Tag Archives: anxiety

How to Write Free & Relax About It

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

Frederick Buechner, Now and Then


Sending my socially awkward kid off to high-school brings up everything unresolved in me from that time in my own life that I have trouble concentrating for hoping she can stay relaxed and find the fun where she can because it will be over so fast and being cool won’t matter anymore.


People often talk about writer’s block or writer’s anxiety. Writing is full of anxiety. Writing well is even more so because there’s the expectation of producing something good and worthwhile.

Expectations are a setup. And as every writer knows, with a setup, you have to have a payoff.

The payoff of any expectation is either fulfillment or disappointment. And most often, when the inner critic stands ready to judge what comes out, disappointment is the result.

The conscious mind is very limiting.

This is why to write at all, let alone well, you first have got to get out of your own way.

If you aren’t willing to fail, you aren’t going to get any creative work done.

You’ve got to get past perfection and let yourself pursue play and risk you might likely fail at and have to try again.

You’ve got to be persistent, stubborn, and believe you are here not to produce something beautiful but to learn to let go of your expectations so you can see the beauty in everything.

You must want something better than success. You must want to grow and remain open to what’s next.

That way you never close off, never stop seeking to expand the relaxing comfort your heart truly wants, and the freedom you feel amongst your closest, safest friends. You will find safety and connection with them if you invite it and embrace it and don’t close off.

The world is too loud and dominating and the fight is too difficult not to keep seeking that relationship with God in all his many forms.

And to do this, we’ve got to be able to let go, but also to hold on to our specific grounding in the present moment.

That will release you from the anxiety so you can finally write what you’re able to hear that no one else can.

Remember, nothing is wasted….


After reminding myself of all this, I send off an email of dad-advice to Ellie, encouraging her to know how amazing she is and to always keep her smiley disposition. I let the anxiety push my better self to speak what I know. And the old fears don’t seem to hold the same power they used to anymore.

And no matter what, I think she’ll be okay.


i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

– e.e. cummings

For the Fearless Future

“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”

― Simone Weil


It keeps us. Claims us. Owns us.IMG_4712

There’s a line in a famous song that I love: “I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything.”

This is how many people behave when it comes to their fears. Some fears are reasonable, but all fears seem reasonable to people trapped by fear.

And honestly, is fear ever “reasonable?”

People can’t think when they’re being choked. We all know the feeling. Fear takes control and overwhelms all thought. Even possible solutions seem impossible.

Again and again, things happen, fear strikes, and good, intelligent people go ape-shoot crazy. Extremists get attention by manipulating fear, pushing our giant red button and getting us to do exactly what they want. Same old suspects, same old tragic story, same responses of irrational fear, and the same resistance to change.

Remember the character Fear in Inside Out? He was the funny little purple guy, a great chance to laugh at how silly our fears are. It’s a kids’ movie, so like I did with my kids when they were afraid of something, Pixar made Fear funny and he didn’t seem like much of a threat.

But in reality, fear can easily become our strongest emotion.

Think about it–Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust–none of those can convince people to do crazy things the way Fear can. Anger comes close, but anger is so often under fear’s control.

All emotions can be powerful. But fear’s power to hold people hostage is unparalleled. It can totally wipe out joy and cause people to give up trying to reach their dreams. It can make us despair of ever getting free. And it can even make us give up on love.

Some have said the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s fear. Because love leads to freedom. And fear leads to a prison.

The ridiculous thing about fear is that it tortures its victims and it can’t even stop a single bad thing from happening. But it can rob them of enjoying what’s good.

Fear unifies us all in a global battle against darkness and disconnection.

We always have a choice to see our fear and how its bullying tactics work. Or we can ignore it and let it control our minds.

Fear is an instinctive emotion. But allowing fear control is our choice.

Most people know this, at least in theory. We can’t control feeling afraid (other than learning more so we aren’t afraid anymore). But we can control whether we express our fear. And we can certainly keep it from overwhelming clear thinking.

Seeing peoples’ response to the news this week, can we doubt that this fact is massively misunderstood, yet enormously needed? How many ordinary people truly don’t realize they can stop and consider whether fear is controlling them, and then get fear under control?

IMG_4702The fear I saw on my feed last week was so distressing I could hardly work. How many people have never learned they have power over this fear of foreigners? And how many have never used that sovereign power to escape that cage?

No matter what the foreign thing or person is, this fear will only keep coming up until we realize the key to freedom is in our hands. We must use it. We must realize we’re being controlled.

The only thing strong enough to break persistent fear is the power of personal choice. 

Maybe there aren’t enough stories about this power yet. Maybe the right metaphor hasn’t yet been found to penetrate the public mind. Maybe we need more writers and artists to tell the truth about it and show people the essence of being human is using this unassailable gift from God we call free will to become truly free.

Maybe we haven’t realized that both freedom and fear are weapons–and we can only wield one at a time.

Freedom to choose can protect us against the inner bully of fear. But we have to be willing to use it and acknowledge how fear leads to anger and hatefulness toward others, see how it tries to convince us we’re acting prudently and responsibly, even righteously to close ourselves off to what’s different.

It’s easier to stay ignorant.

IMG_4706All fear has to do is make us believe the real bully is the object of our fear. Then we either attack or retreat back to our cage and shut the door.

Why can’t we see that fear doesn’t hold the power? We do! And we can tell it where to go if we’ll just remember the truth:

“Fear not! You have been given all power over creation. Fear is in your control. And you shall know this truth and it shall set you free…”

But when the bully seems so powerful, so imposing, and it’s been given a free ride on our ticket for years, it’s easy to forget bullies are always weaklings.

Fear is born of ignorance and ignorance comes from old, boring, powerless evil — without it, there would be no fear.

Ignorance is disorder. And disorder is not solved by running away. There truly is nothing to fear but fear itself.

I watch my nine-year-old, Charlotte, set the pillows on the couch and attempt to fall face forward without catching herself.

“It’s so hard not to put my hands up.”

Eventually she does it. And she cheers and I think, habitual safety can be broken. But first it has to be unlearned.

The shadowed veil that hides the truth can be torn away. Its power dissipates when the spell is broken and we stand and reclaim our birthright by rejecting the whispered lies:

“Sssafety.” “Prudenccce.” “Caution.”

Lies. There is no “safety” without the freedom to choose it. There is no “prudence” or “caution” without the ability to reason, to discern what’s best. With fear our hand is forced, and we’re pushed to immediate reactions before thinking. The warnings are a trick to keep us controlled, i.e. “safe.”

IMG_4711Charlotte falls flat on the pillows, arms back. Her face lights with the thrill of overcoming fear and finding herself still safe

and safer still…

This is our limitless power of freedom. We are already safe, held in perfect love. We can let go and overcome this oppression and overthrow fear’s rule.

We can teach this new way. We can cut off the automatic fear–this habit so many have allowed so often it’s become involuntarily and made them smaller and slow-witted.

We can fight this fearful thinking. And we can become whole and human again.

But only if we’re done being manipulated.

And only if we’re ready to show a world strangled by fear that surviving absolutely requires thriving —

in our complete trust of the Fearless One.


To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

– C. S. Lewis, “The Four Loves”

Always for love, always for freedom, always for the Higher Purpose,


Where the Obsession May Lead

Say I was just a little bit obsessed with writing this book.

Would that be so bad?


Maybe we have to become saturated with it, like a painter or an actor, to really convince anyone it’s worth their time.

I suppose the obvious (and well-documented) problem with this is what such an obsession tends to lead to. Fact is, with writers maybe even more so that with other artists, we court a lover far too vast and consuming to be handled.

Our medium is meaning itself. Our tools are the foundational building blocks of life–consciousness, words. Without The Word spoken, the world would not have begun, and without words, it could not be sustained, let alone support meaning. We are helplessly bound up in language, inextricably wrapped around reason and rationality–it is twisted into the very emotional and spiritual fibers that form our being.

When writers seek their medium, don’t they necessarily pull at the cord sustaining their very lives?

Maybe I should take up pottery. I really don’t want to start barking.

The books all say you have to face your fears and pay attention to what’s hard. But don’t we risk our own destruction when we peel back the layers of our lives and our minds to see what we can make of them?

I don’t want to freak anyone out, but are we ignoring the fact that even famous and successful writers seem just a little more unhinged with every new successful attempt?

IMG_6058It’s far more socially acceptable just to clap along and heap on praise for their sacrifices and dedication.

The fear of barking haunts, pursues me, my death and ultimate annihilation never far behind.

The crazy voice, the fear of not mattering, never escaping the intensity of this obsession, not to mention the regret over all I’ve sacrificed and the fallout in my relationships, it’s all on my mind whenever I sit down to the blank page.

This morning as I wrote, I thought how many writers sit down to produce every day, knowing they’re already a little crazy to do it–Why do we do this to ourselves?–even though we know it’s because we can’t help it. The drive pushes us on and makes us crazy.

And can we really be blamed? We only write because we have to and writers only say what they do because what else can they say? These things simply are and we write them because we’re pushed to the edge. And the only thing we can do to live is to fall forward and write the truth.

Honestly, it’s less voluntary than most would like to think.

IMG_6066Maybe it’s more spiritual, like prayer, a letting go of resistance to the conviction that embracing all this is–the good and bad, reasonable and unreasonable, legitimate and illegitimate–is needed to become the integrated people who can write what we must, what we were meant to. And if others don’t understand, maybe it’s because they don’t feel it pulsing and pushing through them like a fog, like the fear of dying.

Maybe they’re just afraid to feel that too.

And I wonder if maybe it’s only those who’ve embraced this fear and accepted the fallout who can experience the transcendent through the pursuit and the product of this fragile art.

The process may necessarily involve some letting go of our central cord. We pursue that release. So won’t a certain instability always follow?

“Plato spoke of the necessity for divine madness in the poet. It is a frightening thing to open oneself to this strange and dark side of the divine; it means letting go of our sane self-control, that control which gives us the illusion of safety. But safety is only an illusion, and letting it go is part of listening to the silence, and to the Spirit.” – Madeline L’Engle, Walking on Water

via Jen McCarthy

Letting go. I suppose this is the ultimate fear. But maybe there’s nothing behind it. And maybe if we simply refused to be afraid and instead trusted the voice, we’d find the confidence we need to remain safe. And sane.

I already know we won’t learn what we need to learn if we don’t embrace a deeper safety than rational thinking can assure. Reason and logic can’t tell us what there is beyond all we’re too afraid to leave.

Why can’t it be this simple? Why can’t the next step be merely to ask our source of strength for the courage to face that cave you still fear to enter? And then to find it surging up as you stand at the mouth and feel its drawing, its tugging at that invisible cord within.

Stretching your ability to comprehend a deeper meaning.

Maybe it’s not the voice of a monster coaxing you at all but something much more wonderful. And maybe he knows you need to let go of all you think you need to know or you’ll remain unchanged and untransformed….

Give that prayer a try today and let me know how it goes.

God be with you in your going, and in your coming to know the source of this call, out there where obsession mingles with the Refining Fire and is known and experienced only as purity.

For the higher purpose,


Face Your Shame

I’m still up on the high of teaching at the Story Vision Fiction Retreat in Seattle. So I’m still thinking about the last session I shared earlier today…

Has what you’ve faced made you realize the value of your story?

When we’ve been through difficult, painful things that laid us out, we can find God has helped us through.

We can see that the way up was in lying down.

Yet we tend to want to avoid these things. We believe we can improve ourselves by doing many things, being diligent, hard-working, etc.

But is that the best way to self-improvement? Maybe we need to get it through our heads there’s a better way.

It may be that the better way to moving up in the world is to move down, to be less concerned with ourselves, less obsessed with our own interests, to remember that when we need God and he does what he does, that’s how we’re enabled to learn more.

Only letting go of our short-sighted goals and accepting help in our need will get us to stop hoping for and expecting joy without pain and life without death.

God turns our desires on their heads and says that for being better selves, we have to get humbled, sometimes broken, and often ashamed.

The trouble is, we have no capacity for embracing that as ordinary human beings.

When I fell from perfection and became mortal, I didn’t want to feel shame for my incompetence and pride. Not even for a second. I couldn’t admit my need for God for a long time after, and I thought I had to do many things in my own strength to prove I was worthy of him, as if my strength even came from me to begin with.

But when life finally intruded on my perfect little world and I finally knew suffering, I realized that if I wanted God to draw near to me, I had to repent and call my heart to account for its arrogance.

And what I found was, God will rescue us if we’ll just turn to him and ask him to.

When I came in humility, broken and contrite, and asked him to redeem my selfish desires to remove the cursed need for validation and seeing myself lifted up? He didn’t even hesitate. I was in.

No worthiness required.

Why couldn’t I simply trust that he would lift me up once I was willing to stop trying to lift myself up?

I had to learn to let myself be helped.

And the demon of opposition is shame. We can’t be afraid of this or we’ll fail. We can’t cling to safety or opt for the circumscribed path. We have to call it out and by name.

When we change one letter in shame, we learn how to defeat it: we share.

Shame wants nothing more than to make us protect ourselves instead of share.

To fear people’s judgment and their rejection for our inadequacy. And this crippling fear could have kept me locked up and silenced forever.

But God knows that before we can set out on our quest and experience the freedom of defeating our great villain and escaping the death it breathes out, we must call it out, confront it and destroy it with the only weapon we have against it.

The worthiness we receive from God’s love.

Shame is always a fear we’re unworthy of connection. And it will always get in the way of our creativity.

To be wholehearted, there is real shame work to be done. If we’ve tied our worthiness to what we produce, to the product? We miss the beauty of the process.

And self-empathy is the antidote to shame.

“Our capacity to be wholehearted is never greater than our willingness to be brokenhearted.” ­–Brené Brown

For the higher purpose,


And She Is Not Afraid

A robin landed on the deck railing today with the makings of a nest in her mouth. IMG_5318

Have you noticed when you slow down long enough to hear them, the little thoughts that come unbidden can be entire new worlds to explore?

The difficulty is, of course, slowing down. I’m trying to write today, so I’m procrastinating.

But once you’re still enough, once it’s quiet enough, you’ll begin to hear a voice from deeper down. Getting there is a privilege and in our busy-noise world we know it doesn’t come easy. We have to first admit we’re addicted to the rush, the buzz it brings like our favorite drug caffeine, numbing all the fear and keeping us from all the feels about the things that are so inconvenient. So painful.

The world is so full of pain…

But we also know pain creates need. Holes allow space for filling with something better. With love. And it can and will be found by everyone eventually. But it won’t come today if we don’t get still and get quiet and let the voice come.

And if it takes procrastinating on a book chapter to do it, I think maybe that’s okay. God takes what he can get.


Recently, I heard the inner voice make a statement that surprised me. As usual. When it’s still and quiet, the things I hear are usually surprising. It said,

“All of life really is getting more difficult, you know.” 

I know this. We all know it. But it felt confirming of something I didn’t want to admit. It sounds so hopeless, so scary. How can it all be getting harder? We have so much more now. And we don’t really have to list all the advantages, do we?

Um, I have fresh bacon right now in the big cold box in my warm, clean house. I think I’m good.

“Yes, but it brings more difficulty.”

And then I saw a storehouse piled high in my mind and bursting at the seams. I thought of how hard it is to hear the still small voice anymore. How it gets quieter the more comfortable I get. The more satisfied I am.

I fear middle-aged writers grow fat because they never have to hurt. And this brings a different, deeper kind of hurt.

“Not even I can stop what’s coming.”

“Can’t or won’t?” I asked, like a dolt.



“Well, then I guess we just have to work harder not to get distracted and overwhelmed. Not to believe all the lies and limit exposure as best we can.”

I thought of how hard it is not to condemn others with this choice to not be so busy and involved and not inadvertently cause more pain. How do I choose right and not show others I think they’re wrong?

This is part of the difficulty, the pain: how do we choose to limit and listen without seeming the judge of all who can’t or won’t? 

How do I make space for God and not cause more pain?

Today, I sit with the question, quiet. Hopeful for an answer that isn’t just the same old ever-changing target. The same partial solution. The same old limitation.

But my hope, it isn’t very strong. I’m afraid the answer goes back to the original truth.

“All of life really is getting more difficult, you know.”

I hear a robin singing outside, a male, too taken with his music for nest-building today.

But that mama robin, she continues on. And she’s not afraid.

“…Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”