Joy as a Constant Companion with William Paul Young

An interview with WM. Paul Young

Joy as a Constant Companion with William Paul Young

My guest is best-selling author William Paul Young.

Paul is the author of books like, ‘Lies We Believe About God,’ ‘Eve,’ and ‘Crossroads.’ He’s best known for his book, ‘The Shack.’ There’s a very good chance that you’ve heard of it because over 23 million copies of the book are in print. It’s been translated into over 50 languages.

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Mitch Matthews: When Paul wrote the book though, he wasn’t a successful author, he wasn’t sitting on a big advance. In fact, he was working three jobs and barely making ends meet. Heck, he wasn’t even thinking about writing a book, he was simply trying to create a gift for his kids, but out of all of that came this international bestseller.

It’s an incredible story, it’s made a huge impact on me personally and based on the feedback from all of you, geesh, I’ve heard from so many of you, so many of you that it’s made a huge impact on you too. So, we’re going to talk about this journey of writing it, some of the things he’s learned along the way and what he’s up to next, so let’s get to this. Paul, welcome to DREAM THINK DO, buddy.

Paul Young: Hey, I’m glad to be here. It’s about time.
Mitch Matthews: It is about time. It’s funny because before I hit record, we were talking about that the last time we officially did an interview was for before the DREAM THINK DO podcast even existed, which means it was over 4, 5 years ago which is nuts.

Paul Young: Yeah, and you’ve grown up.
Mitch Matthews: I know, right, all grow up. I got a lot more gray in the old goatee I’ll tell you, my friend, since the last time, sheesh, so…And things are good?

Paul Young: Things are good. We’ve got 12 grandbabies who are eleven years old and under and nine of them are within 15 minutes, so…

Mitch Matthews: That’s an aerobic program! You don’t need a gym membership, my man.

Paul Young: I know.

Mitch Matthews: You’ve got the grandkids plan.

Paul Young: No kidding and it’s the best. It’s the best. I love being a grandfather.

Mitch Matthews: That’s awesome. That is so awesome.

So, what’s going to be fun about this interview is I’ve put this out, a lot of time if I’ve got somebody that I think DREAM THINK DO listeners are really going to be interested in, I put it out to them to say, “Hey, what questions would you ask?” And we got more questions for you than I’ve probably have had for any other guest, which is so cool. Some of them are so fun, so profound, all of that, deep. So, we’re going to go after those as I pepper in some of mine because it’s my show. I get to make the call.

Paul Young: There you go.

Mitch Matthews: I can have some of my questions too.
All right, so, let’s go back to… I alluded to the creation of The Shack but I… and I want to get into some of your earlier history, as well, but let’s go back to how this started because for DREAM THINK DOers so many people are working on a dream. Or maybe they’re at a place where they are like, “I don’t know that I even have a dream.” And I don’t think that you would have said a book was your dream as you’re writing The Shack.

Paul Young: No. Not at all.

Mitch Matthews: So, yeah. So, Jodie and Alicia both ask big questions about, “What was the initial inspiration for writing the book?” “How did the idea begin?” So, let’s start there.

Paul Young: I was trying to do like the Bible says and submit to my wife.

Mitch Matthews: Good word. You married up. You married up. So, if Kim says, you do. Right?

Paul Young: Yeah, well.

Mitch Matthews: Her question wasn’t, “Paul write a book.” What was her question?

Paul Young: It wasn’t. It was, “Someday,” this is almost verbatim, and she said it over about four years, I just didn’t feel ready until the year I turned 50 but she said, “Someday as a gift for our children, would you please write something that puts in one place how you think because you think outside the box?”

And I’ve written all my life but in the early days it was just trying to get the inside world out, and I destroyed most of that. That’s pretty dark stuff. And then over time I started writing poetry and songs and short stories for friends, but she had said, “Someday,” and really I’m thinking like, “Okay. How do I want to write sort of a legacy piece for my kids for Christmas.” And I just didn’t feel ready until the year I turned 50.

When I wrote it, I was trying to say, “Here’s my story, but I’m putting it in fiction because at least that’s accessible to you and won’t bore you to death with some theological thing.”

Kim later said, by the way, that after the book was put into mass print, she said, “You know when I asked you to do this, I was thinking four to six pages.”

And by the way, men marry up. It’s because we don’t have a lot of choices.

Mitch Matthews: Exactly, right, so, yes. So, you started writing this, but you were, if I remember right, you were working three different jobs. [crosstalk 00:05:45] It wasn’t like you were just a man of unease and international mystery, you were writing this on a train going to work. Right?

Paul Young: Yah, so… Yes, I was working three jobs, great jobs, hard work jobs and… but I had 40 minutes on the train and I had nothing to give the kids for Christmas that year. I never dreamed to be a published author that wasn’t a… In fact, when I finished this and made the 15 copies at Office Depot, it did everything I ever wanted it to do. It never even crossed my mind one time to publish it because I don’t know anything about publishing. That’s just a different world to me and so, I had no intentions to publish it either. It just… you make 15 copies and you give it to your kids and they go, “Ha, a book, thanks, Dad. We’ll get right on that.”
Mitch Matthews: Yeah, right. Well, that was one question because I know that story but one of the things I realized I never asked you was, “What was that Christmas like? Did you sit down and read it?” I know what my-

Paul Young: No.

Mitch Matthews: …teenage boys will be like, “Okay, Dad. Right?”

Paul Young: Yeah, no like… it took them a while. My friends read it before my kids read it and then the…But two things are important. One is, 15 copies did everything I ever wanted that book to do.

Mitch Matthews: Yeah, that’s big.

Paul Young: Yeah and that’s true to this day. All this other smoke and mirrors wonderment, proof that God can still speak through Bailam’s ass. It all goes back to 15 copies did everything I ever wanted it to do.

And the other thing that I always say is that everything that mattered to me was in place before I wrote the book, so, identity, worth, value, significance, security, meaning, purpose, destiny, community, love, all in place before I wrote the book. The book never added any of those things to me.

Mitch Matthews: Wow.

Paul Young: What it did is… and this is a gift that is too beautiful for words, but it gave me an invitation to walk on the holy ground of other people’s stories. It just blew the doors open so that people can talk about their own stories. And so I’ve had the privilege of being inside some of the most amazing stories on the planet and some of the greatest losses, some of the greatest things that are so difficult. And that’s a beautiful thing. So, not only the book whatsoever.

Mitch Matthews: And that’s from people coming up and telling you how the book… it impacted them or when they read it, or any of those things.

I know for me, I think I’ve told you, but it’s like I was coming back, I’d been speaking for weeks. I was dry. I was tired. I was not in that place of everything was taken care of. I was far from that and God gave me this nudge to grab it in an airport bookstore, and I did not want to read it. Because one of my friends had warned me about the first couple of chapters, and I’m a dad, and I don’t know that I can make it through what I’m hearing the story is about. I don’t want to and God’s like, “Read it.”

And I balled my stinking eyes out on this plane just ugly cry. And then I’m supposed to have meetings lined up. I’m supposed to land, and I’m supposed to have meetings lined up the rest of the day. I get off that plane and all of my meetings are canceled for that day. I wind up reading through the whole book.

Paul Young: Wow.

Mitch Matthews: Life changer. I probably read it six more times. It’s amazing.

Paul Young: When I was, in the fall of 2007 because we put it in print May of 2007 and our goal was to get through ten thousand copies in two years and work our way up to a hundred thousand and so the guys-

Mitch Matthews: Which would be amazing. Right?

Paul Young: Yeah, and that Hollywood will talk to you if you can sell a novel, 100 000 copies, 7500 is a best seller. And so, that fall, we’re in a little house on the corner of 12th Street and I’m still working my three jobs. I didn’t quit my three jobs until February of ’08 and… just in case.

Mitch Matthews: I smell something good but I’m not leaving these yet.

Paul Young: No. I’ve seen the other shoe drop before so I…

But, in the fall I had an experience that I’d never had before and never had since and… I sleep well at night and I’m laying in bed and at about 2:30 in the morning, I smack wake up, just like somebody had shaken me up. And I actually sit up in bed. Kim is sound asleep next to me. And it’s as close to a visual vision… I get pictures and visuals and things like that, in my imagination, but this is close as I’ve ever had to something in front of me. And it was a waterfall of creative ideas. One after another. Each lasting for about five minutes.

So, I just sit there and watch and then there would be this incredible idea and then the next one would start and it’d be an incredible idea and then the next one would start and about… I don’t know why it took this long, but about 25 minutes into this I think, “I need to write this down. Right?”

Mitch Matthews: Good.

Paul Young: And instantly the waterfall stops. And there’s this dead silence and then I hear the voice inside. I’ve hung around God long enough to know that he knows how to speak my language.

And this is what God says to me, “Paul, that’s just like the way you’ve been. You don’t trust that this is a river. So, you want to dam it up and then you want to put this water into little jars and sell it in exchange for identity and worth and value and significance and security and meaning and purpose and destiny and community and love.”

And it crushed me. I’m balling. I’m so exposed. I’m so called out. And I said, “I will never do that again,” and I haven’t. And so anytime that I’m working on… not just overtly creative things, but just in life, I constantly go, “This is a river. This is a river. I don’t have to dam it up. I don’t have to own it. I don’t have to sequester it off because my identity already is there, my worth, my value, my significance. Right?”

My significance is who I am. It’s not what I do. It’s not a book that I wrote. And so… let me attach another piece to this, to frame it, because it’s not like you resolve that big issue in your world and then it just goes away and you never have to deal with it again.

Mitch Matthews: Never to touch it again, right?

Paul Young: Right, right, right. I’m totally healed, right?

Mitch Matthews: I’m good, I’m good, I’m good. [inaudible 00:12:57]

Paul Young: So, a few years later, because of a whole confluence of situations I had to do a… I had a contract to write a second novel. I’m like, “You want me to write a book on purpose? Not like on purpose but like intentionally?”

That is like, “Ha, That’s a new idea.” And then I go like…

Mitch Matthews: People do this?

Paul Young: They said, “Well, you have until next year. You have until August 6th of next year.” I’m going like, “Okay. You know I don’t even have a title or anything.”

And I was good, I was really good until about six weeks later I get a phone call from New York and they go, “Paul, great news. Congratulations. Seven languages have already bought your next novel.” And I’m like, “Did you explain to them that I have no idea what I’m doing?”

Mitch Matthews: I don’t even know the title yet.

Paul Young: They said, “Oh, yeah. No problem. You know you have until next August.” And then for about 20 minutes, I freak out because then you start all the future-tripping stuff. You start making imaginations and it’s like, “What if, what if, what if, what if” The sign of future tripping, what if.

And about 20 minutes into this and suddenly I go, “Wait a minute. What am I talking about? I never asked for any of this to begin with. This was all part of an unfolding, living in the grace of one day experience. And why would I think I’m in charge now of my identity, and worth, and value, and significance,” and so my prayer was, “So, Papa, you know if August 6 shows up, and I don’t have one word on one page, and I completely fall on my face in front of the publishing expectations and the readership, I’m in. I’m in. If that’s how it unfolds, you have to have a purpose in that, so I’m in.”

And it totally released me from all the sense of expectation and the responsibility to try to accomplish all this. And I just stopped thinking about it. So, I went… I was on some international [inaudible 00:15:17] Korea, got back, somebody called me and said, “We’ve got this place down at Depot Bay,” and while I was in Korea I was thinking about this idea for a possible, just a possible written something, and I was trying to figure out the details of it. And then this place comes open. So I went down there for 11 days and wrote 40 000 words of an 80 000 word novel called Cross Roads.

Which is Kim’s favorite of anything I’ve ever written?

Mitch Matthews: I love that book. I love that book.

Paul Young: And you know what? There’s some conversation that it could end up being a television series or a Netflix series.

Mitch Matthews: I can see that like-

Paul Young: Totally.

Mitch Matthews: I would want to see it spread out. That’s the thing with Shack too, it’s like, oh my gosh, you just wanted it spread out. But that book, oh, and the way you did at the end, we won’t say, but it’s like what you did at the end it’s like, oh, my gosh.

Paul Young: Yeah, I know. But you can go deeply into Maggie’s character and character.

Mitch Matthews: So many different…

Paul Young: So…[crosstalk 00:16:14]

Mitch Matthews: That’s amazing because that was one of my questions was because I can imagine just the pressure that most people would feel, that you obviously started maybe feel or dance with a little bit of here’s this [crosstalk 00:16:25] bang phenomenon, right? And to be able to say, “Okay, what do you do next? Right?” What do you follow that up with?” That’s incredible.

Paul Young: So, it’s been an easy journey. Eve was the hardest thing I’ve ever written but that’s because to use a river metaphor, which I now use for creativity, Shack, and Cross Roads I jumped into rivers that nobody else was in. I mean there was just nobody and so it was like, “Jump in the river, let the river take you to wherever it takes you.”

Eve was jumping in a river where there were lots of boats and other people, because then actually dealing with text and I’m trying to write a work of fiction, putting 40 years of theological study into a work of fiction accessible to a teenager and so, that’s why my main character ended up being a 16-year-old trafficked girl. It’s the only way I can do it. It’s the way I… And I frankly thought it was impossible but, man, Eve was rough to write. It was a tough go. Lot of work.

Mitch Matthews: And do you-

Paul Young: But I love it.

Mitch Matthews: I know with The Shack, from what I understand, it was a number of pieces that you wrote at different times come together. What is your process like? I know Eric Autovender… he was like, “All right, how do you develop your characters? What’s that like? Is it a guided prayer? How do you go about cultivating these stories?

Paul Young: I’m much more childlike than all of that stuff. If it gets too complicated it… if it doesn’t work for 1st-century slaves and children, I think it’s probably wrong.

The Shack I started with the conversations.

Mitch Matthews: Interesting.

Paul Young: Because then… I didn’t have a storyline and so I… because Kim had asked me, “Write something as a gift for my kids.” So I started by thinking, “Oh, I could do words that mean something to your dad, like antinomianism and adultery and… but I’d go like, “But this would kill them.”

Mitch Matthews: “Okay, Dad. Merry Christmas.”

Paul Young: Yeah, really. So, then I started with just “What are my questions?” And I started writing my… and I found out, that I’m really good at writing conversations. In fact, that seems to be how… that’s my language with God, is an inside conversation. And so the conversations took on a life of their own.

So, I’m going like, “All right,” I said, “who are asking these questions and why? And that’s where Mackenzie showed up and then from day one, Papa God was a large black African American woman. That was just… just…

Mitch Matthews: A lot of questions about that. A lot of people like, “When did that happen? Did that feel like a risk? Did you know that…?

Paul Young: No, because I’m writing it for my six children.

Mitch Matthews: One thing I know it impacted me but other people… obviously that was a lot of controversy for some. [crosstalk 00:19:23] How soon did you hit? And did you ever think, “It’s too much? I’m not going to do it.”

Paul Young: No. I’m writing it for my kids. What have I got to lose?

Mitch Matthews: Right. Right. I suppose. You’re right.

Paul Young: But it turns out that God was writing it for his kids too.

Mitch Matthews: Right. Totally.

Paul Young: There wasn’t any of that. And even when the backlash happened and stuff like that, that didn’t bother me whatsoever. I’m thinking, “We bunch of white folk. We need God to break through our little Geldof-with-a-bad-attitude God motif. And imagery has never defined God. God is a rock, a strong tower, a shield. Those are not even living things and… but God is a nursing mother in Isaiah, a woman who loses a coin, the Holy Spirit, [foreign language 00:20:15] which is feminine. God is the breasted one, [foreign language 00:20:17]. God is a shepherd, a mother hen. God is a father. God’s no more masculine than feminine or vice versa. The fact that the Holy Spirit is referred to in the feminine term, pronoun she, starting in verse two of Genesis, doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit is the female part of God and any more than God as Father is the male part of God.

So, it was playing with imagery to just try to break the box open some and I…

Mitch Matthews: I think I heard you say once it was to offend the mind, reveal the heart. Or something to that effect.

Paul Young: Yeah. And to sneak past the watchful dragons.

Mitch Matthews: Right. Right.

Paul Young: … use Lewis. It was a way to just put it into a different reality… we’re so locked into our own personal imagery anyway. It’s something to shake it up. And for my kids, I’m trying to say, “Look, I want to tell you about the God who actually showed up and healed my heart, not the God I grew up with. Because I grew up with the white distant Omni-beings Zeus behind Jesus, that Jesus came to save me from and the… because that was our theology. So most of it… even my mom had a problem with it, so…

Mitch Matthews: Really?

Paul Young: Oh, yeah. She… as soon Papa… She heard about The Shack from her doctor and her hairdresser before she heard it from me. And even when her doctor and hairdresser told her about it she couldn’t… she didn’t tell them she was related to me. She figured she’d better read it so she tried, and when Papa came through the door as a large black African American woman, she just closed the book, picked the phone, called my sister and said, “Debbie, your brother is a heretic.” And she meant it.

And there’s this wild story how she got past it but…

Mitch Matthews: I love, I love that story could you tell that story.

Paul Young: Oh you want that story?

Mitch Matthews: I want that story.

Paul Young: Oh my gosh.

Mitch Matthews: There’s your mom, she’s in Canada reading this. Her son is a heretic. She doesn’t agree with him at all, but something changes her mind. I love this story.

Paul Young: Yes, so, this is phenomenal and I’ll try to cut it down for time purposes but… My mom was a nurse and she entered nurses training in 1946 in Victoria, British Columbia at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital. It was in a training hospital. And it’s a three-year nurses program, she wanted to be a medical missionary and so she’d been there three months. She said she got her little cap. She said, “I looked cooler.”

Mitch Matthews: [inaudible 00:23:02]

Paul Young: Yeah, yeah, yeah. “looked cooler, but I didn’t know anything.” And a woman comes into the hospital, and she’s bleeding and her chart shows she had had five late-second trimesters, early third trimester miscarriages in a row.

Mitch Matthews: Oh, no.

Paul Young: And this is 1946, there’s no NICU, no neo-natal and premature babies don’t survive. And so, she’s six and a half months pregnant with their sixth attempt to have a child. The church is praying. She is the wife of the senior pastor of the Anglican church. Her name is Mrs. Mann and she’s bleeding. So, the head of OB comes in, exams her and says, “I’m sorry, we’re going to have to take the baby.” Because her life was in danger. And sets up an emergency c-section, grabs the head night nurse to assist him and a student nurse who happened to be there to assist and to learn and to do the clean-up, my mom.

18 years old, single, German Baptist background, at a time where you hardly ever stood up to a man, let alone a doctor. Doctors were [crosstalk 00:24:06]

Mitch Matthews: Right, nobody questions a doctor.

Paul Young: No, no, no. Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and doctors. And so she is pulled into a c-section, emergency c-section, in which the doctor delivers a one-pound baby boy and… we have a picture of Houston Parker, who’s our third grandchild, born four pounds and a half an ounce, and I have a picture of his entire fist, like this, with room to spare inside my son’s wedding band, at four pounds.

Mitch Matthews: Wow, and he’s four pounds.

Paul Young: Four pounds bigger than this little baby. Well, the doctor delivers this one-pound baby, his whole body’s the size of a stick of butter and puts him in the kidney tray, hands him to my mother and says, “It’s not viable. Dispose of it.” Which means incinerator because that’s what you do with medical waste. And he goes back to finish the operation. My mother is like, “What do I do with such…” because she looks at this baby and he’s still breathing and the doctor is saying put him in the incinerator.

And she’s praying. She’s like, “God what do I do, what do I do?” So she… because you can’t countermander the doctor, you can’t disobey.

Mitch Matthews: No.

Paul Young: She goes up to service area and she’s like, “What do I do?” Comes up with a plan. So, she finds a washcloth and she wraps this little baby in a washcloth because preemies of that size rarely make any noise. Right? And she just wraps him up, puts him back in the kidney tray, walks back into the operating room and put him up on top of the sterilization unit, because it’s the only warm place in the room.

The doctor thinks it’s all been taken care of, no problem.

Mitch Matthews: Nobody’s going to mention it.

Paul Young: Yeah, yeah.

Mitch Matthews: Nobody talks about this.

Paul Young: And my mom’s thinking, “Well, the baby’s going to die, but I’ll just wait for the baby to die. Then I’ll obey the doctor.” It’s just a timing issue.

And so the doctor leaves, the head nurse takes Mrs. Mann to post-op for recovery and my mother’s left to do the clean-up, which she does. And the baby was delivered 8:30 PM, May the 30th, 1946. At 9:30, my mother’s finished all the clean-up, takes the baby, just holds him in the operating room waiting for him to die, so then she can obey the doctor. At 9:30, the doctor meets with the parents and tells them the bad news, “I’m sorry. You had a son, he was not viable. He did not survive. I’m sorry.”

And he’s a member of their church.

Mitch Matthews: Oh my gosh.

Paul Young: And so now they are grieving the loss of their sixth child, just devastating. This is way after you can feel the baby kicking and, everything. So, the doctor goes home, my mom’s holding this baby. 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 1:30 in the morning, my mother says to herself, “I should probably tell someone about this.” Because the baby’s not dying.

So, she calls the head nurse, and the head nurse’s response is, “We’re in so much trouble.” And has to call the doctor. The doctor comes rushing in from home, and he is livid. And he rips into this 18-year-old, insubordinate nurse-wanna be, who does she think she is and just, just…

Mitch Matthews: I’ve already told the family, blah, blah, blah.

Paul Young: Yep. So, he says, “You created this problem. You’re now responsible for it. Don’t you dare say anything to the parents.” So code of silence is placed on this. My mother doesn’t know what to do so she takes the little baby up to the nursery and they begin to… the nurses just adopt this little baby and the mother and the nurses hold the baby around the clock, feed the baby with an eyedropper and over the next two days, the baby loses four ounces, gets down to 12 ounces because preemies often lose weight. But nobody thinks this baby’s going to survive, it was just a matter of time and he’s losing weight.

But then the baby starts to pick up weight and it’s been almost three days. And as the baby picks up weight, the doctor realizes this baby is not going to die quick and so he has to say something to the parents.

He meets with the parents and he says, “We did not want to give you any false hope because when your son was delivered, he truly wasn’t viable. And even if he had survived or did survive, he’d have brain damage and so many things go wrong. But due to the miracles of modern medicine, we’ve managed to keep him alive and… but we don’t expect him to survive.

He doesn’t say anything about what my mom did.

Mitch Matthews: Right. Right. The doctor saved the day again.

Paul Young: Yeah, yeah. And at that moment, they didn’t care, they had a son. And that afternoon, Harold’s father, who was the senior pastor of the Anglican church, takes Harold in the palm of his hand and baptizes him with an eyedropper, and names him Harold, which means good news.

Well, two weeks later, Mrs. Mann was sent home. Two months later, little Harold went home to his parents in basically a shoebox and two years later, my mom along with all the other nurses who were in the nursery, get an invitation to Harold’s second birthday party. And they all go because they’re curious about Harold.

Meanwhile, the parents have been starting to ask the doctor in the hospital, “Like what really happened here?” There’s this mystery about why two days, almost three days. Nobody says anything, code of silence.

So my mother goes. And she says, “We’re looking around to try and figure out which ones of these little kids is Harold and suddenly I spot him. I go, “That’s him.” She said, “Little skinny but… running around just like a normal child.”

She said nothing. She graduates that year, moves to central Canada, goes to Bible school where she meets my dad. And they graduate, they take a little church up in the Peace River country, Northern Alberta, where I am born and then when I’m 10 months old, the three of us moved to the other side of the planets, to the highlands of New Guinea where I grew up as a missionary kid.

And we come back when I’m about 10. My dad becomes an itinerary pastor. I went to 13 schools before I graduate from high school. I end up in northern British Columbia, graduating high school in Teres. And my mother is working at the hospital and this one day she finds an obituary for a Bishop Mann, who had passed away. And she happened to be working with an Anglican nurse and she says, “Did you happen to know Bishop Mann? And that nurse says, “Well, actually very, very well. I worked with him with the First Nations people and… amazing man.”

My mother still not sure. “Did Bishop Mann have any children?” “Yes, one son, Harold.” My mother says, “Do you happen to know where he is?” And this woman says, “Nope, lost track of him. An amazing young man graduated early from college. Last I heard he’s a missionary teacher in West Africa.”

My mother stills say nothing for 10 more years.

Mitch Matthews: Oh my gosh.

Paul Young: 10 years later, I’m 27. Right? Harold’s like nine years older than me. I’m 27, I’m living in Portland, Oregon, married to Kim. We have a couple of kids so far and my mother reads another obituary. Guess who died? The doctor. Yeah, the doctor died. And now, he’s dead and he’s not coming back.

Mitch Matthews: Right. Exactly.

Paul Young: So this is the first time [crosstalk 00:32:00] I know, exactly. The first time she tells us this story or my dad. My dad had never heard this. Cold of silence. She [inaudible 00:32:07] with it all the way.

Mitch Matthews: Well, you can trust your mom.

Paul Young: Oh my gosh, yes. I mean, she won’t even tell you the truth.

So, now the doctor’s death. My mother decides she’d track Harold down and she found him. He was now the senior pastor of the Anglican church just down the road from where his father pastored in 1946 in Victoria. And my mother stews for six months. Her issue is, “How do I tell Harold the truth about this birth, without him just thinking I’m looking for credit?”

Right? That’s the dilemma.

So, Christmas comes and she writes this beautiful letter. And it says basically… it’s a story of the coming of a son who would change the world. So she wraps up the story of the coming of Jesus into the coming of Harold as the person who would change the world. And sends it off. Right?

Well, he’s on the phone immediately going, “We need to talk.”

Mitch Matthews: It’s amazing.

Paul Young: My parents meet Harold and his wife. His parents have both passed by this point. And my mother tells Harold the truth about his birth and he’s just absolutely blown away. And he says, “We always knew there was a mystery but nobody would ever tell us.”

And so, as you can imagine, my mother and Harold have become very close. Every time Harold would come through that part of British Columbia, he’d go out of his way to come visit my mom. And she just picked up this motherly role and so, one day she’s talking him on the phone and she says, “Harold, I’ve got to talk to somebody about something. I have this son.

Mitch Matthews: You’re this son. Congratulations Paul.

Paul Young: Thank you, thank you. And he wrote this book. And I’m having a problem with it. But I’m not even going to tell you what my problem is. I just needed to tell somebody that I was having a problem with it. And Harold says, “Well, Bernice, why don’t you let me read it and I’ll tell you what I think?”

“Oh, would you do that?”

Mitch Matthews: Harold.

Paul Young: I know. So, Harold reads The Shack and he sends me an email. “Hey Paul, I read your book. I want you to know that I love everything about this book. But I think I know what your mom is struggling with, is the imagery that you use for God, the Father. Let me see if I can do something about that.”

So Harold blind-copies me on an email to my mom and says, “Dear Bernice. I read Paul’s book and you need to know, I love this book. But I think you’re struggling with how he portrays God, the Father. Let me tell you why that is so important to me.” And he lays it out, not only inside his personal story but he says, “Look, theologically we’ve never thought of God as more masculine than feminine, not through the early church. Now we’ve got a little screwed up since then but overall the whole spectrum and gamut of masculinity and femininity originate in the Father and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit, and so in the oneness of God.

And then he says… and he’s the one how said, “Look, imagery is away, a facet through which to see a window, through which to see some element of the character and nature of God. Even in humanity, we have seven-plus billion people and we only get a glimpse of the immense, magnificence of the character of God who can incarnate through this many human beings and it’s still only a glimpse. Right? So imagery doesn’t define God, it’s to help us see elements of the character and nature of God.”

And so, my mom saved a one-pound baby boy as an 18-year-old nurse wanna-be in 1946, who decades later becomes the man who builds the bridge that she can walk across to her own son.

Mitch Matthews: Wow. Wow.

Paul Young: And my mom, she passed away a year ago New Year’s Eve day. And two things, one is, before she passed she wrote me an email. This is a woman who was a missionary, a pioneer missionary, who was a nurse, who was a pastor’s wife, who was a German Baptist growing up and it’s the only time she references The Shack in a note to me, and she said, “I want you to know that reading The Shack is the first time in my life, I actually believed that God loved me.”

Mitch Matthews: Wow.

Paul Young: That’s my mom. So, at that point, who cares who doesn’t like [crosstalk 00:36:46]

Mitch Matthews: Exactly right.

Paul Young: And Harold and I did her memorial service together.

Mitch Matthews: No kidding.

Paul Young: No kidding. And the last words that she said to me and I was there, she’s looking across the room at me funny and I say, “What mom?” She goes, “You’re my son. Who would have thought?”

That’s the last thing my mom said to me.

Mitch Matthews: I love your mom.

Paul Young: I do too. And you know what? My friend Baxter Kruger who wrote The Shack Revisited

Mitch Matthews: Oh yeah.

Paul Young: We just did a conference together this last weekend and his mom passed away Friday and I was there when he got the call and he’s from Mississippi and we were in Portland, Oregon and I got to be there and we just told stories and then I said, “Hey Harold”… I mean, I said, “Hey Baxter, Baxter.” I said, “I want to tell you something. Today, which is the day that his mom died, “Today is my mom’s birthday.”

Mitch Matthews: No way.

Paul Young: And I have this picture that for her birthday she wanted to be a greeter at the Pearly Gates. So she was there. Bernice and Betty are now together. And Baxter says, “Boy-

Mitch Matthews: Probably playing cards. They’re having a blast.

Paul Young: They’re talking about their renegade sons. That’s what they’re talking about.

My mom knows me better now.

Mitch Matthews: I love it. I love it.

So, here’s a thing is if people have read The Shack, I’m guessing again you ushered in a closer understanding to God, maybe it caused some stirring, maybe it caused some conversation,[crosstalk 00:38:30] hear this, they hear that piece that I talked about. You get grace just different than most people and at a deeper level.

And you talk about that. I think one of the most important things you said was to say, “With 15 copies,” that was good. Expectations met, all of that.

So, let’s just talk for just a second because I think it would be easy for someone to go, “Oh, well. He grew up in a religious or spiritual family. He’s probably always had this understanding, easy-peasy, chicken-grizzly to get to this point. But the years leading up to you writing The Shack, let’s just talk about that for a second.
Paul Young: All right. Let’s talk about another layer of what The Shack means.
Mitch Matthews: Yeah.
Paul Young: Let’s talk about The Shack as the house on the inside that people help you build. A lot of us, we didn’t get good help. Just because you grew up in a religious family doesn’t mean that things are well, as any religious person can tell you.

A part of my experience, my father, his capacity to be a father was destroyed by his father before I ever showed up. And he was just a violent disciplinarian. And so I learned about the nature of the character, the God, the Father, from my Dad who was willing to beat the hell out of his son to be right with other people.

And then the sexual abuse had started in the mission field before five, and then at six going into boarding school and the big boys coming at night, molesting little boys.

You cannot go there in my life and say. Right? So, I created all the survival mechanism and skills that you use to stay safe. I am disassociated from my own heart. I dragged that in as a performer, that’s what I did. I became a performer and build a façade instead of letting people in The Shack.

Because The Shack became the place I stored all my addictions and hid all my secrets and was terrified to let anybody into. Thank God I married the wrath of God and, which I now believe is a very good thing. Wrath of God used to terrify me because I thought it was against me.

Oh, get this. The early church had a view of God as a judge. And we have a view of God as a judge, but so many of us see God as a judge in a forensic sense, in a courtroom sense. And the role of a judge in a courtroom is to adjudicate whether you’re guilty or innocent. And if you’re guilty, to sentence you to punishment. The supposedly equivalent to the amount of crime you committed. Right?

But in the early church, they didn’t see God as a judge in the courtroom at all. They saw God as a judge who is the great physician. And when you go to a doctor who… you want him to judge you. You want him to tell you why you’re sick and how you’re broken so that he can adjudicate a path toward wholeness and restoration and healing. Both are judges. Right?

Mitch Matthews: Interesting.

Paul Young: But we’ve adopted a… so my view of God, the father was all screwed up a forensic mentality. And I dragged that into my marriage and I broke the world at one point when I was exposed and had to learn how to live an authentic life and be a truth-teller and take the risk of trust which…

Mackenzie’s weekend in The Shack represents 11 years for me… but I was trying to put 11 years worth of work into a weekend for my kids. But it’s also significant that Mackenzie Allen Phillips, his name spells map and Melissa Ann Phillips, the little girl, his daughter who was murdered, Melissa Ann Phillips spells map, because I’m both.

I had a writer from Nashville who said, “I don’t know who you are but my sense is that Missy represents something murdered in you as a child, probably your innocence. And Mackenzie is you as an adult trying to deal with it.”

Nothing easy-peasy about this. This is grace and desperation. And I’m so grateful for the therapy and the people and the process but I will not go through that again. It’s like…

Mitch Matthews: Worked too hard for that.

Paul Young: Oh my goodness. You know what? But that’s why I can say by the time I was 50 years old, I was… I suddenly realized I’m one of the healthiest people that I know. I don’t have any addictions. I don’t have any secrets. I’m the same person in every situation, which I didn’t know was possible.

Mitch Matthews: Especially when you’re a performer. If you’ve lived most of your life as the performer then you start to… like Mark Twain said, “If you have no lies, you don’t need a good memory”

Paul Young: Exactly.

Mitch Matthews: But as a performer, you are like, “What kind of performer am I here and what role was I the last time I was here?” versus you just show up and you are who you are and it’s-

Paul Young: One of the survival skills is to hear God call you somewhere else. Where you can try to start a façade over again and keep the amount of information down to a minimum but somebody always finds you out. And that’s when you hear God hear you… call you somewhere else.

But marriage really was the crucible for me because I couldn’t easily run away. I just happened to marry a very powerful human being and I’m… part of why I’m as whole as I am today, is the intensity of her fury and the length of it. So, she pushed me to deal with every piece of crap and [crosstalk 00:44:36]

Mitch Matthews: It’s amazing because she really did… there was the fury but it was also… there was the commitment. Right?

Paul Young: She was committed to her fury. There’s no doubt about that.

And the fact that she even let me stay at the house, things like that.

Those of you who don’t know. I got caught in a three-month affair with one of my wife’s best friends and that became a point of exposure where the choice was to either kill myself or do the work.

Killing yourself is the last way to run away. I made the choice to not run away but to face her.


Mitch Matthews: Yah.

Paul Young: Life is really tough sometimes. But a lot of us, it takes fire to burn the stuff out of us that is not of loves’ kind and that’s the commitment of a God who has a flaming fire of fury. But it is a fury of love, it’s never against us, but it is against everything in us that is not of loves’ kind. And so, The Shack comes out of that, and it’s almost a miracle that Kim would be the one that says, “Someday I want you to write.” Because this is… in the aftermath of all of that betrayal. But it took Kim and me eleven years to heal. 11 years before I could say, “Yes, she absolutely trusts me, and she has every reason to.”

Mitch Matthews: Which is amazing. And in so many ways, like you said, for her to ask but it almost had to be her to ask.

Paul Young: Yeah. Yeah.

Mitch Matthews: That’s incredible.

So all right, there are so many other questions and I can tell you there are so many people that poured out their hearts on impact and all those things but I want to jump to… because I respect your time, but I want to also jump to a little bit of what you’re working on now because you mentioned a little bit before I hit record and you got… my brain has just been whirring ever since so let’s talk a little bit about what you’re working on now.

Paul Young: Okay. So I’m working on a non-fiction and a fiction. The non-fiction will either be entitle, maybe, one of these two is the idea at the moment, The Art of Living in One Day’s Grace or God In The Present Tense. Right? And that comes from the last 15, 20 years of learning how to live just inside the grace of one day, that is not… not without that comes in mind, not making choices without comes in mind, responding to what’s actually in front of me rather than trying to control some fear-based imagination of things that could go wrong but don’t actually exist. Right?

Because I think a lot of us spend a bunch of time not being present. One of the markers when I turned 50 that I was so much more whole, not perfect, not finished, but big construction stuff had been done, that joy became a constant companion. And joy is in the present tense. And in the presence is the fullness of joy. Right? And so, when you don’t experience joy, it usually means that you’re not present. You’re off in some fear-based future-tripping imagination. Or you’ve got some imagination of that which will give you identity, worth, value, significance, security. Now you’ve got a set of expectations and now you’re performing to that.

And so you live from the outside in, rather than from the inside out.

Mitch Matthews: And that goes back to what you’re talking about is like, 15 copies written and you’re done.

Paul Young: And it wasn’t even an expectation. I just knew when I hit those 15 and I saw the response that it did everything that I ever wanted it to do. It wasn’t like 15 is the mark. It wasn’t that I was shooting that low.

Mitch Matthews: That’s right.

Paul Young: But part of living in the grace of the day is you no longer live according to expectations. When you take a word like expectancy which is a moving verbal form and you unify a word and you push it to the outside it then begins to judge you. Expectations are just disappointments waiting to happen. And when you live by them you’re drawing lines beneath which nothing is acceptable as a gift.

Like the child who Christmas is coming. They are full of expectancy but they really want this one thing. And you can give them the world except, they don’t get the one thing, the world doesn’t even matter. And they now moved from expectancy to expectation and now that expectation judges the results out here and says, “Not worthy.” Right? And so we do that to ourselves. So, there are lots of things buried in all of that conversation but it takes trust to stay inside the grace of the day. It takes becoming childlike and we have to change and become as children we can’t even see the kingdom of God. When you don’t believe God is good, not at the core of your being, the only one you can trust, even though you might hate yourself, you’re the only one that has your back. And so control becomes the only option to fear. And that’s it, trust or control. That’s it. That’s how we deal with fear. And so that book wraps these kinds of conversations up and… pretty cool.

Because they’ve been so meaningful to me and I love living this way. I like living as a child and being an adult’s way to complicated and too much work. And I’m not going back to that as well.

The fiction book is… and I thought I’d never do this, but I’m working on a sequel for The Shack. And I just thought, “Nope, that book stands alone, by itself. It’s good.” And over the last 10 years, in the midst of conversations and everything else, and just how the unfolding of all this has happened, I’ve built a relationship with a bunch of guys on death row, unit two in Tennessee. And suddenly I’m around people who are murderers and I’ve got a storyline that involves a serial killer and I dealt with the issue of forgiveness but I didn’t make it past that.

How is then that this plays out. And where is the… how do you deal with justice and reconciliation and fury and evil and all of these kinds of things. So, it’s given me an arc and a storyline to pursue.

Mitch Matthews: It’s almost, I’m guessing, you’ve almost needed that 12 years or more and all those experiences then, to be able to… because, yeah, I know you’ve said but in the past, never a sequel all that stuff but it’s that old thing of… that kind of it takes those kinds of experiences and the minute you said that I was like, “Oh my gosh. That’s amazing.”

So what kind of timeline you’re expecting?

Paul Young: I have… one of my friends is on death row, has a death date of April 12, 2020. And I would like to have this out, with a prayer that it might change some hearts in Tennessee. And we’ve already had some of the brothers executed and some of them are the freest, most beautiful people I’ve ever met. Seriously.

Their prison is obvious. All of us are wandering around in prisons that we don’t even see. And so I would like this… my goal, my hope is that I can have this out in some form before Abu gets executed next April.

Mitch Matthews: Wow. Wow. That’s incredible. That’s incredible.

Well, we’ll be praying for that too and praying for the journey. That’s incredible. It’s needed and just so love you, love what you do. You inspire me, my man.

Paul Young: Oh. I’m loving what you do from afar. Yes, go Mitch. I know you married up too so I’m…

Mitch Matthews: There’s no doubt. You’ve gotten to pray with my bride, you know what that’s like, so absolutely man.

I love you. I love what you do and know that we’re rooting for you throughout.

Paul Young: Thank you, bud.

Blessings are due and all of those who are part of your family there, and may your kind increase.

Mitch Matthews: Thank you.

All right. DREAM THINK DOERS… what do YOU think?

Let me know your thoughts about this interview and Paul’s story. What stood out to you? What were you surprised by? What resonated? I’d love to hear from YOU.

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