Category Archives: Spiritual

The Secret Simple Key to Overcoming Overwhelm

  1. No one can tell me when I’m getting overwhelmed.

  2. Pretty much anyone can tell when I’m getting overwhelmed.

These two facts are in my mind the moment I open my eyes Tuesday morning. They have taken me more time to acknowledge than I would like to admit. And yet if there’s one thing I know, it’s that the things we would most like to deny are the things we most need to acknowledge next. Denying overwhelm has caused me to mess up more than I ever would have without the denial. I know for a fact it’s kept me pointlessly working long beyond what I would have otherwise. IMG_8560

I do know I’m the one who has to spur myself on to get to work and keep at it when I want to quit. No one else can do it. I won’t let them, or it simply won’t work. The simple secret to finishing no one had to tell me is the same for you–and I know because when it comes to our work, we’re all the same this way:

Our work is ours. 

How did any major accomplishment get finished? I know from Anne Lamott it had to simply be done “bird by bird,” but just like waking up this morning and knowing I had to get to work on the 18 things waiting for me after a long weekend, it doesn’t get done on someone else’s motivation. It’s my job to find my motivation.

A swift kick to “just do it” can work for a while, but eventually leads to burnout. I know from experience mustering it to muscle it only messes it up and mangles me. More often than not, the impulse to “just do it” denies what I’m feeling in the overwhelm and the real reason for the overwhelmed feeling. The old mind over matter trick is no trick at all, and trying to ignore it to simply cross things off the list is foolish and disintegrating. What I really need is to simply not look at the list.

What I really need is to acknowledge the feeling and consider what it’s trying to tell me. What I need is to slow down and pay attention, to integrate the fear and the excitement, the anxiety and the anticipation of finishing and celebrating. If I can do that and hold both of those and know that my greater good is here, in the stalling to get out of bed and as I get up slowly to begin the process of getting ready for the day. Process over product is the secret. I don’t have to overthink it, but if I can be present to the fatigue and disconnected sensations of all that remains unresolved from the week and the weekend, and the night before, I can forego the swift kick and the burnout that would follow, and experience the fuller experience, rather than relegating so much of it to unconsciousness, and rendering it unavailable and unrealized.

The truth no one has had to tell us, the simple secret to finishing anything difficult we might consider our true work, is that all of it is ours and meant for us to experience and grow from. We can’t numb ourselves to feeling difficult emotions without also numbing the ones we enjoy, nor can we effectively evaluate what should or should not be disorienting, disintegrating, or distancing us from our fuller selves. We don’t know why certain things affect us, and as much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we don’t control whether or not they will.

However, each of us does control what we will do about the things that affect us. And acknowledging what the emotions are in the midst of the overwhelm never feels good or particularly convenient, but whatever other ideas we had about our true work, this is it. Whatever we may have thought our work was for today, this being conscious and aware of our full feelings about it is our true work. 

And whatever we might call that–messy, frustrating, 100% inconvenient and completely unwelcome–when we don’t list that work first, we merely add one more impossibility to the list.

Can you trust there’s a reason you’re here and being asked to handle this? Regardless of whether you should be facing all that’s on that list, can you acknowledge there’s a higher purpose in it? Something beyond the drudgery and gripey feeling it gives you? Something you might even now be able to relabel a gift?

We don’t need anyone to tell us this is what we’re here for, whatever else we may have to face today. We don’t need proof there’s a very good reason for the place we find ourselves in–the proof is that we’re here. And if we are, it means God is God and he has his reasons. The question is, what would he have us do, learn, feel, say, know, share?

I get up, shower, dress, go down to find the kid who needs to get to school, drive her and drive back, get to my office and get out my list. It’s only Tuesday but it’s already overwhelming, and it’s already clear I’m going to have to adjust some things. But what can get done will get done, and I’ll trust the rest will find its fulfillment another way. One step at a time, one item at a time, all of this is manageable and meant for more than getting through it.

No muscling. No mangling. Just mercy, and more gifts to be received and given back in their proper way and time. And in the slow, deliberate facing of my feelings, and accepting them, and processing them, I’ll find my way to finish all I was given to do.

The list looks much more manageable from that perspective.

“To be a teacher of a process such as this takes qualities too few of us have, but which most of us can develop. We have to be quiet, to listen, to respond.” – Donald M. Murray, “Teach Writing as a Process, Not Product”

 

Why Are You Worried?

“Sorrow looks back, Worry looks around, Faith looks up” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

People are killed every day.

I have this thought before I’m even awake. A dream, again, inescapable. Unavoidable. I get up and get ready, trying to stop thinking about the reality, not feel it crowding in as I look at my teeth and brush them in the mirror.

The deepest injustice is suffered by hundreds of thousands every day. Death. I drive my oldest daughter to school and have this thought again as the news from Gaza makes it to me. I can’t hear this word without thinking of death. Bleeding wounds seeping through bandages. Protestors have been shot over in the middle east. I think of the high-schoolers protesting guns and hope I’m doing right to not mention the political issues to my daughters just yet.

Is privilege just the ability to ignore what you please?

Yet sanity and self-preservation demand ignoring it. Our hearts and our minds weren’t meant to hold the world’s pain. Jesus walked Gaza but had no cell phone or social media bringing wave after wave of desperate injustice. Inescapable. Unavoidable.

I remember the woman who handled the emailed prayer requests at a big ministry. She was a saint, a prayer warrior. She killed herself and the ministry held a quiet service and sent condolences to her family. And a new employee took her place.

I think of the thousands of people who filter content for social media networks, the reports of their inescapable torment, their nearly inescapable mental health issues. Is this where we’re all headed eventually?

Another hot day and I’m thinking of polar ice caps. A celebratory dinner and I’m considering carcinogenic toxins. Maybe I read too many headlines.

“Do not fear. Do not fret. Trust me.”

HOW? How am I supposed to do that when I’m bombarded even before I can get to work on a Monday? It’s effort just to press on and not feel guilty for working to keep the horror at bay, at least to a dull roar until lunch when I’ll check my phone and respond to emails. And there’s plenty more to deal with–local community, family, neighbors, projects and writers, and personal struggles to choose appropriate responses and time on.

No one could possibly manage it all. And this danged-if-you-do, danged-if-you-don’t situation is unmanageable. Infuriating.

“Count your blessings.”

Despite the dreams and the no-air-conditioning-in-record-heat situation, I did sleep. There’s more light in these longer days and the beauty of spring has sprung. The house and our health aren’t perfect, but they’re amazingly good despite the advancing years thanks to regular upkeep and maintenance. And we enjoyed our moms and celebrated together on Sunday, and the girls are happy and enjoying their lives and music and reading.

Real life is happening and time is short and we’re no better off than when we know both those things. Remember the moment you felt Charlotte’s delight at beating you at the card game? You wanted to remember it forever? 

Yeah. Life is happening and death is part of it. And here were are to enjoy it and make the most of each moment before it’s gone and slipped into another one and another, until there are no more.

That’s every day and everyone and your awareness of it is contagious. Don’t be afraid. Don’t fret. Trust me. 

Can it be this simple? Can I write and do my editing work knowing this is what you’ve called me to until you bring other specific calls? Keep me praying, keep me seeing it all, in the midst of the passing moments. Stay with me and show me how it all is leading me to trust and connect however I can. With words or without. With getting involved or simply praying.

I know the only thing that’s truly up to me is the trusting. Thank you for the continual reminders. Keep me searching for them.

And keep me sharing them and connecting others to see you in their myriad reminders too.

“I trust in you, Lord…. My times are in your hands.” – Psalm 31:14,15

Write on, my friend. There’s always a higher purpose,

M

When You Finally Know Your Why – What Do You Do Next?

​”A great many Christian workers worship their work….There is no responsibility on you for the work; the only responsibility you have is to keep in living constant touch with God…” 
– Oswald Chambers,
My Utmost, April 23, “The Worship of the Work”

This was one of the fastest posts I ever wrote. Sometimes it comes out this fast because the thing that blocked it is suddenly removed. When I first wrote this, I’d just listened to about 30 book pitches at Mount Hermon, and given the opening talk the previous afternoon, a thought based on a blog post on “writing for one master.”

I always have an amazing time at the Mt. Hermon Christian writers conference. And much of the reason is that it’s always a thrill to connect with old and new writer friends. I’ve written about the essential value of writing friends a lot. But for a week every year over Palm Sunday, I get to receive from and retreat with a whole group of fellow frazzled faithful freaks all at once. And it is always such an amazing time.

If you were ever misunderstood in your life, or felt alone and unimportant to those around you, or if people  put you in a box, or you learned to protect yourself out of necessity, or spent years hoping someone would see you but secretly hoping they’d only see what you wanted them to see, and you’ve struggled to speak in your real voice…then you know what makes this conference so special. That’s the same stuff literally thousands of writers are coming to terms with and finding out they’re allowed to feel and reveal and then deal with so we can heal from it together, and finally become real together in a safe place of grace.

Now you want to come, and I would advise you do. Move heaven and earth to save up and make it happen because it’s not just about the books deals that happen there or even ultimately the professional craft that gets established, but the community of like-minded believers relating together–both sharing their stories and finding connection in deeply personal, universal identification with each other. 

Content, craft, and community are what every writer needs to learn to navigate, and all those things get unpacked, shaped, and embraced in the essential freedom of knowing there’s a big community waking up to God through pursuing the work alongside you.

The path of freedom for Christian writers is always found in seeking God through his always surprising process of inviting you toward the higher purpose, in wonderfully diverse unity together.

But as special as it is, this isn’t about the conference, or the great week I always have there, or even seeing and celebrating the amazing fruit of so many people’s life-investment come to greater fullness.

And the reason this post came so fast the first time is because I’ve finally seen it enough times to believe and know in my heart that God will use anything and everything to draw the world to Himself. That isn’t up to us. But also it is. We are given dominion and ownership over our small part, to cooperate in the work for His higher purposes.

Years have passed and some people leave and are lost to me. But many come back and my heart swells with pride and gratitude to see them still plugging away at this work for the higher purpose. They take what I and others have sown and use it to grow. And I see I’ve had a hand in some amazing stories all because God drew me to seek the joy of refining words for books, and loving the process and the people who pursue them.

Those people are my people, His people. They’re constantly taking their call and calling to others to be connectors in their circles and learning to look beyond the struggle and the pain to all the stories that point to His story endlessly reiterating in reflected refrains throughout time.

That story of what God is doing to unite us and draw all things to himself, it will never end.

My amazing “boost clinic” crew from 2018

So to all my old and new writer friends, know the dream is alive, and can never die. And wherever you are in the process, until we meet again…

Go light your world….

“The thing which is, but is not named, cannot be known. If you have no word for it, you can’t talk about it or think on it or consider it or meditate upon it…To name a thing (as art does) is to clothe it in visibility. To name a thing is to make it knowable.” 
Walter Wangerin, Beate Not the Poore Desk

Forever, for the Higher Purpose,

Mick

 

What Do Your Prepositions Say About You?

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” – Kris Kristofferson

pink petal carpet

It starts out as a search for yourself, a part-time occupation giving the journey definition and greater meaning. At least it did for me.

It took a few years to determine that primary pursuit, but once I did, it seemed writing was what would lead me to myself, who I really was. How I got that idea and how I’d get there, I wasn’t too worried about either. I’d figure it all out on the page.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

I don’t know if any teenager growing up in 1980s America was truly able to think about being identified with Christ or his body, whatever that really means, however much he heard the words. A lifetime of Christian teaching couldn’t identify that as the holy grail, let alone a path to it. The desire has to come from within.

And it’d be many years before those sparks became flame, before they’d find dry tinder to burn. Life experiences, limited as they were, would bring the bite and tang of betrayal, regret, and fear. I’m I’m pretty sure you could ask any kid raised in a safe bubble: a man who’s never been separated from anything can’t truly love anything. 

my writing spotIn a real way, I had to get out of the bubble and get over myself to find what in my heart I already knew was true. 

But what I’d misunderstood, what I couldn’t yet know: nothing about writing is clarifying. If anything, writing brings more complication to what’s already too complex. There’s a real disadvantage in making your life fodder for reflection. You can never know what it might have been had you not stood aside to look at your life as you were living it.

And maybe other writers, those not bent on self-discovery, don’t find this, but the work can cripple as much as heal you, I think. If you’re not in the right place. So for me, the writing life is a continual wrestling match with the prepositions–and in some strange, almost invisible way, identifying them is how I come to better identify myself. Or at least see better what I’m identifying with….

…in, with, for, as, after, by, on.

If you’re a writer who wants to know yourself better, look at your prepositions. Pre – before. Position – location relative to something else.

Where am I? Where was I before I started this journey? What am I really after here?

“In Christ you have been brought to fullness.”

lilacsI believe it’s for freedom I’ve been called. I believe it doesn’t matter what lies ahead or behind but what lies within this commitment to a greater cause, a higher purpose, than myself. My own attaining of freedom may have sparked this, but the flame is for a fuller restoration. And the preparation my life’s losses have brought are specific stories that have revealed to me a more universal prize.

Look at the prepositions: Do you believe a writer’s ultimate commitment is to losing all for the glory of the call? Do you believe it’s for God’s pleasure and higher will? For unity and freedom and for the story to be told before time runs out?

“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.”

The clarity will come as you dig deeper. For now, hold on and press in.

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Identify with Him. Believe in Him. Be unified as you go.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

For the higher purpose,

Mick

 

On the Writer’s Community and Something Better than Balance

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” – John Muir

I drive Ellie to school and decide to silence the radio. Fund-drive season on the classical station and the news on NPR aren’t as valuable as 8 minutes of silence.

Monday comes full of details to sort and I go with my mug to look at the trees a moment and listen to the birds. The current batch of writers I’m editing and coaching are so patient. By Thursday there will be meetings and mentoring, critique sessions, and individual appointments. I head back in remembering the exercises for class, handouts, preparations to finish. Another few emails have arrived with more writers’ pages to review.

The work won’t stop piling up. The words just keep coming.

The coffee mug is empty again. Why do I go? Why do I do this to myself?

In just a few days, I head to Mount Hermon for the eighth time, although I can’t remember exactly how many times I’ve been now. I’ve had some incredible meetings, which usually makes up for the mind-and-body-numbing intensity of the week.

A time or two ago, Mona asked me to give a keynote to open the conference, based on one of these blog posts called “Writing for One Master” about committing to the Inspirer. It was good, but it wasn’t entertaining. I wish I’d told more stories and included some humor.

I forget about the audience. For an editor who’s always trying to get people to remember the audience, that’s pretty strange. Considering how much of my time is taken up with my selfish pursuits, it’s not that strange. As a quieter reader, most of my life has been about me, lost in the spiral of experience and trying to keep to myself and not miss out on anything.

There’s so much to do before I go, but the big idea needs capturing before I get too distracted. Spring has begun and the days are lengthening, so we’re getting out to enjoy it more. Over the weekend, Sheri and I talked about being older and that now we’re 44, we finally don’t want to be any older or any younger, which is freeing. We’re not old or young, rich or poor, dumb or smart. We’re pretty white, but we’re not totally ignorant about what that means, and we’re still Christians, but not exactly like we were. We’re trying to balance and it’s showing, so it’s easy to think we’re making progress. But being aware of self, we could forget the audience.

“Audience of One” is such a cliché, but it’s more. I try to post about Mister Rogers more than guns and abortion, but our beliefs are best expressed by loving actions and social media isn’t active. There’s input and output but it’s artificial and our lungs need the outside air. To be helpful but recognize our helplessness, saints who still sin, we have to live in response to the One Mastering Inspirer and not just pursue big ideas.

The audience, God and others, is waiting for a compelling story of someone who clearly sees there’s more to living than selfish pursuits. Expressing the good input you’ve received into positive, life-expanding relating, that’s the true work. And remembering that comes best not in reading or writing, but in doing.

I need the reminder.

I’m no one. I’m not a published author. I’m not famous or special, but I’ve stuck with this for many years and I love the people I’ve met. There are ekklesias, gatherings, in so many places every year around the country and this is just one I’m part of, by a large measure of grace. I can sound so Christian saying that, but it’s the truth. This church is a big reason I go.

I get thrown off balance by too much to read and think about. Reconnecting with the messiness of a writing community is a chance to break out of all I have to do to enjoy the work and words again.

As usual, it’ll be Palm Sunday over the time I’m there. We’ll gather and sing and listen to inspired words shared from many sources with one origin. And I’ll be reminded if I’m not too distracted how much I need that air to clean my lungs again and reattach my selfish senses to their best audience, which is not me.

“I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith…” Gal 2:20

P.S. I posted a talk I gave at another conference here: The 6 Spiritual Lies Derailing Your Writing Process

For the higher purpose,

Mick