Tag Archives: church

Can Writing Heal the Writer?

“It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” —Zechariah 4:6, NLT

 

There’s a problem in writing Christian books. Those of us who write them, whether they’re to Christians or not, we have to be healed first before we can offer healing to readers.

DSC_0203Yet how many of us can claim to be sufficiently healed?

In published stories, fiction or non, it often seems the writer has either fully escaped the darkness their story deals with, or they never struggled as it was. There’s a veneer of professional distance to many novels or memoirs that makes it easy to assume their authors have overcome all their challenges, reconciled with their past, and submitted to the call to share their journey of healing.

Yet is it true? In listening to writers talk about their lives and work, it would seem the reality is often far from that.

It would seem best to have “gotten over” your personal challenges before trying to help others with your story. Trouble is, we’re all writing wounded.

So what should we do? Should we believe writers humble claims about being messy and broken themselves? Or should we all get counseling before we write? Maybe work on how we present so we don’t look like we’re struggling as much as we are?

DSC_0210Or maybe–maybe we should forget looking good and look at what we’re writing for.

It’s worth asking: do we want to get well? And should we seek healing through our books for ourselves or to help our readers?

Those raised in church may hear a trick question there. It can be hard to separate our own needs from others’. Putting our own healing first can seem selfish, and others might judge us for admitting our need. It can feel best to remain silent—and unhealed.

It can also seem best to simply try to help readers, but that never works. As my friend Jamie points out, you can’t share what you don’t have. If for no other reason, as writers, we’ve got to embrace our need first and foremost. It’s not self-centered or sinful to seek healing, even when it requires resources and attention be diverted to us.

Yet can we find healing through our own writing?

Personally, I can attest to the experience of coming to claim what I’ve experienced better through writing about it. Yet, restoration and reconciliation were limited until I sought help beyond what I could produce myself. And my healing came not through church, counseling or relationships, but primarily through reading. And I’m not alone. Many writers’ attest that their most significant healing has come through powerful stories of love and restoration—the very place the inspiration to write for a higher purpose often comes from.

DSC_0200Yet I’ve felt called to help readers with my story and never felt fully healed myself. I wonder how many writers would agree. How many counselors become counselors because they needed counseling? The same might apply to “called” writers.

While I believe it’s possible, even preferable to require the healing you seek to share in writing, when we set out with fresh inspiration to share our message of hope, we must realize we can’t offer readers our full inspiration when we haven’t fully received that light ourselves. Otherwise, we risk trying to manufacture simply an artful experience.

Oswald Chambers says, “If in preaching the gospel you substitute your knowledge of the way of salvation for confidence in the power of the gospel, you hinder people from getting to reality…Never rely on the clearness of your presentation, but…rely on the certainty of God’s redemptive power, and He will create His own life in people” (emphasis mine).

DSC_0201If you haven’t yet been fully healed of your encounter with the darkness, let yourself first experience the full embrace of the light. Though the best writing comes from our broken places, no one can effect their own healing through writing alone for the simple reason that none of us possesses the light on our own. We won’t be able to sufficiently help readers until we do.

Consider, as you write: is your heart free? If writing your story has brought up the need for further healing, don’t ignore that. Seek out the sources God reveals until you see fruit from your restoration. You’re meant to experience writing not only as a lifeline, or a desperate escape, but as an overflow.

And when you write from the overflow, you will feel it, and so will readers.

DSC_0009Don’t forfeit the healing you deserve for the sake of the calling you serve.

Seek him, dear writer, and you will find him.

 

“My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power…”

—1 Corinthians 2:4, NIV

How I Learned to Be Human

For the first couple decades of my life, I chose to see so little of my core neediness, I wasn’t yet human.

fall house

Did you ever know a kid who won’t get his hands dirty, who sends his mom to get him out of things, who’s demanding and coddled and thinks his poop doesn’t stink?

It’s safe to say he might not be a very friendly person.

I was protected and favored and snotty and I became prejudiced against those I found “needy.” Not the orphans in Africa, of course. They were tragic and terrifying. I was disturbed by the needy people at our church who took from us without realizing we didn’t have unlimited time and resources. They expected without giving in return because we were the model for Christians in our community of friends. As the pastor’s family, it was our job to fill others’ needs.

And it made me just a little resentful.

Fame had its perks, like some special treatment around town, even free bags of groceries now and then. Or when the cute girl in youth group knows you before you’ve even met. As an introvert, I had “quiet strength,” but I was just painfully shy and didn’t like attention, especially as Dad’s illustrations.

Everyone knew me but no one knew me. I didn’t know myself.

It can be a real struggle for pastor’s kids, and in the protected, privileged space around such a kid an ugly sort of pride can grow that looks down on those who willingly put themselves beneath him. The low-self-esteem, no-self-respect folks so hungry for grace that pour into the wide arms of the church, they frankly scare the sheltered, unscathed church kids who wonder what went wrong with them.

I was smart enough to be civil, even kind. But I soon learned not to let them in or they’d latch on, as they always did at the slightest provocation. It’s a real problem in many churches and it doesn’t get talked about.

Neediness is the world’s worst cologne. And I could detect it from a good distance.

So I lived alone. And it was only once I realized how needy I was that I became human.

IMG_1152

It was 1981, a church BBQ. I was 7 and 1/2 and alone in the pool. The adults were nearby talking so I thought I’d try something and just walk a little farther toward the deep end.

Just as I turned back to see if anyone noticed, I felt nothing beneath my toes and said something really impressive like “Splutter-blluuurrglpllfft!” And my super-dad dropped his full plate of chicken and potato salad and dove in right there–polo shirt, flip-flops, aviator sunglasses and all–grabbing me around the waist and hoisting me to the side of the pool.

I was actually very near the side as it was, and I’d had plenty of swimming lessons. But it didn’t matter. For all we knew, I could have died. Neither did it matter that I was more than a little embarrassed with everyone looking at me.

I knew his love. I knew deep down I was chosen. And knowing that was the real help I’d come to need down the line.

family

Knowing that made me know I was needy too. Knowing that made me human.

But I didn’t learn it at 7 1/2.

For a kid like I was, that would have been pure gold. But it’d be many years before I linked that up–that piece hiding there for me all along, waiting for me to claim it and write it out. But that’s the great news: we can write these things out and choose to receive what we find as the pieces that helped us become who we truly are.

Through writing this, my belief has been reinforced that to possess our Father’s love is to become ourselves. Mine is just one way, one story. We can all find and possess our Father’s love if we’ll claim it and write our story out.

It may just be our greatest possession.

And it’s meant to know and to share.

Seek it. Respect it. Let your story out.

May you know him like you never did before. May you write him and represent him and live him for others to know they’re chosen too.

Yes, you can choose to believe it.

You were chosen. And it’s your choice to be.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Why We’ve Got to Learn to Say No

“There is only one way to defeat the enemy, and that is to write as well as one can. The best argument is an undeniably good book.” Saul Below, The Living Novel: A Symposium, 1957

I think no matter who you are, no matter how you grew up, every Christian writer struggles to say no to others.

bug

Some may learn to say “no” readily. But many writers start out avoiding saying no to people at any cost. We’re avoiders and pleasers. We may say “yes” initially only to avoid the inevitable confrontation, then say “no” later by avoiding the situation.

I’ve done it regularly. Habitually. And I’ve seen it done for years.

But everyone who writes has a unique call and so must rise above this.

And in my experience with Christians, we rarely, if ever, acknowledge the essential importance of saying no.

Oh, we say no to sin. And to anything deemed “questionable” or unsafe. But to other Christians? To the church or (God forbid) the leadership? That might not reflect well on our presumed holiness.

Churches don’t give out gold stars for saying no.

flower

People who don’t go to church can get away with it. Some may have first found permission by leaving. Yet how many are saying no to the wrong things or in unloving ways?

The point is, we need to learn how to say “no” well, and our model human opposed both the typical Christian and the disengaged and hardened folks alike.

He said a lot of loving no’s to people. And often.

He said no—in love—to strangers, friends, crowds, the disciples and Pharisees—in other words, to everyone.

Why is this so important? Because unless you can say no in love, even well-meaning Christians can create barriers between you and God’s will.

Saying yes means nothing unless you can also say no. Only “no” can correct and refocus people when they’ve gotten off track. Only “no” can move the attention away from its wrong focus. And only a loving heart can use no to affirm the goodness and love inside the opposition.

bird

Unfortunately, “no” seems so ignored among Christians today that most can’t handle the slightest hint or whisper of it. Now we have to treat adults as children and instead of “no,” offer a firm “thank you for understanding why I can’t serve at that event,” or “God bless your commitment. I’m already giving elsewhere. I appreciate your graciousness.”

If only that was acceptable.

Years ago, I set out to help Christian writers say “no” to the forces that opposed their higher purpose. I thought I’d be fighting the godless consumer culture. Instead, I’ve found the greatest opposition can come not from culture but from the church.

If you’ve had trouble saying no, you’re not alone. And you need to get alone to yourself for at least 30 minutes. Take a notebook and pen and go imagine your future 10 years from now if you can commit to the vision God put in your heart for you to write. Write down what you see.

Imagine it and then believe that one day soon, that will be you, successful.

That is who you are going to be.

Circumstances do not dictate this. People do not dictate you.

God is vision-caster, the Great Imaginer, and when He gives his called artists a vision, He’s saying that one day, it will be your day. But if you never commit to it, and especially to saying “no” to the ungodly demands, expectations, unspoken rules and implicit requirements placed on you by a restrictive church or family or culture, it will never be your day.

sleeper

We can’t sacrifice our God-given vision for a person or an image or a church. We must use our gifts for the Person and His image and the Church at large.

If you’ve failed to say no in the past, repent and move forward. Claim your gifted strength and know that every failure along the way is one less you have to make now.

Mistakes are necessary; they’re how we learn to value what we eventually gain.

But we’ll never get to where He’s called us to go without imagination and belief.

If you will go and write the vision, you will see where you will be. And you will know you can not quit.

You have to go get it.

So decide to believe. And He goes with you. And there is no fear because fear is not real. Fear is choosing to respect doubts as greater than the future reality. It’s believing things that are not or may never be true are true. That’s insanity. Fear is a choice; we can chose not to fear.

You can simply choose instead to believe the real vision. Choose it and own it.

As Tozer said, there is blessedness in possessing nothing. Yet a vision is a pure gift, and possibly for artists, our primary possession. You can have this vision if you have focus. And you will have it if you don’t quit.

But the first step before anyone else will believe this vision is you believing it.

So all that matters is, can you say “no” to say “yes” to your vision?

——————————————————–

If you’re ready to jump, the 30-Day Story Course starts Friday. Four lessons, four evaluations by me. $500 $99

The One Word the Journey Requires

“I love, therefore I am vulnerable.”

― Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

Yesterday morning, as the children’s pastor shared from Psalm 119, I felt tears well up. She simply spoke the uncanny truth I’d been slowly realizing for months:

“The word of God,” she said, “…is a miracle.”

It was the weight of the statement, so strong I knew it in my bones.

It was true. It had to be. There was no other explanation.

How else could this book I used to loathe (is it even a book? More a collection of mysterious, contradictory ancient writings) bring me to tears? Me, such a tightly controlled man.

red tree
For months, this slow sifting through words has been doing work on me. Through the processing of writing I’ve learned many lessons. But some of my favorites are these ongoing, continually unresolved simple ones like this one recently about the Bible and realizing how it’s changed and still is changing and is changing me. It’s just one more remarkable journey that rewards deeper attention, simplifying so much into a collection of truths–some of the truths I memorized as dead words long ago in Sunday school.

You’re my place of quiet retreat;

I wait for your Word to renew me.” – Psalm 119:114 (MSG)

This book I once ran from, made fun of, even dreaded, it was a menace. Anywhere there was fun the Bible was probably not part of it, and wherever the Bible was, all fun and excitement had long since skipped out. This was such a given fact of my early years that those who can’t relate still seem a bit alien to me.

What, you never hated the Bible? Who are you?

Certainly it was this electrically charged book, but the reason I didn’t like it was because it was so stinking bossy. Like 20 generations of old relatives all piled in between two fat covers. And similarly, people were always trying to get me to kiss it.Initially, the way it looked to me was something to bow to and respect and basically fear as a force to help keep me in line. Adults talked about it like it was the President or a policeman. “The Bible says…” they’d say, as if that settled whatever it was I was previously thinking of doing before that. No, the Bible said it didn’t approve. And its implicit threatening glare made me hate it.

That is, until I figured out that I too could use it as a weapon.I guess that was the first day I really felt its charge. The power it gave me. Wow, I thought, seeing my mom back down from the quoted verse, the one she’d helped me memorize herself. It had come back to bite her and I got off the hook.

A guy could get a lot more done this way…

Later on, I’d find it stomach-churning to see people using the Bible. Whether to excite people, condemn them, shame them, praise them or prove how they didn’t measure up, I wanted to punch pastors’ lights out for all I thought I saw behind their phony smiles. As an angry young pastor’s kid, I’d seen how easy it was to wield the Bible as “instruction” and exhort people to do what they, er “God,” wanted. This utilitarian view of the Bible as a tool was as old as the Bible itself, but I figured it was the reason so many people thought they could just pick it up and whack me with it.fall trees

What I didn’t know then was that people who come to it thinking of dominating and manipulating were merely finding it as they were, not as it was. I figured it was just the way all Bible-readers were. It made people feel better and gave them some sense of power back.Well as my fate coalesced, I was freed of this compounded thinking. My wife and two of the sweetest girls in the world began bringing me back to reading the Bible. Slowly, though them, I saw a renewing and recharging power in this old book. I was afraid at first it it’d charge me to preach, but my liberal arts degree convinced me I didn’t need to interpret it so literally. I could preach right from where I was.

As I began to accept it on its own terms, it began to correct and to restore the full truth I hadn’t yet appreciated in all those years I’d heard the words. Something new was being filled into the exact phrases, a crystal clarity infused with life, and a profounder, subtler touch, not of excitement, though it led to that, but of incitement.

I wanted to do something with it so badly I could cry. And I did. Often. Soon the words I’d memorized blindly would come to shape me as I expounded on its truths within a strange new life I’d discovered as well, something I’d read about for years but never quite penetrated: becoming Christ’s body.And this is how it happened.My ears changed. My eyes saw connections I’d never seen before. I felt my mind reaching out to connect with everything around me and especially certain people, which was the strangest thing because I’d always disliked them before or at least simply tolerated most of them as annoyances. Instead of pretending to like them so they’d like me (and leave me alone), I was genuinely and annoyingly interested in the strangest bits of information they’d share. And I’d hear things that would trigger a thought and say things I never said before.

“Maybe God’s trying to tell you something there,” I’d hear myself say.

What? Who was I?backyard autumn trees
This was only several years ago now, but it still feels very recent. I’ve since learned to restrain some of my suggestions about God’s speaking voice. But when I write or have dreams or go to church, it seems like coming back to something, seeing more and realizing how much bigger and smaller it really is.Then yesterday morning came and I was watching the kids there in front waiting for Miss Katie to share and she just says, “The Word of God…” very slowly like that, and then… “is a miracle.”

And I just start crying.

I’m weeping in church, I think. Crap. Knock it off. These are nice Presbyterians! They’re going to think you’re struggling with some hidden sin.

Which of course I am and all of us are, but you don’t want to make a scene. So I quietly compose myself and no one notices and the kids all walk off to Sunday school. And when the pastor shares about Timothy who was tired and wearing down in his ministry, and Paul exhorting him to preach, she says it may sound unfeeling, even harsh.

And I know exactly what she means. I’ve always heard it that way.Shouldn’t Tim be allowed to take a vacation or just a break? But Paul just says, “Preach the Word.” And the pastor doesn’t say this, but I think how I’ve feared this very thing for years. How it used to sound exactly as she said, harsh and unfeeling. How it seemed to symbolize everything I hated about this old, demanding book that always smacks you on the head, and gives people the idea to whack others with it and Just-quit-being-a-selfish brat-and-come-to-Jesus-already!

And even the people who love the book have to admit that all of that junk has come directly from this horrible book.pumpkin patch family

I think of how Paul was blinded and shaped for service and how he once whacked Christians and maybe once he became one, he wasn’t very far removed from his former self, at least in personality.

But then I think, Yes, but Paul must have realized the truth of the Psalms. That famous psalm about loving the Word. And maybe to him, ministering and teaching required the same thing as when you felt worn out and beaten down. Maybe going out and following and getting whacked by life and people and all their crushing needs requires the exact same waiting for God to renew us with his Word.Didn’t Paul know most of all that this was where Timothy would find his quiet retreat? Directly there in the seeking to preach the gospel?

There are always difficult times. But we always have a secure place to be recharged.

It is a useful book. But when you love it, you don’t think about that so much. Its use isn’t the point so much as you just want to be with it, and in it, and to have it around you, living with you, breathing the same air you do.

“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”

– Psalm 119:105

The Passing Day

“My days are like a lengthening shadow, and I wither away like grass.” 

 – Psalm 102:11

 

I’m just back from discussing the future focus of our church with about 2 dozen aged Presbyterians this weekend.

IMG_6284 Isn’t it amazing how we’re all strangers, even to ourselves? And yet we all have an important job to do….

I agreed to take part because for the last 3 years, we’ve been embraced and encouraged by this traditional community, and after 50 years, they want to reinvent to keep their church alive.

A consulting firm was hired to identify the demographics and characteristics of our neighborhood and membership, and we came together to discuss how we’ll seek to fulfill this call to love and serve the neighbors around us.

Somewhere in discussion, it struck me how we all want to live out the fullest possible expression of our connection, however possible, wherever and whenever we can. This group of people believes we’re all alike in the most important, fundamental ways. And I feel the fire to invest in those connections, the passion that’s always above all for those of us who’ve been changed by Love.

And church can happen anywhere, and it’s not about a place, but a feeling, and it’s why I write, and it’s why I edit books, always striving to make that connection and honor it, respect it, build it stronger and more solid in the unbreakable love of God. It’s why we talk of a body, and this is the way I’ve chosen, and I need the reminders to be praying at all times. And though it’s difficult, more and more every day, I feel the truth coming from my writing, that done prayerfully, writing is prayer. And done prayerfully, work is prayer, and all of life is held within that central relationship.

IMG_6290There’s time for everything. God will feel close and he’ll feel far. But with this focus on what matters, it won’t matter how I feel much, or what I’m specifically praying for, or what’s beyond my help or my reach. Committed to this relationship, all focus is turned to God’s greatest interest in my every passing moment, expressed through this greatest desire, this highest purpose. No fear or failure is possible there because the relationship is secure, come what may.

There is no challenge, no frustration that can thwart this central connection, for here I peer through the screen of separation and see the unmistakable fusion, molecules to spirit, in unbreakable union and inevitably resolving into eternity. Any struggle I may face is not without purpose, and pain, though inevitable, is not unimportant. It is leading to deeper unity with this guiding Love.

And if you feel that, you are part of this community, this body. Inside that embrace, there is a pain that can’t be felt, that never even grazes the shielded, life-radiating heart. All hatred and anger and destruction and evil can mean nothing against this sovereign design for me and all of us who would seek it, the Sovereign One structuring time itself to reveal all that Love has sacrificed to one day pull evil up by the roots and leave no trace.

The eternal song will go on. Let whomever has not yet heard it try to silence it. There is no silencing it.

Pay it no mind, embrace them and envelope them in this Love, and commit to your true business. For as it goes forward, Love goes forward and it will be their constant torment until they surrender. Love will swallow the opposition and transform it and all the time they wasted. So for now, have compassion and visit them, care for them. And in the time you have left, you will see God move and you will know His truth that sets us free from all fear.

Every day is a new grace. And while there is light in the passing day, we must learn to embrace this day for what it truly is–a holy chance to know deeper unity. And if we will carry on, undistracted and undiminished in our commitment to this Love, we can take the few frightened souls around us into our great heart to share the experience of this joy with as many as want it.

For all that’s required is that undying longing….