…because of course every artist is in training to concentrate more fully on the experience of the movement of their art. Writers train to hear the rhythm in the words. Musicians strain to hear the music in the notes….
So the question is what am I going to notice? What to hear, what to ignore, and how to choose.
But first, how much do I actually choose? Or am I better off accepting that no matter what efforts I make or daily practices I carefully implement, I am mostly at the mercy of unseen factors?
Certainly, my limits are always greater than I realize. Yet how much influence over the things I think about–and thereby become–do I truly have?
Is this what I should be thinking about? I believe how I answer determines what I ultimately believe. And what I believe determines my reality, and influences many others.
So while we can debate how or how much attention we can apply, still our decision of what exactly we believe about all this ultimately changes reality–for everyone, even if they’re unaware. And regardless of my impact on others, this choice matters for my life, maybe more than much else.
The obvious first observation here is that my attention to anything ebbs and flows, like waves, like a song. I’ll only be aware of the music some of the time. And I’ll only be aware of my awareness very infrequently. Oh, but the incredibly beautiful distractions!
Yet within the short time I have, there are specific ways I must focus my attention. This greatest gift of choice God gives everyone in equal measure, despite all the significant limitations we do have, it’s ours to claim or to lose. And if our very ability to choose focus is from God, shouldn’t what we choose to focus on be God?
We know there’s far more to life than an experience of the natural world. Shouldn’t we choose to go beyond our natural experience with the supernatural creator? Wouldn’t that be the most logical, rational choice for his gift of freedom?
There is a deeper music. He is here. Now. Stop and notice. Be with him.
That’s the singular, quiet voice at the core of this call. Oh, nothing in all this world is distraction. Do you hear the singing? And if this is what writing is, then it will be productive. If this is what living is, it will be productive. If this is what any activity, progress, or flourishing is, then we can let go of all we think we have to do today, and simply be with him in every moment.
That will be the measure of our progress. That will become the method for our practice of living aware, and loving awake.
Let it be so. And whatever you write, do, think, speak, feel, hope, want, sing, or believe, may it be from this one resolute, determined choice.
To my incredible, observant, kind-hearted, sensitive daughter, on your 15th birthday:
“I believe in you my soul…the other I am must not abase itself to you, And you must not be abased to the other.”
– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
Being a parent means every day I get to think about not just what I’m doing, but what you’re going to do today. Will you face challenging decisions? And how will you decide what to do? This crazy-making love inside my soul says any super challenging decisions you face are probably just plain evil, so I want to tell you to forget school and stay here safe with me forever, never leave, and don’t grow up ever. Because I said so, that’s why.
But yes, I know there’s a reason “evil” is just “live” spelled backward. And you don’t need to remind me again.
The heater broke this weekend so it’s a bit nippy in the home office today. That’s not “evil” either, it’s just life. But the fact that the heater repairman can’t come until tomorrow and this little space heater can’t contend with old man winter slipping through these old walls certainly feels evil.
I could go down the rabbit hole of trying to diagnose and fix it myself. Or I could preserve my time for other matters. If I didn’t have a clear idea of where I’m needed today and why that’s a rabbit hole for me, I might try to level up in my handyman game. But on a Monday morning, that would be a clear violation of my saner self and my knowledge of my core operating instructions.
Ask anyone who studies or writes about these things and they’ll tell you these rabbit holes are proliferating. Like rabbits. And with cell phones, video games, Youtube, and the myriad entertainments, our new national pastime is quickly becoming a global pandemic.
Why are we so desperate for diversions? We seem to crave being distracted. It begs the question of whether there’s anything more intriguing than a rabbit hole. I mean, we know Lewis Carroll didn’t think so.
When you were little, you had a mobile. I had one when I was a baby too. I think it was rabbits chasing carrots or something, but it was a long time ago. The genius behind mobiles lies in distracting a baby and occupying their mind just enough to get them to fall asleep, sleep being the Holy Grail of all new parents. Simple, repetitive movement combined with a calming lullaby helped the fatigue from all that growing catch up with you.
Seems like everything these days is a potential rabbit hole. And maybe that’s always been true. But the attraction is greater–both the need and the distractions are stronger. I think there are good reasons for this, but maybe chiefly, our existential anxiety has never been stronger.
Believe what you like about the course of human progress, but as much as things continually get better, they also get worse. Much of the trade-off it seems happens between the exterior and the interior worlds. Maybe it’s our wiring, but our experience is dictated by this relationship between the physical and the conceptual. And the balancing of the two occupies a huge portion of life, whether we ever recognize it or not.
Every time you find a rabbit hole, there’s the experience of it, and there’s your thinking about and feeling your experience of it. Your experience of the world gets paused every night, but your thoughts and feelings never sleep. Clearly, one is more important than the other, given the amount of time we spend experiencing reality versus thinking, feeling, and processing experiences.
This, too, could be a rabbit hole. Nothing’s technically “wrong,” but it could be, potentially. Impulses and cravings themselves aren’t evil. They arise from the depths, like baby rabbits blinking in the sunlight. And what you do with them, how you decide to direct them is what you have to figure out–both before they arise, and then rabbit by rabbit.
Sorry, it’s sort of a thematic metaphor, I guess.
Last night as I was chopping kindling and feeling manly, I took a too-long piece to snap against my thigh and this morning it took me a few seconds to realize why my leg’s sore. At the time, I barely noticed. It felt like living. But today it feels evil. I don’t know, maybe it’s both.
What you do will come from what you decide is best, and like Whitman says, you can’t “abase” your life or your experience of it. Both simply are, and naming them something else like “evil” does no good. What you decide to do about them, that’s where moral codes come in. And that’s where you have to realize everything but everything is a rabbit hole, and all your thoughts and feelings are baby rabbits.
And if you want to do what’s right for them, you’ve first got to decide to love them and want what’s best for all of them. They’re worth it and they’ll guide you. You’re their parent, like I’m yours and God is ours, so their safety and purpose are secure.
And all you’ve got to do is decide what’s helpful. But no one, even a parent who loves you, can decide for you. So don’t let anything distract you from doing what you must.
I love you, I’m with you, and you’ve got this because of who’s got you.
“All things are lawful, but not all thingsare helpful.”
“Doubtless some ancient Greek has observed that behind the big mask and the speaking-trumpet, there must always be our poor little eyes peeping as usual and our timorous lips more or less under anxious control.”- George Eliot, Middlemarch, 1871
So you’re finally ready to get honest? You’re finally ready to admit that your writing is no good?
Congratulations. Welcome to the club! It’s time you knew the secret everyone else who writes already knows: it’s no good because you’re not good enough to write it.
And you’re not good enough for one, inescapable reason (and it isn’t a lack of trying). You’ve suspected it all along. It’s crept up on you time and time again as you waited for the words you knew wouldn’t be right:
You’re not enough.
You know. Everybody knows. It’s not really a secret at all. But here’s the thing–it’s not that big a deal. Trust me, plenty of people aren’t enough. It’s no reason to give up.
It should give you serious pause though. If more people realized this, there’d be far less junk published every year.
The best thing you can do now is take a moment to do yourself (and everyone else) a favor, and figure out what you’re going to do about it.
The vital question, of course, is what now?
1: Start with what IS working. Despite its shortcomings, your book is honest, insightful, revealing, and even inspiring. It achieved much of what you set out to do. It’s simply not what you should have set out to do. And that’s a tough pill to swallow–you’ll have to develop some discernment to sort out what exactly is good about it–but you’ve got time. And you’ve got the patience and skill to figure this out.
2. Go back to the vision. Reevaluate the origination of this book. What was the inception? What were you really after? If you’re like most of us, this is not natural or automatic. You don’t easily decide to change what or how you wrote simply because you need to. It’s hard to discover what you were really after (Teaching a lesson to prove a point? Affirmation or acclaim? Serving God better so he’d bless you?)
Hey, welcome to the writer’s process!
Everyone who sets out to write a book finds it’s harder than they thought. Hopefully, you realize you’ve got to edit it, but also, you’ve got to let it be what it wants to be, not what you want it to be. Sadly, I don’t think that is ever easy. But less sadly, this is something your book will teach you if you can slow down and listen.
This is what my book taught me: I was after all those parenthetical things above. So going back to the vision to reevaluate was the only way to improve. The first draft wasn’t a waste–I needed to write it to get it out and see it clearly. But I also needed to accept refining (or redefining) the vision as simply the next step in the process.
Reevaluating the vision is what you do when your goal is the truth.
We’re not alone. And we’re not getting off with a “one-time-and-done” edit. This reevaluating will be consistent, ongoing, and require lots of commitment (motivation!) to see what’s really going on.
I know that’s what writing is, but that’s also what life is. We’re really trying to see things as they truly are.
Yeah, that’s a big, deep concept. And yeah, it was always that big. We just don’t like to see it too clearly–it’s scary.
So let this feel overwhelming for a while. It’s okay. Take it slow. And thank God now you can recommit to this deeper goal and finally stop seeing refinement as a barrier to success.
It isn’t. It never has been. Because the truth is exactly what you always wanted.
3. Recommit to the higher purpose. When I started this little blog experiment in 2004, I was working for a national ministry publisher and didn’t have a clue I’d still be editing 13 years later. I had one goal: keep my core motivation of honoring God. From my first post, the Monday Motivations and the “Higher Purpose” tagline was about establishing and evaluating what we’re really after in writing.
I believed this was what made successful writers.
Letting go of all selfish purposes, and deciding to love the journey. This was the one thing I knew I wanted.
Finding your higher purpose is always the real work because we’re fickle, distractable, chronically forgetful people. We are the Israelites. We forget God is working, we forget we’re following and not leading, and we forget the real point isn’t what we’re after but what he’s doing.
We’re always beholden to the work. And God is in it, if we’ll stop to notice and listen. So the real work is always slowing down to pay attention to what we’re really doing and saying, and why. Writing ultimately means leading readers to know what’s most important. But always first, we’ve got to find that ourselves.
If we’re going to be good guides and bring fresh air to many, we have to relax and be healed of our need to perform.
I was talking with another author who suffered unimaginable damage in her life. It’s taken years to acknowledge it was wrong and overcome it. It absolutely floored me that she’d done what I always have, diminishing the pain. “EVERYONE else’s pain was always worse,” she said.
What holds writers back isn’t the pain itself; it’s the struggle to believe it warrants attention.
That’s the unbelievable, secret truth, the debilitating LIE that a writing coach can’t fix. How can I express this strongly enough to convince you: this belief is the great evil in your way. People spend their lives afraid to allow what they suffered to matter, unable to allow the only thing that could break the bonds of that fear: accepting the truth.
We’ve been told over and over again, “No one cares. You don’t matter. Whatever you think happened, it was nothing compared to real struggle. You know nothing of what that’s like.”
Everyone thinks this. It’s designed to keep you safe. Day after day, month after month, how long has it held you silent?
You’re not going to make mountains out of molehills. It was bad enough. You won’t be throwing a pity party. You’re just going to acknowledge it happened and it hurt. You’ll never know real freedom until you call it what it was, and face this fake news playing in your head 24/7.
People care. It does matter. It was real. And it was wrong.
So many people need the freedom of that. And all it takes is your honest, vulnerable courage.
Face it. For justice, for peace, for righteousness and healing.
You were chosen to speak this. No more lies. It’s time to realize what you carry, Light-bringer. Share what you’ve been given, and see it transform out of the ashes of your past. It matters, and no one can change that. Nothing can overcome this–no more dodging.
“Don’t you know that a midnight hour comes when everyone has to take off his mask? Do you think life always lets itself be trifled with? Do you think you can sneak off a little before midnight to escape this?”
- Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, 1843
I’m trying to find only the best and brightest thoughts. The big ones that can help make my dreams come true, or lead me to success, or whatever I’m selfishly idolizing at the moment, these are the thoughts I want, and only these.
Even lust for God, as the drive to be in control of our pain, our ignorance, our lives, this is selfish. We can’t help it and he knows this, of course. He made us. He knows we’re weak. There’s nothing for selfishness but the only cure: love. So until you’ve found it, there’s no point trying to curb your need for it. Religion is the same as any other fool’s errand. We’re trying to solve a problem that can only be removed by love.
Love is no respecter of size or class or form. It’s for all and it transcends any division or distinction between things. It gets small so the specific can be appreciated and absorbed into the large. It becomes less so the individual can be joined to the greatest and have that greatness itself. Unity is its purpose, not self, not in-divide-uation.
And this is a big thought that began small. It proves its own point.
Yet some say Jesus was for division and he came “to bring a sword.” They try to claim he went around dividing people up into his and the world’s, that he was always about individuation and breaking up families and stuff. He cared for the particular and specific over the general and communal. He went after the one and left the 99. So obviously, see, love does care about individuals.
Truth is never contained in one iteration. We know this in our hearts as truth, just as he said. The truth is buried in our hearts and we know it’s bigger than our approximations, bigger than any word we could give it. Truth is The Word. Endless and endlessly incarnating in form after form. Jesus, the Word, is its ultimate form, somehow the God-human is Truth’s completion.
And Truth is concerned for individuals, but this concern leads to unity for all. It is love that makes us willing to separate to reclaim an individual to bring it into unity. Division is not the goal. Division is the current reality.
If we could see into everything, every word, every person, every event that forms our experience and understanding, we would know as God knows. And in some way this is both the purpose of all we’re living for, and our greatest and most debilitating downfall. Wanting this deeper knowledge was the birthplace of all evil in God’s created reality, and it is the way to appreciating all his grace has wrought in our lives. We can’t stop striving for it, even as we gain an ever healthier respect (hopefully) for its danger. Solomon’s wisdom failed him. Knowing the Truth is a terrible, and terrifying gift.
But inasmuch as you can choose the higher purpose of seeking full Truth, and allow it into your life, that’s worth inviting in (rather than trying to make it, or force it to happen, or possess it just so you can share it and become loved and adored, or whatever form your selfish, sinful shadow-mission might take. That one’s mine).
Don’t disparage the diminutive. Don’t disregard the daily. It might look ordinary, but look beyond that. It might seem unworthy of interest, but God is hiding just beyond this form you can see with your eyes.
“Senses are impaired if they don’t sense the Spirit….”
– Ann Voskamp
“You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart–your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born.”
It can seem a simple question. But have you tried to answer it?
Disaster, death, so many ways it all could be ruined and the people I love could be hurt or taken from me. Big spiders, embarrassing myself, talking to strangers, these are all lesser fears, but they seem related.
What’s beneath them? When I stop to feel it, I think it’s a terror of missing out on the best in life, whatever that is. I fear never experiencing the greatest things life has to offer. They could be stolen by circumstances, so simply because I didn’t have the awareness to go after them, or the plain courage.
My biggest, deepest fear seems to center around navigating risk.
Everyone has deep fears, even the most confident people. Find someone who doesn’t trust easily and I’ll show you someone who fears people. We always have good reason. Hard experience has taught us well.
What most of us know beyond conscious knowledge is that until there’s an invitation and opportunity to face the deepest fear, we’ll remain fear-controlled. Everyone in the world. We need encouragement and opportunities. Otherwise, our inner children wait, silent, waiting to be asked, noticed, inspired by love.
If you want to know what’s wrong with most people, think of them as children ignored. It happened, and now they do it to themselves. A child ignored eventually shuts down. Adults forget and flee themselves.
So what we all need most is permission to stop and remember, to listen to the child and let it speak, to be encouraged out. And what I can tell you from my own experience is that what that requires most is trust.
You will finally speak when you trust it will be received. To know it’s okay, we let go and breathe easy. That freedom is essential to all you’ll become, all you’ll live, all you want to offer readers. So what you must do before anything else is receive permission to speak your unfiltered, vulnerable, risky truth.
Unjudged and unrestrained.
Remember, much experience has also taught you that when you do, you’ll feel again what’s most important to you. You’ve known it before. It’s just that when you did know that, you also found what scared you most. So to go back, you have to take the risk.
Behind this deepest fear is the storehouse of everything you will write that matters most.
This is what life is all about, what writing is about: surrendering your fight, to receive mercy for your own self.
Endless mercy, endless grace. That’s permission. It’s okay if you don’t believe you have that or can’t receive it yet. All you need right now is that hope that this is true. The willingness to believe is as good as believing. You can trust this.
How it happened for me was that when I took my faint hope and went ahead and risked asking myself why I feared missing out on what really matters in life, it sounded silly, like not much of a risk.
Who even cares? You’re wasting time. Quit navel-gazing and think about others for a change.
The voice tried to keep me silent. Those voices take many forms–a teacher, a parent, a friend, a sibling, a grandparent, a spouse. We give them authority and take them inside and let them rule us. We feed them and protect them as they tell us what we think we need to hear. They’re the voices of reason, of maturity, of logic, of truth.
Except they aren’t.
The voices aren’t wrong; they’re trying to keep us safe. We’ve had good reason to be afraid. The scars on our hearts prove it. My scars always embarrassed me, proved weakness, unmanliness, impotence. Looking at them revealed how sensitive I was, how “feminized.” The scars were deep, but the denial they even existed went deeper.
And this was my fight.
Only the mercy of God through Sheri, my girls, my family, friends, has released me. Beneath the fear and fight lived the scary adventure I’d longed for.
My fear of failure, of losing those I love, they’re universal fears. Strongest of all, the one more like terror, is of missing out on the life that truly matters, truly contributes, truly rewards.
There is no way to do enough, be enough, the voice says, proving itself with endless evidence, memories of the many times we’ve failed, missed out, been disappointing. So many examples, too many to count. They’d overwhelm and drag us under, so we turn away and ignore them.
And instead of fully living from the heart of the child, we live not to think of them.
What truly matters? What’s a life’s true contribution?What’s most rewarding? We all know the answer in our hearts: Connection. Relationship. Love. Compassion. Kindness. We know this. It changes everything. And we want to live this. But can we surrender the fear of missing out on whatever it is we think we need?
Where else would we find more meaningful connections than in this life we’re living? Who else could offer more than those we’re with? The question is either a foregone conclusion, or the ignorance of a fool.
The fool will control us until the wiser one takes its place. The fool will wonder what all this has to do with writing. The fool will be pulled by the nose toward every unconsidered new thought. The fool will try to ban the insignificant and end up straining out all meaning and substance.
Who but a fool thinks he can judge where or who is most significant? Who but a fool can say “this life is ruined” or “this life is not?” Everywhere and everyone and everything is creation–it is worthwhile, you fool! Be all there and you may just experience exactly what you’ve always wanted. Ignore it and wish for something else, something better or safer for you and you’ll only let fear continue keeping you from the incredible life you could be living right now.
“Give up, and the answer appears. Give up, and you are released. Give up, give up–let the bells toll it throughout your land. Struggle, and clarity of mind disperses. Surrender, and somehow it’s yours.”