We chatted with the author about changing careers after 50, saying goodbye to Mitford and what’s on the horizon.
- Posted on Oct 30, 2018
For more than 25 years, Jan Karon has been delighting millions of readers with her New York Times bestselling Mitford novels. Her new book Bathed in Prayer: Father Tim’s Prayers, Sermons, and Reflections from the Mitford Series is her last entry in the series.
In an essay introducing the book, Karon recalls the moment at age 10 she knew with absolute certainty she was supposed to be a writer. It would be more than 40 years before she published a book. She went on to have a career in advertising. It wasn’t until her mid-forties that she began pondering her childhood dream. But was it too late?
A simple tool helped her tune in to God’s will.
“I kept a journal very faithfully for two years,” Karon told Guideposts.org. “I put everything—all my fears, my high expectations, my prayers about how to make the right decision—into the journal.”
It took years, but when God’s direction came, Karon had no doubts about what to do.
“When the green light came, it was simply a peace that I knew to interpret as ‘go and don't look back.’ And I did,” Karon said.
She sold her house and moved to North Carolina. She’d never written a novel before (besides the 14-page book she’d written as a child when she first felt her call to be a writer). It took months of false starts before she saw a vision of a priest walking down the road. This priest eventually became Father Timothy Kavanagh, the lead character in her series.
She felt unqualified to write the character that came to her: a middle-aged, diabetic priest. So how did she do it?
“Bathing my work in prayer,” she said. “I wouldn't sit down without lifting up the whole thing.”
Karon had her protagonist and setting, but the journey was just beginning. She began writing Father Tim’s story as installments in the local paper. At the end of two years, she had a novel. However, it took another two and a half years after that to find a publisher.
It was faith—and reading back through her prayer journal—that kept her going.
“There were months when I didn't know how I was going to pay the mortgage,” Karon said. “God always provided. As He does when He sends any of us on a mission, He will absolutely provide.”
At Home in Mitford, Karon’s first book, was a surprise hit. She went on to write 13 novels set in the town of Mitford. For years, fans have asked Karon to compile Father Tim’s prayers and sermons. Going back through 25 years of her writing was an experience similar to re-reading her journals. One prayer in particular stuck out to Karon as she was compiling the book.
“I wrote about something that I like to call the prayer that never fails,” Karon said. “It's a biblical passage: thy will be done. When I pray, God already knows what's on my heart. But I talk about the person or thing I'm praying for and how I think things should go. Then I always add with great sincerity, deepest sincerity, ‘your will be done.’ That's the most satisfying prayer of all.”
As her journey in Mitford comes to an end, Karon is contemplating yet another career change. She’s not talking publicly about her new adventure yet, but it involves her love of art. She’s not worried about starting over. Her faith gives her confidence that it’s never too late for anyone to chase their dream.
“I believe that God gives each one of us creative gifts,” Karon said. “It’s kind of like how we send our children off to school with a packed lunch. God sends us into the world with a packed lunch. Everybody gets one. What you do with it, well you know, that's up to you. But age doesn’t matter.”