As a teenager, Jeff Crosby longed to be a long-haul trucker steering an 18-wheeler. Instead, he has worked on a farm, a factory floor, a steak-house kitchen, in a sports-editing spot, and as a bookstore owner, which began a career in Christian literature. Over the years, Crosby rose to become the publisher at IVP and in April 2021 was named president and CEO of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.

Yet for many years, he writes in his spiritual memoir, The Language of the Soul: Meeting God in the Longings of our Heart (Broadleaf, May), he battled loneliness and panic attacks. He describes the sadness and the inner ache many feel as they long for "forgiveness, peace, friendship, transformation, community, meaningful work," and more. Crosby tells how books, particularly the psalms, music in all its forms, and nature's beauty, soothed these "yearnings," and taught him that God will give him courage.

You begin the book elaborating on saudade (SOW-dog-gee)— a Portuguese word that has no simple translation but is tinged with the sorrow of unanswered desires. However, you give saudade a twist by calling our longings "markers of the with-God life." How did this connection come about?

I journal incessantly and this book came from a 15-year journey of self-discovery. I wanted to find congruity between the inner person and the outer person. I wanted to explore how our longings can be befriended. And I want to befriend other people for whom those longings are a sense of darkening or heaviness in their life, as opposed to a lightness, a joy, a hopefulness." Ronald Rolheiser says, "What we do with the joy and the pain of these longings is our spirituality."

You talk about years of panic attacks and times of profound loneliness. How did you find your footing?

I turned to theologians and the Bible and music that assure one of God's presence and a certainty that God makes available to us God's own courage. What is also essential is to find the care of counselors, spiritual directors and deep spiritual friendships.

Readers shouldn't expect or seek miraculous transformation, you write. You experienced wisdom and peace mowing the lawn at your Lutheran church while the custodian was ill. But isn't the idea of "incremental" change antithetical to our impatient contemporary culture?

"Incremental" is countercultural, but it is possible. Many of the authors at IVP I worked most closely with such as Richard Foster (Sanctuary of the Soul, 2012) say something to the effect that maturity is the gracious acceptance of our limitations. Mowing the lawn seemed like just what my soul needed—anonymity, physicality, and a mission in my work.

Why did you conclude the book with a blessing? It's from poet and priest John O'Donohue: "May you know the urgency with which God longs for you."

This may well be the most essential truth I have discovered on the pilgrimage of life thus far. It brings the capstone idea that, in the midst of all of my longings, there is a God who longs for us. And maybe, at the end of the day, that is what is more important.

As you continue leading the ECPA, what's next for you as a writer?

I'm working on two books. My next one, Spirit in the Sky, is on the spirituality of 18 different artists and labels in popular music such as Cat Stevens, the Beatles, and Sufjan Stevens. The other book will be on reading as a spiritual discipline.