Jean E. Syswerda is a former editor and associate publisher for Zondervan Bibles. She helped produce such bestselling Bibles as the NIV Women’s Devotional Bible. General editor of the Women of Faith Study Bible and A Mom's Ordinary Day Bible Study Series, she is the author of the Women's Devotional Guide to the Bible and coauthor of the bestselling Read With Me Bible. Jean and her husband, John, have three children and six grandchildren. They live in Allendale, Michigan.
Can you tell our readers a little about your personal and professional background?
I’ve worked in the publishing industry in some way for almost forty years. Wow! What a fact that is to write! I worked first for a Christian youth magazine, then free-lanced as a writer, editor and proofreader for several years when my children were young. I joined Zondervan and worked as an editor and associate publisher for Zondervan Bibles until 1997. My plans weren’t altogether clear to me when I left Zondervan, however, I knew I wanted to stay in the publishing field. God’s plans became clearer as time went on, and writing has turned into something I love.
How did you become interested in writing and when did you start writing professionally?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. Not that I had plans to be a published author. Through a variety of events, however, that’s exactly what happened. I could never picture myself sitting alone at a desk putting an entire book together. I’ve always enjoyed being with people and interacting with them on a variety of levels. There was a side of me that I had ignored for years though that longed for a more peaceful and serene lifestyle. Leaving corporate publishing and beginning to write professionally fed that longing, and I’ve found more satisfaction in this occupation than any before it.
What prompted you to write The Women’s Devotional Guide to the Bible and what do you hope women will take away from this study?
I’ll start with second the part of this question: I hope women take away a better understanding of how Scripture flows together to tell the whole story of salvation. So often we look at the Bible verse by verse, a little piece here and a little piece there. There is not necessarily anything wrong with that; certain verses of God’s Word have been a lifeline for me during some rough times. However, seeing the bigger picture is vital as well. That was my goal in writing The Women’s Devotional Guide to the Bible, showing women the beautiful way that God planned each piece and part to fit into the whole, inspired men to write it, then protected it through thousands of years so that we could develop a deeper relationship with him through studying it.
In The Women’s Devotional Guide to the Bible you pay close attention to the often overlooked point of view of women in the Bible. Do you think the spiritual needs of women differ from men?
I’m not so sure that I’d say that women’s spiritual needs differ from men. I think it would be more accurate to say that women approach their needs in ways that are different from men. Humans all over the world, male and female, are looking for meaning. No one wants to get to the end of life and sob with Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?” We know, deep down, that life has purpose. The Bible’s women are often part of the subtext, the story behind the story. If we pull those stories to the front, we gain insight into not only how those women thought and related to their world and to God but also what we can learn from their successes and failures. In studying them, in studying the entire Word, we gain that purpose and meaning we seek.
Women of the Bible: A One Year Devotional Study of Women in Scripture was coauthored by yourself with Ann Spangler. How did that collaboration get its start?
Ann and I began as co-workers at Zondervan, talking together about the kinds of materials we’d like to see available to women to help them grow in their knowledge of God and the Bible.
Is it difficult to write with another author? In the newly expanded version of Women of the Bible did you each write about a different woman or did you both provide input into each woman’s story? Just curious.
Difficult? Not at all. We’re both such nice people…how could working together be difficult? Seriously, we approached our work with respect for one another’s insights and abilities and with a plan. Basically, Ann wrote the Monday narrative piece for each woman, then passed it on to me for comments and reactions. I could then write the pieces for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday with that foundation in place, expanding on it but not duplicating it. Ann then finished the week off with the Friday prayers.
What has been updated and expanded in the 2007 edition which has just been released?
When Women of the Bible was first released in 1999, the Wednesday Bible studies were pretty much intended for a woman to use in her personal Bible study. We knew some would use it in groups, but that response was much larger than we anticipated. So the Wednesday studies have been revamped for better use in group study. (They’ll also still work for personal study as well.) We reviewed every word of the book and made a few changes. Then we added some pretty extensive back matter, some of it worth the purchase of the book in itself! At least I think so. But I guess you could call me biased as the co-author. The back matter includes a list of all the women in the Bible, a timeline of the major women of the Bible, a chronological list of the women in Jesus’ family line, and a list of the women who were involved in Jesus’ life and ministry.
Your knowledge of Scripture is extensive. What encouragement can you offer women without a lot of biblical background who desire to grow in the knowledge and truth of Christ?
Read, read, read. (Or, it you don’t enjoy reading, listen, listen, listen. Most of the materials that follow are available in listening formats.) If you’re really and truly interested in growing in your knowledge of Scripture and your relationship with Christ, read the Word. Make notes (I make them right in my Bible) of your thoughts and reactions to what you read so you can return to those places and see what God is teaching you. Read materials that go along with Scripture, devotional as well as study. The knowledge and experiences of others as they relate to God and his Word will serve to expand and deepen your knowledge of God and your relationship with him. Both of the books covered here, The Women’s Devotional Guide to the Bible and Women of the Bible, provide just that sort of background information that will help you in your journey to a deeper relationship with this loving and mysterious God we serve.
What’s your next project? Do you have more books, studies, or devotionals in the works?
Actually, I have nothing planned right now. I’m taking a break from writing in order to help my daughter and her husband deal with the latest difficulty in their lives. As those who have purchased The Women’s Devotional Guide to the Bible know, my daughter lost her baby daughter in a freak accident in August, 2005. In January of this year, 2007, that same daughter’s husband was in a diving accident and is now a quadriplegic. I had a devotional book planned that dealt with losing a child. However, I now need to figure out, spiritually and emotionally, how this newest tragedy “fits” before attempting to write again. For now, I’m busy helping my daughter and her family.
Thank you so much for your time. Last but not least, “Is there anything else you’d like to share with your readers?”
Life had dealt our family some severe blows in the last couple of years. Would you keep us in your prayers? We’re dealing with the loss of our baby Ava yet even as we deal with the paralysis of our young son-in-law and the changes that brings to their family and to ours as a whole. So many challenges make us cling ever more tightly to the God who promises he will never leave or forsake us. Even when we feel like what has happened makes no sense, even when we want to shout at God for allowing it, we hang on to the truths we know: that God is faithful, that he has our good in mind, and that he will never let us go.
Please visit my author web site at jeansyswerda.com.God’s richest blessings on all of you!