripture teaches that God gives gifts so that through the whole of the body, “the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” I think the enemy freaks out where brothers and sisters collaborate in love and sacrifice. I don’t think God intended for any of us to go it alone. I know what The Shack would have been like if Brad and I hadn’t put sixteen months into the re-telling of that story, and I know you would never have heard of it if we hadn’t.

My friends are also asking why I don’t get people under contract at the start, to guarantee they will follow through, before spending so much of my time and money on a project. The answer is simple. I don’t know how to collaborate without shared tenderness, honesty, and faithfulness. I thought we had that here until we didn’t. I have no idea at the beginning how any collaboration will turn out and what will be fair for everyone. I just figure if people keep walking together in agreement, we will get to see what Father has in mind. The results can be fantastic.

The other reason I don’t make contracts at the start is that they don’t work either. I have signed agreements with people and companies who violate them every day. The only way to enforce a contract is to be willing to sue dishonest people. I’m not that guy. I learned a long time ago if someone doesn’t respect their word, they won’t honor their signature either unless threatened to do so.

Will I stop collaborating? No. I’m pretty sure it’s in Father’s heart. I try to be careful to do it where it is a blessing, not when people end up despising me. I don’t enjoy being used, or having my word tied to someone else’s capriciousness. What I don’t know is how people will change in the process, especially when I’ve finished what I said I would do.

For now, I’ve switched tracks. Before this newest book came into my life, I was already working with those two delightful people pictured above on a book tentatively titled The Language of Healing: Creating Safe Environments to Talk about Race, Politics, Sexuality, and Religion. With me in that photo is Arnita Taylor, a mom to two sons, a former staff pastor, a leadership coach, and an encourager I met last year in Dallas, Texas. The other guy is Bob Prater, a father of three, also a former pastor, long-time friend, podcaster, and an encourager to marginalized people in Bakersfield, California. I can tell you my life has been deeply and permanently changed for the better by these people and the process of collaborating with them.

We’ve been working on this book for almost 18 months. We had all the pieces in place, but it wasn’t reading as smoothly as any of us hoped. Both of them were able to come to my home this past weekend, and in long, exhausting, laughter-filled days, we went through every word of the manuscript and made it read so much better. We are all thrilled with how it has turned out and hope to release it early in November this year.

Here are three paragraphs from the Introduction to whet your appetite:

This is a book for those who are tired of being spun by politicians and media and having their personal relationships destroyed by differences over religion, race, sexuality and politics. It’s for those who want to find ways to communicate and cooperate beyond our most deeply-rooted differences, realizing that in the shared spaces of our society we have more to gain through mutual understanding than the politics of polarization.

The hope is that everyone who reads this will gain a little more awareness about themselves. You don’t have to agree with everything here, but if you can at least acknowledge the validity of varying perspectives and communicate about them more generously, you can help repair the rip in our societal fabric. Just maybe something you read will encourage you to more harmony and peace with your family, colleagues, and friends. Even better, you may learn something here that will give you the insight to solve a problem or repair a broken relationship.

We all win if you take one of the chapter topics to explore more deeply. We all win if your level of understanding increases even slightly. We all win if you take this book into a book club and have your own conversation about differences in our culture. We all win when these chapters are used as discussion starters in college classrooms or used in high school civics. We all win if you learn to listen better to people who see the world differently than you do.

No, we haven’t signed any contracts yet. Given our time this weekend and the depth of love we have for each other, I’d be surprised if this one goes sideways. I know, I’ve been surprised before!

So, we’ll see what happens. I guess you’re in this with me, too.

29 thoughts on “The Joys and Pain of Collaboration”

  1. I hate reading about the loss you have to go through when a project falls through, but I so respect your openness to taking people at their word and moving forward when you feel so lead. I can’t wait to read the forthcoming book The Language of Healing. I think you have nailed one of the most important matters us people must tackle in hopes for a better world for our children.

  2. Wayne thank you for your heart. For following what Father has laid in front of you. For being so very transparent regarding your own journey. I appreciate you for the years of letting us into your life including your ups and downs and hurts and joys. thank you.

  3. I was so looking forward to the manuscript you had been working on, saddened to here I may never get to read it. Thank you for being that loving and that generous. For modeling how to be all in. For sharing your excitement at the possibility and disappointment at this end. In these simple things you shine the wonderful intimate ways of walking with Father.

  4. This came to mind:

    “For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly in the twinkling of an eye. He allows us to neglect what He would have us to do, or to fail. Perhaps we do not fully realize the problem, so to call it, of enabling finite free wills to co-exist with Omnipotence. It seems to involve at every moment almost a sort of divine abdication.” –C.S. Lewis

  5. Dear Wayne,

    My prayer is deep comfort for your heart. I have recently been wounded by someone I have walked alongside in relationship with for three years, practicing and enjoying a deep, honest relationship with one another with promises to always allow space for conversation and sharing of perspectives when one of us is hurt or frustrated by the other. We did that really well up until a few weeks ago, when I did something that triggered her and it could not be recovered. She just went off on me with no opportunity for me to address what she was feeling, share my perspective or make amends, even to the point of violence when I tried to give her space to calm down. I know the circumstances are different, but the feelings of bewilderment and deep sorrow you shared sound so familiar. It is heart wrenching and nauseating. I feel sick inside. I know God sees the bigger picture, I know he knows the truth and my heart, (as he does yours) as well as sees her and what happened inside of her, but it sure doesn’t make the feelings of loss and sadness disappear. Perhaps easier to bear, but it takes time. So I pray that you will have time and grace and the comfort you need when things get stirred up by circumstances. It is what I ask for prayer for myself. God has used my experience to show me many other aspects of my life and process as a result of what happened, and his scripture from Roman’s 8:28 has never had as deep a meaning or application. I claim the same in the lives of those who have hurt us as well.
    I apologize if I’m missing the mark of how you might be experiencing this or taking away from your experience, but writing what has happened to me has helped calm my heart a bit, as something happened this morning that stirred it all up again after peace these past couple of weeks. The timing of the situation this morning and your email today is one of those God “coinincidences”. I love how He works!
    Thank you for sharing your heart.

    1. Your circumstance is very different, Terri, but I’m glad you had the freedom to post it alongside my sadness and that it helped you to express it. No apology needed. Relational separations inside the life of Jesus are the toughest to understand. Life can be full of great joy and moments of great confusion, pain, and sadness. I’m sorry you lost your friendship over it. We really don’t know what the future holds and I’ve had some past broken relationships really come back around and that’s a joy all its own as well. I appreciate your prayers and you have mine as well. All we really know is what’s lost today, we don’t know about tomorrow and what God may yet do…

  6. Wayne, I love your heart! Having followed you for years, I have seen how you have put your heart and soul into helping others pull out of themselves and religion, so that they can fully see that they are loved by the Father…. No strings attached! I have walked the walk of living in Fathers love for 8-9 years now, and being open to share with other opens us to not just joys, but disappointments and hurts as well! Thankfully Father’s love comforts us and protects us to move forward, not to be jaded, but to still be open to move on to the next person that needs us to show them how to open to a greater relationship with Father! Love you and you family Brother, keep keeping on and as the you always say “Father, what have you got for me today!”

  7. Wayne, I don’t know what the other book was about, but this book, Wow! I’m so excited to read this as it’s been hard to wrap my head around this new society. Thank you for taking one for the team lol. I’m blessed to call you a friend.

  8. Sounds like this arrangement is going to fly. I’m sure many are looking forward to this new book. Our society sure needs help, and maybe more believers can become accomplished listeners and peacemakers with your help.

  9. Oh my… so sorry to hear of this Wayne. I’m totally with you on collaboration being what Father desires, it’s the nature of a body to collaborate and work together. I trust this newest project will be encouraging and rewarding for you all!

  10. Hi, this is Yonas from Eritrea, East Africa.

    Just like always, you will see Father’s hand in this road as well. Bless you for not getting into ” That’s it! From now on………” decisions and staying in that road despite what happened. We love you and will pray for you.

    1. Thank you, Yonas. The road is more complicated than making rules to protect ourself. We gotta follow him however he leads, and not all things he desires turn out the way he hopes. But where else have we to go, except to follow him? Blessings!

  11. Gail RussellBaker

    Their loss. They are about to receive a truth firsthand from the Bible YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW.

    1. Maybe. I’m still praying mercy for them. I really think she’s sincere about following God, just got caught in some other voices that don’t serve her well. Haven’t we all done it?

  12. I’ve constantly been thrown under the bus, so to speak, during my 50 year walk with the Lord. Seems to come with the territory. Grace, mercy and peace be multiplied to you AND YOUR FAMILY, who sometimes feel the pain even more so.

    1. I’m so sorry, Erroll. As many people say, I’ve been treated worse by people who claimed what they were doing to me was God’s will, than anything the world has done to me. I’m getting used to it though. The successes are certainly worth the failures. I’m sorry you’ve seen so many bus tires roll over your back. I trust God continues to work good out of other people’s faithlessness for you. I’m glad he is always faithful, even if others are not.

  13. Wayne, your tenacity to collaborate again so quickly shows your heart of love and courage. I look forward to this next book. May your heart continue to be refreshed in the process.

    1. I don’t know how much courage is there. I always hope they turn out well, but I realize not everyone has the capacity for generosity. One the need to possess one of God’s gifts comes along, we go down some very dark roads. Thanks for your love and prayers.

  14. Sorry to hear about the break-up man, those can be real shots to the heart, especially when we lose sight of or forget “what’s in a man/woman”. Jesus did not entrust himself to them because he knew all about people. I’ve wrestled with this for a long time, trying to determine how to trust, who to trust, should I trust…people, now that I’ve become much more awake to the mostly well-intentioned but flakiness of people (including self). So while I now trust that people (including self) are mostly well-intentioned but wildly inconsistent, my expectations of others are mostly dead…which makes me free. In a contract there are obligations to be met, but there is no obligation or debt where one does not exist. Don’t loan money to someone if you can’t afford to not have it repaid. I believe the same principle applies to personal relationship. While I’m sure it is disappointing for a number of reasons, some you recognize, some you don’t, what did you expect?? The same goes for a Fathers love in a foreign kingdom. What do we expect of that love? It is a thin blanket in a foreign kingdom, and depending on “room temperature” it can feel unnecessary, it can be perfect, or it can seem non-existent. So while the blanket is perfect in and of itself, I think it is wise to remain prepared for the unpredictability of the room temperature on any given day or moment. Then again, this way of thinking may just be my way of insulating myself from disappointment in relationships, haha. In any case, it’s good to think about and discuss together from time to time. All the best bro!

    1. I agree, Kevin. I have that John 2 Scripture emblazoned on my heart. He “entrusted himself to know man…” I love that. Though it didn’t mean he wouldn’t risk and at times be the victim of other people’s fear or selfishness. He could love without entrusting and got hurt for it. It was worth the risk, though. I’m sadder for her and the opportunity she is missing and for the people who won’t get to read the collaborated story, but God has so many other ways to put his truth and wisdom in the world.

  15. Wayne, I’m sorry for your pain. Thank you for sharing it. I have felt rejection too and have been just as confused as you express here. On the flip side, however, I have to be honest and say that I have also done some rejecting in my time. I’m sorry for any I have hurt. I desperately pray for Christ within me, transforming me all the time.

    I know that none of us has experienced yet the depths of sorrow that Job experienced or Daniel or his friends and certainly not our Lord. They are all happy now, though. I worship Him.

    Thanks and please keep on keeping on!

    1. It always helps when others do us wrong, to remember that we’re all flawed and have done wrong to others as well. Maybe not the same wrongs, or to the same degree, but human relationships are incredibly complicated. Thanks for the kind words and prayers…

  16. Sharing in your disappointment, if only in part. Your trust in Father is an inspiration for the rest of us!
    The Language of Healing is certainly a necessary book in these times. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it and sharing with others. Glad you had a good, productive time during this re-write. I’m sure the laughter and love you shared helped heal some of the sting from the other situation. Much love!

  17. Yeah no doubt Wayne, the hurts are never a good reason to retreat and remain in that posture, that would be living in defeat I think. Jesus most certainly lived with his eyes wide open, realizing the risk that went along with human interaction, even genuine friendship, and was not deterred. I love the meekness of Jesus, to possess that power and yet allow himself to be in vulnerable situations even with the very least of these. That never gets old for me; what a beautiful confidence to possess! Dana and I both feel like she may have missed out on a great opportunity as well, but if you now find yourself with a lot of time on your hands, I know of two guys on a bridge in Chicago on their way to Colombia who could use some direction and finesse, wink, wink, lol!!

    1. I’ll let you know if I find any time on my hands. Was already pressed working three books at once, but that still leaves me with two and I’m headed for a three-week vacation next week. It’s time for a rest. Besides, I haven’t seen any pages of that book yet. And besides #2, I’ve never been to Colombia. 🙂

  18. Wayne, sorry for your loss and the pain that comes along with it. Some might think it’s foolish to continue collaborating at the risk of more hurt, but I know the Father is proud of you following your heart and not letting these big disappointments turn you into a wall-builder. You continue to remain open and put God’s love into the world in every way that you can! Your graciousness towards the author is so refreshing. It’s not always easy to acknowledge the pain you feel, while offering the offender grace. Thank you for sharing these experiences while you are in the middle of the grieving process. Praying for continued comfort and peace for you.

    I am too excited about your upcoming book! I’m already bracing myself as I look ahead to the upcoming election. Maybe I should have a more positive outlook? I’m hoping this book will bring encouragement in a season in our history that is unfortunately marked by so much division and hate. Thank you for your faithfulness to all that you feel called to do!

  19. Christine Cameron

    Thank you so much for sharing your pained heart, Wayne. I often see that as we carefully share our journey through hurts/pains in life, it encourages others. These comments already attest to that.
    I’ll be praying for a beautiful peace to surround Sara, as well as you. Not only do you suffer but she would as well. May you both enjoy and bathe in Father’s beautiful love and rest for your souls, during your vacation.

  20. My heart swelled with pain and then tears of burden as I read all of this. Wayne, it is such a mystery about these things…BUT GOD! He wastes nothing and this will all be for His glory. I sure am learning that in all I have lived in the trenches of legalism and betrayal.

    You are a beacon and it is so inspiring to be privileged to know of you and The Journey.

    Thank you, Bro.

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