Tag Archives: overcoming blocks

How Jesus Unblocked My Writer’s Block and Freed Me to Write–for Good

“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness.” – Thomas Merton

All art, writing included, is built on ideas. The size of those ideas can’t be measured, but we know some are very, very big.

I believe there’s one idea I’ve long held that outranks them all in crippling my motivation to do the work required.

Everyone has to work through many wrong ideas. For me, somehow I learned to focus a bit too much on the product of my faith, to value not my work, but my work in the world.

On the surface, it seems a small thing. And there’s clear biblical support for the idea: We don’t look at good intentions, we look at the fruit. We don’t care about what’s on the surface, the heart is what matters.

Biblically, that’s true. But you can see how prioritizing the product over the process–the goal over the journey–is a twisting of this teaching. And intentional or not, as is so often the case, the idea has created a big misunderstanding. The result for me, and I’m convinced many others, has been confusion, frustration, and even death of much art. Art became a utilitarian function, a tool in service to the end result (mainly saving souls, but any such “purpose” of art could have done equal damage).

I could have created this idea from my own pride and desire for acclaim, but I’m here to tell you that any result of our art is not the purpose. Hear me and hope again: this is not a Christ-following artist’s proper focus.

I know this is controversial, but that’s not my goal here. Maybe you’ve struggled with a form of this idea too. The Bible says we are all in a process of being transformed (2 Corin 3:18, among others). Life, like art, is a process. And we can only take part in that as we are able to accept it and abide with Christ in it. 

Leaving the complicated theology aside, focusing on the product gets us confused and looking for Jesus out there, somewhere far off in the distance, in the future, in another place, in other people not here, not now, not in us.

Any artist deeply senses this is true. But many of us resist giving it its rightful place in our minds. We focus on getting somewhere, and so many other things too. We want progress, we want a product. Our fear and our misunderstanding blinds us. Jesus offers his help, his rest, his spirit of knowledge and understanding. And yet we don’t even hear him. We will not stop long enough to listen. We rush ahead and deny that we’re hearing anything.

And when it’s pointed out to us, we may even deny that we’re artists at all.

Of course we’d be able to listen to God and hear him if we were real artists! We’re only dabblers, and pretty bad ones at that, after all.

But consider: maybe our assumptions about what it means to be Christian artists are off base. Maybe they’re informed by our culture, by its insistence on measuring product and productivity, and by our own refusal to accept that there is no measurement for the movement of the Inspiring Spirit. It blows wherever it pleases (Jn 3:8).

Can our rational, enlightened minds even wrap themselves around this ancient truth and feel its power again?

If we could only realize, if we could only believe what Jesus says is true about the kingdom of heaven living within all men (Lk 17:21), it would be obvious that believing is all we have to do. Making art is a byproduct of praise, and the product is

Making art is a byproduct of praise, and what we produce is a byproduct of that, and all of that can take care of itself.

Jesus said that accepting the mystery that he is the embodiment of God’s Love within us is our comfort and our assurance (John 14). And this profound mystery is not just beyond us or above us or out there far off somewhere, but actually living within us right now, infusing and enlightening us like beacons, calling and waiting for the world to wake up to it.

The evidence of him is all around us, but more importantly, it’s filling us with life and is alive inside us. Right now, right here. When you believe it, that becomes your new reality. You are ignited, “born anew,” and every day becomes a new chance to see that life is this precious, this sacramental, this holy. Every day, the sacredness is in the very dirt and rocks that hold up our feet and spark our senses to recognize it.

Oh, but we miss it. We’re still deaf, and dumb and blind to it. We only know what little we feel, what tiny parts we sense, and what enormous things we lack. We long for more but we’re all too aware of what stands in the way. And we are never enough aware of God.

Yes, this is the deplorable, depressing human condition. And yet right here is the wide open mission field of the called artist. Do you not see it? Look! These are the fields ripe for harvesting, the sacred purple fruit literally bursting for recognition, longing to be made into fine wine for the world, to be made into its inspired intended purpose, into its perfect product: the glory of the God of all things!

We could be transformed if we’d just stop trying to figure it all out. Stop trying to improve on this today. Give up the work and be still. Pay attention. And be loved.

You are not alone! We all waver and doubt. We all wait and grow sick with the rot of the dream within us, the dream planted by His Spirit when he energized us and gave us sight. We all grow weary waiting for the day our product will go out and do its work. And we all are tempted constantly to give up. And right here we could be transformed if we’d just stop focusing on what we think is the point. We don’t have it all figured out. And we never will.

Stop trying to improve. Give up the goal of the work and be still. The work will come from that. And if the world is to be changed, it will only be by that.

Pay attention to what really matters. Step down into the stream of the Spirit. The water flowing around your feet is a metaphor of the water flowing within and out of you every day. It will feed the fruit of your work if you will just stop and feel it and then express what you feel. Give yourself to it today. IT IS FOR YOUR LIFE!

Do you hear the song within it? And will you give yourself to that song? If you will, you will have produced something worthy of framing. And you can let praise be your product.

For the higher purpose, today and always,

Mick

What Excellence Requires: further thoughts on integrating new knowledge

Hi there. How are you? Thanks for showing up.

I feel like I need to start this week’s quick message with some basic encouragement. You made it. You got through. You’re going forward.

It’s hard to believe all that happened last week. I barely had time to catch my breath. And now a new week begins.

But I learned so much last week, it’s frightening. To think of who I was even a week ago and how I’ve changed today is humbling and holy.

I didn’t write all I expected to write, but I wrote a ton. And through keeping me focused on last week’s big thought on healthy integration, and the hope of greater excellence to follow in my work, God revealed himself in my writing process, once again.

This week, I’m pondering that big result of skillful integration we all hope for: excellence. What is it and how important is it?–I want to look at that some more.

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So after realizing that my news feed betrayed me, the shock, depression, and initial horror, morphing into a reserved hopefulness, converged on me to convince me that though I thought I knew what I was doing, I do not. This election has consumed so much of us. Our candidates and their positions were completely skewed by almost every source, whatever it was–media or friend. We all seem to have swallowed a poisonous cocktail–either red or blue–and now we can’t understand or even talk with those who drank the opposite one.

I feel sick learning how intentionally our media is skewed to be more sensational and competitive, and how social media then amplifies that unbalanced extremism into viral surges using us to infect the entire body politic, until it’s convulsing with internal pain.

And yet every writer I know is actively working to integrate what they’re learning to use it to inform their work and their place in this complex world. There’s also been a surge of revelation this week seeing how our sweet poisons made us sick, and how now we must learn to consume healthier, purer, unbiased sources. But like with everything, the better is hard to find.

And the best, maybe it doesn’t even exist yet.

And going that way, giving yourself to only the best, it’s an uncompromising, lonely and difficult way.

But to progress and move beyond our competition, we have to leave behind our former limited selves.

dsc_0042As I wrote last week, integration is how we come to use and demonstrate growth from new things we learn. And we’ve all learned a lot this week that’s naturally and inevitably going to change us, as writers and as people. Likely as Christians as well. As children we used to integrate new ideas into useable knowledge all the time–we’d learn new info and abilities and then draw on them every day. But as adults, this process became less frequent, smaller in scope, and we became less changeable. We became set in our ways.

I’m praying we can remember how to change, learn and integrate new information and broader truths.

Our happiness, our future success, our very survival may depend on it.

Last week I argued this skill of healthy integration was a core writer thing. Through reading and questioning ideas and beliefs, writers must be our “cultural conscience” keep this process alive in adulthood. It’s an obligation of creative work to promote the good, the better, even the best that hasn’t even been born yet.

Which is why I’m convinced we must remain more malleable than your average bear. As a group, we have to be world-class integrators.

But how? What does all this mean for you and me pounding away on keyboards in obscurity? I’d like to suggest that this superpower of writers has far reaching implications for our culture in helping others understand the big problems in the world, and their role in working on solutions.

Writers help people make sense and use of their world. Our goal is nothing less than excellence–the best ideas, the best words, sound logic and beautiful, weighty, undeniably vital art.

And we achieve it through judging rightly, through humility and empathy, and by doing the hard work.

I believe this is how we move forward today, knowing all we now know, yet to learn all we still need, but pursuing excellence in all things, to the glory of he who created all things, and writing as part of our whole-bodied and embodied spiritual act of worship.

When all our skills and knowledge are working together in proper alignment, I believe excellence should follow.

And as we go forward this week with each other, let’s keep pushing for the integration of new knowledge, receptive and seeking the truth and justice for all God’s people.

It’s a lot to take in and process, but we know who is ultimately in control.