Tag Archives: anxiety

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?”

Waiting In Bewilderment

“To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up its own ass—seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that it presents a colo-rectal theology, offering hope to no one.”

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Navel-gazing is one thing. A “colo-rectal theology” puts a whole other spin on it.

So often, we think we’re so smart when we’re anything but.

Most of us think too highly of ourselves while battling low self-esteem. How can this be? I think I’m unworthy of love and I am too certain of myself. You too?


I should be even more honest here. What teachers and adults often thought was quiet confidence, I was both too proud and self-assured, and too terrified of being seen. I was too in control of my world and too afraid to show my feelings and let anyone know me.

If I didn’t show myself, maybe I could remain unharmed. And that worked for a while. Sort of.

Now I write continually asking a different question. Am I willing to show this? And even further, Am I willing to be uncertain?

Because I never know if it’ll be useful. That’s not what’s important. What matters is if I trade my rational control, can I be lost in bewilderment, willing to trust and go forward anyway?

Sometimes, life’s full of inspiration and insight that comes pouring out. But that isn’t its usual state. Life is uncertain. So many people want to tell you what life means. But life means uncertainty.stream

My post last week was about believing that the struggle is a necessary part of the beauty that will eventually be revealed. I quoted three writers on what that struggle to wait looks like for them. Then I said:

“If you understood the truth of the BLESSING coming, you’d understand the magnitude of the battle you are fighting….If you could measure the size of the result of your persistence, you’d know the reason the one thing he asks for is faith.”

It was encouraging to remember that everyone struggles to believe.

On Tuesday the 3rd, when Harper Lee’s new book was announced, I felt God rekindling something in me from long ago that had been burning low: “Will you simply believe and trust Me regardless of what things look like?”

I don’t know why that was the message I sensed, but I wanted to say yes.

I didn’t think being willing to wait in bewilderment was a key measure of maturity, but for me, I think it just might be. When the evidence of my foolishness, my incapability, my lack of conviction and immaturity and fitness to carry this vision I’ve been assigned–when it all comes parading before me, can I accept and wait there in confusion? Can I choose to respond with the all-important willingness to accept “I don’t know,” and write in the darkness anyway?

That’s hard. That’s not certainty or control. That’s something else.

caveThat’s got to be a place of faith. That’s saying yes to God’s question: Will you simply trust and believe? Instead of fighting to prove myself, can I lay that down? Instead of faking everything’s fine, will I just believe he knows what the point of this waiting is?

Instead of giving up, holing up, clamming up,  will I trust that he knows more than I what’s coming, and speak anyway? Instead of making a selfish grab for attention, will I make room for the stabler foundation he is building, i.e. the only thing that can and will speak of a higher purpose?

Don’t you want to say it with me, “YES, Lord?” deer

I want to choose to simply step forward anyway in faith that the guiding light will find me and illuminate the way.

What if beyond characters, our own character is the real point? What if getting this now is what prevents us from getting hurt when we do publish? What if we did get out of this waiting what we really needed by not getting out of it?

Could we give our reader what they truly long for amidst publisher demands and a want-driven market?

Patience. Wisdom. Something larger than yourself and your weak human nature.

All we may need when we’re unsure and afraid is not power or insight, but a powerful trust in the sovereignty of God over all we do. That is the one thing irreplaceable. And won’t we learn it if we’re only willing to endure the angst and pain of waiting in bewilderment for the answer to come?

Maybe the best answer is the simplest:

I don’t know. 


For the higher purpose,


The Fearsome Power of Fear

What does it take to find true inner freedom from fear?

I’ve read a lot of authors, a lot of books, heard countless stories, biographies, memoirs, novels. Countless sermons, Bible stories, tv shows, movies. Roughly estimating from the time I was a kid watching Sesame Street to now 39 years later, I’ve probably heard, watched, read and lived well-near a million stories.

And in all of them, the thing that makes them all work? It isn’t heroism or empathy or humility or perseverance. It isn’t even love. It’s all of these things, but none of them on their own.

In a word, I think you’ve got to have one more thing: fear. 

What gives victory it’s power is fear, or more accurately, the conquering of it. I once thought pain was the all-important ingredient to raise the stakes. But pain seems like the child of fear, the physical manifestation of it. The father of pain is Fear and he lives in secret, I think, convincing us all that we are alone and empty and hopeless. And the thing about fear is that it doesn’t just make stories meaningful, it’s the presence of it and the depth and strength of it that makes freedom from it so incredibly meaningful in the end. The greater the fear, the greater the escape, the more worthwhile the effort seems in the end.

Fear is fearsome and powerful and there’s no getting around it. Everyone knows real, heart-pounding fear. And writers will feel it clenching around the throat as they struggle to form words out of nothing but memory. The thin shards of experience. The fear that we won’t remember it right or say it right. Fear that we’ll be found out as a fraud, a phony, a faker. And if we’re humble and God-fearing, we can add the fear that someone will be led astray, misunderstand and be lost because of our insufficient words.

Fear alone can’t make life meaningful. Living with fear is common and suffering its pains may eventually be what it takes to find joy in freedom–but there must be a catalyst to break fear’s grip. Without it, how would we ever know freedom?

Defeating the bully, the contagious virus of fear requires feeling it and facing it. First, accepting what it’s like living on the outside while everyone else looks happy and secure inside.

Everyone fears being the one left out.
Everyone fears being the one left out.

A friend of mine on YWG (where we talk about this stuff constantly), Tina, just posted a thought from a Ben Harper song, “living within our fear limits us to be only what our fear allows.”

It’s true. Fear’s been my jailer for years as well. I’ve feared being shunned, cast out by my conservative Christian community. Even now, I can hear people making the case for remaining in fear…

Another member, Elizabeth, said fear had been a taskmaster. In The War of Art, Pressfield personifies it as “Resistance.” Brene Brown teaches permission to be vulnerable with fellow broken humans, a secret to breaking fear’s strangling grip. And Julia Cameron has helped countless people realize “art is a spiritual transaction” through “The Artist’s Way,” on “Recovering Your Creative Self.”

My own journey out of fear has involved editing books that called me out of hiding as I read them slowly, and worked through them with the authors.

Today I see God gifting writers with words as tools of his creative work to say, “Come out. Your story matters. You don’t have to live blocked anymore. Live fully alive.” 

There’s this unfolding going on with us all. And if only we’d face the fact that we’re all in this together and going around and around on this big ball with the same fears that must be shed before we can be free, maybe we’d realize the opportunity before us all and be a bit more honored and excited for all God’s promised to bring when we come to him open handed.

Rilke: “But you take pleasure in the faces
Of those who know they thirst.
You cherish those
Who grip you for survival…”

You, too, can write your response. You can make fear your launching pad today. You can take whatever you were given and fashion that into the bright wings to carry you soaring out over the glassy sea. And if it’s not your time to sail high and far, if it’s your destiny to plunge down yet again, then flap and just reach and feel the wind rushing, smell the air warming and the sharp chill of the water. And rock on the unfailing waves that will embrace you in foamy arms to shore.

And climb again tomorrow with your new wings.