Author Francine Rivers on her addiction and how her writing changed, from steamy romance novels to stories of unconditional love
The last line of Redeeming Love makes my throat tighten and my eyes sting. The confronting themes of prostitution, sexual abuse, and violence, meddle artfully with the uplifting ones of relationship, worth, and undeserved, unconditional love in the retelling of the Biblical book of Hosea.
It is clever, it is beautiful, and it is engrossing. And it is romantic, a genre author Francine Rivers confesses she was for a long time not only expert at but also addicted to.
"We tend to frame addiction as substance abuse, but most anything that consumes our attention and energy or serves as an escape can be an addiction," Francine shares in Christianity Today.
"Mine was to steamy historical romances."
Because who doesn't love falling in love over and over again?
Francine describes how plunging into the love lives of fictional characters became a way to avoid facing pains and troubles.
"When I miscarried, I dealt with the grief by reading," she says.
When reading romances no longer "filled the hunger" she began plotting her own stories, combinations of her favourite genres she describes as "Western gothic romance".
Francine's first book sold with ease in the booming market.
"The early years of my marriage weren't easy for either of us; reading and writing romances kept me from analyzing why and dealing with problems," the author explains.
"Something was missing, and I didn't know where to start looking for whatever was lost."
Work, she says, became an obsession.
"If you had a choice between me and the children or your writing, you'd choose writing," her husband Rick told her one day, an appalling observation of stinging accuracy.
Their marriage falling apart, Francine and her husband relocated to North Carolina to be closer to her in-laws and were welcomed into their new neighbourhood by an eight-year-old boy.
"Have I got a church for you!" he said, Francine recalls. "We saw him as a pest; he turned out to be a means of good news."
Francine says she had grown up in a Christian family and assumed that made her a Christian, but though both she and Rick had attended a church neither of them felt connected to God in any meaningful way. At the time the eight-year-old appeared at her doorstep she was desperate enough to try anything. At this small local church they were made to feel part of their family.
She says the pastor preached the gospel, the good news of how Jesus came to earth to pay the price for all the ways we as humans fall short, and taught from the Bible.
Francine recalls she and Rick were baptized on the same day, deciding together to give their lives to Christ.
And the first thing God did was take away her writing.
"I couldn't write anything," she explains. "Nothing made sense."
She focused on reading the Bible instead, and when she got to the book of Hosea she got a nudge to write a book of a different kind.
"One that would show the difference between what the world considers love and the unconditional, sacrificial, all-consuming love of God," Francine says. "The result was Redeeming Love."
And God wasn't done with her yet. Soon every big question she confronted prompted another novel— How many times do we forgive those who want our destruction? (An Echo in the Darkness). How do I deal with anger and angry people? (As Sure as the Dawn). What is sovereignty? (The Scarlet Thread).
The hardest book she ever had to write, Francine says, was The Atonement Child, because she had to face her own experience with abortion in her college years— her "heaviest burden of shame".
"God, I don't want to write that book," she remembers praying. "I don't want to deal with that issue because it hurts so much.
"I asked these questions with trembling fear: Have you really forgiven me? If so, why do I still feel broken? Will I ever be whole again?
"It was a very difficult year [of writing], but brought the most healing to me personally. God protected me through the process of writing in ways I could never have imagined. I am forgiven. I am free."
Francine concludes by explaining how her approach to writing has changed since those first romance novels. "Writing is a quest to find and face the Lord's perspective in every area of life, past, present, and future," she says.
"It has become a form of worship, a way to praise Him and to proclaim the gospel (the good news about Jesus).
"There will be a couple of moments during the process of writing a book when I will really feel an encounter with God. And I'll know that what I'm writing is something that He's showing me, and that's why I write."•