11/15/2012 09:40 am ET Updated Jan 15, 2013

'The Shack': How a Story for My Children Became a New York Times Best Seller

In 2005, I was working three jobs to pay bills and put food on the table; one manual labor, one clerical and one as a Web content writer and on-line conference host (not sure where that one fits). Four of our six children lived with us in a tiny rental house and my wife worked in the High School bakery two blocks away.

The year before, we had experienced significant business and investment setbacks (read: over the years Paul made some stupid choices without talking to Kim) and our personal economic climate had taken a wintery turn. We lost the home we had lived in for 17 years, along with our cars and most of the comforts and accouterments of the middle-over-extended class. We had slipped into another "category" -- the working poor.

When you lose your stuff, many things get simpler. You don't have the array of choices or opportunities that the "extra" of affluence affords. You are grateful for minimum wages and the free-flowing entertainments of family and friends. Even the smallest of gifts and extensions of grace from others become palpably precious. I found a place of contentment inside this confluence of faith and family and friends. It was never complacency; I worked hard and was fiercely the best I could be at whatever I put my hand to, whether cleaning toilets or assisting an international company in managing its on-line conferencing. There are always elements of "job" that are difficult and unappealing, but even though I did not love my jobs, I found that I was loved in every one of them. Contentment, assuredly, has nothing to do with situation and circumstance. "Rags to riches" is truly an internal journey not an external one.

And then I wrote a story for our children, at the encouragement of my wife, something that would "put in one place how you think, as a gift, because you think outside the box."

"The Shack," a work of "true" fiction (think, parable), I wrote as a Christmas gift at a time when there was little else to give. I made 15 copies at Office Depot, delivered them to family and friends, and went back to work. In retrospect, I am grateful that I truly had no real idea of what I had done, that everything that matters to me was in place before I wrote this story and that the first fifteen copies did all that I ever wanted this novel to do.

Largely through the kindness, support and grace of others, this little gift was delivered to the world and it became a force for transformation and conversation in the global community, largely, I suspect, an expression of God's sense of humor and affection. Eighteen million copies, and 41 languages later, we all still shake our heads and laugh. This is not the story of reward for a life well lived; anyone who knows me understand this. This is an expression of the grace of a God who is good all the time and involved in the details of our lives, in the ordinary and routine.

So now I am catapulted again, from one category into another, one that in some ways is far more complex and difficult. To put it into religious language, it is much easier to be holy being poor than being rich. I have always loved irony but this is a special and unexpected variety.

But isn't this part of life too? Doesn't this raise the same significant questions? Who is that I want to be/become? What really matters to me, to my family, to my friends, even to my enemies? Success, or the striving for it, seems to bring out of our hearts things that failure and poverty never would. It is pressure from the inside that reveals the flaws in our character rather than pressure from the outside that simply crushes us.

I want to be the same person in every and any situation, living inside the grace of one day, asking for wisdom from within a wealth of relationships that includes the community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I want to see this, not as an invitation into greater responsibility, but into deepening participation.

Wm. Paul Young's new book is called 'Cross Roads.' You can visit his website here.