Tag Archives: patience

The Head vs. Heart Debate

The head learns new things, but the heart forever practices new experiences.

– Henry Ward Beecher

 

An author friend of mine told me last week that when her kids were in their early teens, they were in horrible competition with each other and they argued all the time. She said she had to figure out how to make them work it out. So she made them roommates for six months.

And it worked.

Suddenly, inspiration struck me—this is just like being a writer.

My own struggle to write is like an internal competition between my head and my heart. Both think they have the best solution, but both need to get beyond the fighting to see the value of their own disabilities. What I’ve needed is to figure out how to embrace both sides of my personality as loved and needed.

If head and heart are naturally at odds with each other, it stands to reason that learning to write well would absolutely require figuring out how to become a patient parent to both sides of your demanding self.

In that moment of inspiration, I imagined my brain as an older brother named Wisdom, who’s constantly telling his little sister Grace, the heart, what to do. He’s smarter, maybe wiser too, and he keeps Grace safe. She’s impulsive and needs Wisdom’s help, but he often needs to back off and give her some space. Grace may not know exactly where she’s going but Wisdom’s going to have to learn to let her lead at times so she can learn how to get them where they’re really going.

My problem has been that Wisdom doesn’t know where the story needs to go, but Grace doesn’t want to listen. Sometimes Wisdom imagines leaving her behind and writing the book himself, and sometimes Grace fantasizes about overpowering him and making him eat dirt. Both their frustrations are valid, but without both of them, they won’t get anywhere.

Grace is ignorant. And the first problem is the squabbling. Those who’ve made their war past-tense somehow figured this out—and felt it out—the way to becoming a patient parent.

And in that flash of inspiration I knew if I want to finish this novel, I need both Wisdom and Grace to sign a treaty. Both of them will have to send their best selves up to the head office and get down to the heart of the matter.

I thought of Pixar’s genius film, Inside Out, those emotional characters at the controls. They needed to learn to be rational. And I’ve got to be reasonable and empathetic, logical and loving.

Basically, Grace and Wisdom will have to marry.

(Wisdom is suggesting I abandon the brother/sister metaphor at this point. Grace is feeling a little uncomfortable too.)

I need them to fight together as they go up against the dragons. They need each other. Their love must go beyond reason, beyond feelings. They’ve got to battle it out and find a connection that goes beyond romantic affection or mutual appreciation. They’ve got to find an unbreakable fusion.

Maybe that’s what amazes us about a well-put-together person or a well-put-together book. They represent a fully embodied humanity—they fit together, their head and heart complement each other. They’re balanced.

They’ve worked through the self-doubt and self-consciousness to become self-aware, and finally, self-possessed. Their internal role-wrangling has been ironed out, and their head and heart play nice.

Maybe at some point, they realized they had a passion and particular gifts, but the heart needed some coaxing by big brother brain to put her faith into action. Maybe she also needed some discipline to stay on the tracks and not get distracted.

But now they can co-lead. And both can feel in charge. And both can believe God is with them and they’ve got this. 

(Thanks to my fabulous memoirist friend, Lyneta Smith, for the inspiration.)

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Who Owns This Story Anyway? 

Let us build for the years we shall not see.
– Sir Henry John Newbold

I saw it in her eyes first, what I expected to see.

That flash.

“No, Dad. That’s wrong.”


Of course, I can’t blame her. I’d told the story “right” as many times as any story I’ve ever told. And I probably should have written this story down at some point, since it’s such a crowd-pleaser, the way they beg for the telling. Our own little version of Arabian Nights.

But this night, I’m telling it wrong.

“That’s not how it goes,” Charlotte insists, because of course, she has heard this one plenty of times. And this is definitely not the way it went last time. For some reason, I changed it up, and maybe this is why I don’t want to write it down. It’s more fun to think I can change it if I get a streak of creative inspiration. But this will not fly.

“The princess isn’t supposed to remember her name until after the goblins capture her,” Ellie says, trying to be helpful.

“Who’s telling this story?” I ask. I mean to make a signficant change to the familiar tale tonight, one that’s far better than the old familiar draft.

But they don’t want my brilliant revisions. They want the story they know. Apparently, they own this story or something.

I satisfy them and stick to the familiar version with the princess learning her name deep in the goblin mine when she meets her sister and she remembers who she is. Then the king comes and saves them and they ride away to happily ever after.

But at the end, after I tuck them in, I realize it’s not over. There’s more to this story, and they’ve helped me realize it tonight. Something from the sermon on Sunday connects with the story, or the act of telling it, and I need to capture the thought before I forget.

In a way, we’re all like Charlotte, certain we know how this story is supposed to go. Our security and happiness is wrapped up in it going the way we expect it to go, and in our minds, if it does, we will be safe and secure. We think we know what’s best because we’ve got some insight about what will be satisfying.

But we don’t realize that we don’t control the story. And if we were willing to trust the Storyteller, we would realize we don’t actually want to. Unfortunately, all we know is that the story was supposed to go differently, so we want it to go how we expected. So we try to convince the Storyteller we have the better idea, and we don’t realize what greater things we could learn to appreciate.

It seems the more I write, the more I learn to trust the Storyteller. There is much to intentionally control about writing and increase my capacity to hold many ideas and skills. But unless I want it to be the same old familiar story, I’ve got to believe there’s more than what I can bring to this, and I have to trust the Storyteller whose ideas and skills far outstrip mine.

Emily Freeman, in her book, A Million Little Ways, tells of her children planting apple seeds and getting impatient for the seeds to sprout.

“Aren’t we all seven years old, wanting our apple trees to give shade and fruit and wanting it yesterday? We kneel at the altar of our desire to see change now, to move things along, to push open doors. We have uncovered the art we were born to make and want to release the art we were made to live. We ignore the voice of fear and insecurity and are ready to move into our small world alive and awake.

“Yet there seems to be only silence. We don’t want to wait. And so because we can’t see results, we decide it isn’t working….

“Be faithful to plant. Release the growing to God. open up clenched fists and let the seeds drop into the ground, let them burrow down deep and do their secret work in the dark.

“Sacred shaping happens in the waiting.”

I simply have to believe that his greater story is what I truly want, and learn to be patient and listen.

I pray, kiss them, and head downstairs. I force myself to go slow, taking time at the landing to appreciate the feel of the carpet beneath my feet, the solid railing, the fading light coaxing a glow out of the freshly-painted wall.

I’ve got something new to add to the story. For too long, I’ve acted as though the story was my own, and far too often that’s been why it felt small and unsatisfying. Was it ever mine?

It could be such a fantastic story if I’d just let it change, open my hand and accept the freedom of not owning it, not being the one responsible for making it interesting or exciting or even work. The great news is that I’m not in control. It’s not mine to write. I was given a chance to see it and tell it, but I’m only an instrument, a seed-planter.

He’s telling the story. He makes it grow. My work is continually putting the story, my life, back in his hands.

Even if the story ends up nothing like the one I expected, do I still believe the king will save me? Is it too hard to believe because things look dark? Maybe that’s what makes the story such a good one. Who’s the real hero here?

Can I learn to trust and wait? Here is where I poured my hope and where I’ll wait for it to grow. A writer is like a farmer and our lives are like our stories that we’re given to share, but they aren’t ours. They’re being written. We see only the part that’s been revealed so far, but there’s so much more and it’s the king’s to complete. He is the only Storyteller who can give it life.

Trust him to do it.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 

For the higher purpose,

Mick

What Writers Need to Know about Talent and Self-Discipline

The most important thing you can do is a lot of work….

– Ira Glass

 

 

 

They need to slow down.

Sitting with the other parents in the little orange plastic chairs at Charlotte’s cello lesson, I have to force myself to be quiet. The teacher is trying hard to get the other kids (the boys) to go slow and it’s obviously the hardest part of class, the push-back against his instruction, the reasons, explanations and excuses, the playing while he’s talking and continual interruptions.

Can’t they be quiet?

In fact, I don’t think so. At least not for a while. To slow the kids down and get them to pay attention and listen takes at least 10 minutes encouragement before they can relax and take in what he’s saying. But it’s work, and it’s easy to see it’s challenging for him.

It reminds me of how often I’m working hard to get writers to do the exact same thing: to take the time it takes to think their thoughts all the way through and not cut off the process.

Our tech age pushes us faster and faster, teaches us to expect fast. This is bad news for us.

Because we all naturally want to go fast. We want to see quick and easy results. But learning is always first about unlearning that impulse. And to unlearn the other bad habits we’ve accumulated, we’ve first got to slow down to notice many specific deficiencies. How slow can you go is an essential question for anyone learning music (or any art), but it’s a question very few of us truly want to consider because we want to believe we are faster, i.e. smarter than others.

We convince ourselves we already get it because we’re such “quick learners.” Who is telling everyone this same lie?

No one learns quickly. No one can appreciate everything they need to consider about a complex craft, let alone achieve artistic mastery, without a significant investment of time. And every single accomplished person has taken a lot of time to become so. Destroy your shortcuts. 

Because what we’re really talking about here is process over product and enjoying the journey. And that requires self-control, a deeply misunderstood fruit of the Spirit. Yet it’s the topic of this month’s Christianity Today cover article on “ego depletion,” The Science of Sinning Less:

“Because Christianity requires self-control, it logically follows that it also builds it, and thus we can expect active Christians to have relatively high levels of self-control.”

The article goes on to give four general strategies based in the latest science for Christians to develop greater self-control and willpower.  (I highly recommend the article, by sociologist Bradley Wright.)

An uncontrolled person is an impatient person. And patience is only available to those who’ve learned to wait. In other words, those who’ve slowed down.

My wife Sheri teaches piano lessons to kids. Guess what every single one of them needs to learn over and over each week?

Fast doesn’t matter. Fast kills growth. No plant grows fast. Nothing worth living for and having as your own comes fast. You must slow down and think about how much you really want this, how much you’re wiling to commit to it. Slowness is the painful work required to develop patience. And patience is required for a peaceful life.

I work with grownups to form and write their books. Guess what each one wants to do every week? Yes, move on, move forward, make “progress.”

And here’s what all of us need to realize about progress and speeding up: we’re being conned. Life is not about how fast you can live it. And no one cares how fast you can go if you can’t first do it well.

The great violin instructor Dorothy Delay, famously claimed talent is a mood. The truth of that is only acknowledged the more you practice and refine.

A young artist just wants to get all the notes right. A mature artist wants to use the art to express the right ideas and emotions, the mood, and to do it with that essential level of controlled intensity (the key quality of writing well). 

I believe to get every artist to realize what’s needed and then to pursue it, God has to be the great patient teacher, using our frustration and impatience to draw out our passion, and to help us learn to express what the art demands in the way we were specifically designed to do it.

As artists, we sense that to achieve what we want, what the world demands, we need discipline and self-control. And if willpower is more like a muscle than a battery, our goal must be to develop strength and stamina by increasing our capacity and tolerance. It’s easier to let the muscle atrophy by letting it do what it (thinks it) wants: to rest. But to grow, it has to be stretched and strengthened.

Writing is a long-game goal. Every real author I’ve ever known has thought they were the exception to the rule and could go fast and take a few shortcuts–because they were smart and had already gone through so much schooling or written more than most people, or whatever.

But the process is the process. And every song you learn to play well takes the time it takes to learn the fingering, and when to put in the pauses, and how to change the expression and dynamics just right. And every single time, you have to unlearn something you thought you already knew, slow down, and get it right for THIS song.

And every book you write is just like learning to play a new song. Every creative work you ever decide is worth your investment will be just like that. If you want people to take time with your work, then you have to be willing to be the first who took the time with it to understand it well.

Every successful book requires at least four drafts to refine. Everyone’s process is a little different, but slower equals clearer, and from first draft to last, slowing down with each pass is essential, I promise you.

As the kids play together, the song becomes the way they are pulled along to enter the moment. And for a brief half-minute, they’ve slowed-down to find the timing of the harmony, to stay together. It is work, but you can hear how they’ve managed to internalize that slow rhythm, and the effect is beautiful. The learning that’s happening is obvious.

Long bows, and slow resonant notes. They’re getting it.

And I think the parents in the audience are getting it too.

For the higher purpose, 

Mick

Some of the Best Byproducts of Writing

 

“How often it is difficult for most of us to give solitude any sort of priority in the kind of life that we live today. How we avoid it; how we are frightened of being alone; how easy it is never to let it happen; there is always something or someone to fill the void, even if it is no more than turning to the radio for company. I guess that it is a question of inner conviction as well as external pressure. The world simply does not understand this need to be alone.”

– Esther de Waal, Living With Contradiction

The best thing about trying to write, I’ve often thought, is the byproducts.
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Solitude. Silence. Peace. Joy…

And writing forces you to be patient. It also forces you to grow.

In our world, these are so important, and so hard to come by.

But writing also makes you focus on what you really want. And often, I’ve found it reveals where I’m still coming up short….

I’ve always told people I have to write before I know what I think about things. But it’s more than that. I have to write because it shows me where my heart is and how much progress I’m making in the real categories that matter.

Today I helped a homeless man. At least, that’s what he told me he was. Experience said not to believe his story about needing gas. But how many times have I been asked and not helped? This time, here he was, obviously in need, whether or not his story was genuine.

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In writing I’ve been learning to value the quiet voice that speaks above the other voices of cynicism, of bitterness and impatience.

He came up as we stood in line to order. His name was Kevin. He had a $20 gift card he’d trade us for cash. I could verify it with the cashier. He just needed gas. We had no cash, but I asked him to wait and I ordered our food and asked him to follow me to the station so I could fill his car. He tried to give me the gift card, but I said I knew how it was to be down. He showed me his duffel in the trunk and said he was living in his car and had been staying in the Walmart parking lot.

He thanked me and as I pulled away, his got into his car, and put his face in his hands.

It’s below freezing tonight.

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It’s a wonder any of us survive this world. We have a house full of food but here we are at a restaurant after church. Can I ignore and not surrender to the truth that my heart would not survive the hypocrisy, the cancer that would eat me from the inside if I didn’t at least try to see, try to help, try to give just something? Even the least I can do?

It’s Christmastime, after all. And the need all around us is suffocating.

Advent is upon us, the time of waiting. No one wants to wait for anything in our world. Even the moment of silence following the prayer in church needs that purposeful description “moment silent of reflection” to be accepted. And still we get restless if it goes on too long.

God forgive me the times I fail to see because of rushing by so fast. Help me to give up more than an undisturbed lunch. I plead for my own sake, but let me plead, too, for the least of these.

How is it that in solitude, in writing, I’m learning to be grateful, to give thanks and be my full self, fully available and in the moment with others? It’s a paradox how this solitary pursuit brings patience, makes us better companions, more aware of others and their needs.

Isn’t this learning to be truly thankful the continual work of higher purpose writers? Writing is my way to maintain a thankful attitude. It undergirds and empowers the work, my faith and my life. And it does so through teaching me patience.

If you aren’t good at this yet, join the club I guess. I’m learning that no one who doesn’t practice daily can be good at thanksgiving. Maybe like musicians, the key to pretty much everything is learning to slow down. And aren’t all things worth doing difficult before they become easy?

It sounds true what someone said, that patience tastes bitter, but its fruit is always far sweeter because of it.roadnottaken

 

I already know there’s virtually nothing in this whole green earth that can’t be made greater through delaying your possession of it. But it’s head knowledge. I know it isn’t the object of our desire that’s made better but us and our perception of the thing.

I know nothing worth having comes without cost, and it always costs work, patience and sacrifice. Money can’t buy these things; they only come through patient work.

I know Ben Franklin said that “he who can have patience can have what he will.” He knew too—patience is the key to everything.

But it’s in practicing it–in solitude maybe first, and then in helping others–that we truly come to know it.

Maybe what we can’t see yet with eternal eyes, what we have yet to accept about our lives, our selves, our situation, our gifts, our place, our relationships, our possessions, our failures and weaknesses–all these things in unison–we simply need to understand that just because we can’t see what’s really there doesn’t mean a thing. We’re all blind to what’s good and true in life. If we can’t accept the things we have are good, maybe we can at least accept that it’s because we simply can’t see that they are.

There’s something good in everything we tend to label “bad,” “wrong,” “failure,” “empty,” “useless,” “evil,” “broken,” “ugly.” W have weak eyes. We can’t see because we’ve never exercised our eyes. And maybe if we asked to see and waited patiently for opportunities to help others, it would eventually be revealed.

Maybe we could redeem the time and create beauty by trusting that waiting will magnify and define what’s truly good and beautiful.

In that way, maybe only patience can create our new eyes…

I believe God will work if we let him have all we consider unredeemed. And I already believe there are some things no other force in existence can resolve but patience.

But today, I hope I came one step closer to putting that faith into action. I’m tired of knowing things and doing nothing. Maybe writing is helping me finally learn I also have to live what I believe.

I don’t know what will happen to you tonight, Kevin, my new homeless friend. I wish I could have helped more. I hope you find that shelter. I pray you get that new job you mentioned. I hope you can know how much your future depends on holding onto that faint flicker of hope you have.

God make you truly grateful and keep you in his love.

 

For his best in your life, in your work, and for his highest purpose for you,

Mick

“We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.”

– Helen Keller

Helping Someone Else Love It Too

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

– Donald Miller

I used to love Don Miller.

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I’ve had many writing heroes: Hemingway. Anne Frank. Alex Haley. But after Blue Like Jazz, I felt like Don really got me. He’d written what I was trying to say.

But then somewhere along the way he changed and became what I probably shouldn’t call “MikeHyatted,” and his self-deprecating authenticity started to feel a bit canned and…commodified.

Forgive me. I got tired of feeling sold to.

But then a writer and pastor in LA I really admire named Dave Brisbin, he posts this quote from Don. “Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.”

And I’m right back there with him, resonating like a struck bell.

I’m ringing with the very proof of his statement there. The fact that sometimes you have to watch somebody love something (like this very fact!) before you can love it yourself, that’s what writers like Don do and my friend Dave, and all my writer friends, including this young mom I know named Jenelle, they remind me to love this thing called writing because it’s prayer and it’s abiding and it’s getting away to be alone with my Inspirer, the anchor of my life. And when they just speak to life their invisible thoughts and feelings, their insights birth something for my journey. I see them loving it and suddenly I want to do it.

We talk about this a lot around here. My “Higher Writers Group” isn’t getting higher for their own kicks and giggles. Well, not merely for that. They’re digging deeper and aiming higher because of what it births in someone else, in the larger group and in the world.

And Don shows me the way to do it by writing it and speaking the truth–as you do when you share yourself. And if you knew how often I feel I can’t remember the love for this writing thing or for speaking my truth, how often I forget its true value, how I can’t do this all the time without seeing someone else love it, maybe you’d feel empowered to know I need this as much or more than you do. And quite often, actually.

That’s hard for me to accept sometimes. I want to be self-sufficient. I don’t want to be prone to the same little distractions and fears and stupid old anxieties a younger man obsessed over. But I am. And now I’m supposed to be this committed writer and a coach of writers, but I still forget the joy and the thrill of it at times–and to remember, maybe I need struggling writers like Don and like you to help me see the beauty again.

I need. There. I can say it. I need…

…to get back to my center. Yes, again. And again and again. And I will never stop needing this. And that’s okay. Because that’s how it is.

Oh, I want to remember that. I want to fight for it. And know it’s necessary and vital.

So Jenelle, this is for you. Dave, this is for you. And Don, I get it. This is for you too.

Higher writers, this is for all of us. Keep going and resounding and repeating because this is how it is but we don’t have to forget if we’ll speak our need and remind others how to love this too by showing them our struggle.

It’s worth it.

For the higher purpose,

Mick