Tag Archives: spirituality

How Honest Is Too Honest?

Being real isn’t easy. It isn’t commonly practiced. It isn’t valued.

Yet some folks have the idea that it’s becoming too common and we need to be careful about being transparent. They don’t agree we should promote more honesty and openness.wreath

Make no mistake, there is a battlefield over vulnerability.

“…but once you are real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” – Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

So what are the real folks supposed to do? Hide themselves? Restrict how honest they are for the sake of those who don’t understand?

This is a real question. Especially with the new online frontier where everything seems to be free for all and no one seems to hold back in their critiques. It isn’t safe to be your true self anymore.

swing

Jonathan Merritt at Religion News Source says, “Vulnerability has almost become a Christian virtue, and they often desire to create ‘viral’ content to get noticed and increase their platform.

Certainly, people do this, even Christians. But is it following Christ? The commission was not, “Come, follow me, and I will get you noticed and make you well-respected.”

Not that that stops many Christians from believing it.

Some will be authentic within reason. They’ll only get personal up to a point, yet talk about Jesus very openly.

Others will set a looser boundary on personal honesty, but never even mention Jesus’ name. They’ll be blasted for not taking a stronger stand for Christ. But others will love them for being “so real.”

There are many points between these 2 extremes, but Christians seem to identify more with one or the other. So who is right? How honest should we be?

Sure some make a platform of their faith. And the Christian market loves it. Yet others merely strive to live by the principles Jesus did—humility, honesty and putting others first. Is one better than the other? Both are callings. Aren’t both equally valid? We all must decide our path and let others decide theirs.

sparrow

One blogger recently shared about her experience telling a police officer about her grandfather molesting her when she was young. She says, “I called my sister, Aimee, and put her on speakerphone. We were all crying. Aimee, I said, He’s writing it down. He wrote it down. We said, This happened to us, and he listened. He WROTE IT DOWN. I cannot begin to tell you how powerful that was.

When we express our truth and someone listens to it and affirms it, we are liberated. How honest is too honest? Maybe the question is, How much truth are you willing to live?

Will the haters kill you? Do you fear the scorn of the critics more than God? Sure, there are bad people out there who want to steal and hurt and take the love, joy and peace you’ve found. Will you let them by silencing you?

It’s always easier to walk away. When something’s difficult, it will always be easier to get up and go see what there is to eat in the kitchen. While waiting for inspiration or courage, we need grace for ourselves and our ordinary fears.

But eventually, it’s clear what we have to do, isn’t it? The process of honesty is the most important part. To practice patience and to wait for all that won’t come easily, this is the work. Especially when it causes pain. It will always be easier to bury it. Everyone knows this. It’s easier not to feel it but that’s what the world does. They numb it and stuff it down.

Well, maybe being a Christ-follower means being different. Maybe we had no choice to get wounded, but we have a choice now how to respond. And maybe we have no choice but to live through what he allows, but by his grace we have a choice now and this is it.

And I, for one, will respond.

blinds

So what if some people use their stories to try to get famous? Can we do what’s not easy and use our vulnerable truth to help others?

Practicing discernment is critical. But shouldn’t we always aim for complete honesty in what we share? Not that we disregard restraint and decorum. We must wait and take enough time to heal before publishing, or we’ll face more trouble.

Unresolved pain makes us think and do many bad things. Such unexpressed and unhealed pain created this dangerous world we live in. And our pain-shattered world will flame you in their unresolved pain. The words may hurt.

But will it make you live afraid to bare your true, honest soul?

Who will listen before they speak? Who will preserve dignity and yet risk vulnerability to share their intimate selves? Who will work through the initial blindness strong emotion always causes, to get free of the impulse to spew unconsidered exposure? Common emotion, anger and anxiety, leads to oversharing, but when the truth is finally expressed, it will be seen for what it is: immortal, eternal, indestructible.

There are but a handful of critics. But there are entire nations who need your raw, unfiltered honesty.

Why shouldn’t we accept that that naked truth must be fought for to be expressed?

It’s true: the most personal stories are the most universal. As writers we must realize, our silence means someone else may not fully live.

And what if that someone is first yourself?

Here’s the truth: writing for any reason other than to share who you really are is worthless. And who you are is a worthless mess except for love. I’m only able to see because of the love I’ve been shown. Life’s pains have prepared us to bear the burden of sharing our truth.

So share it. None of us is deserving of love, so embrace the rebukes and disrespect with humility. You have everything you need; you are completely provided for. Oh, you’re not deserving. But you’re worthy. Because He has said so.

Believe it. And choose to do the harder thing.

Derision or accolades change nothing. I am who God says I am: loved.

And that’s all the honest truth I need.

Mick

Choosing to Magnify the Light

It’s true now as it’s been true so often before.

I have to back up. I’m trying too hard.

How do I let go, not try so hard? Do I have to give up? Walk away?

Maybe come back later when I’m not so focused on the result and can remember to enjoy the process. I can get so results-oriented, so myopic. Progress is all I want.

As if writing or any art was ever all about the end product.

I get up and head to the kitchen for more coffee. It’s difficult to create good work. Refinement doesn’t just happen. Hard work is required to get out what you imagine. And yet, letting go and not trying so hard is ironically the only way to allow yourself to be surprised by inspiration. Our desire for art, for life, for love must be strong. We must choose for it over all else we could be doing. But it can’t be forced.

tadpoles“Do you really know freedom is this way?” I asked a client last week.

Her humble admission that she didn’t really know, it reminded me how I didn’t believe I could write the most difficult chapter in my book. Well, maybe it wasn’t the most difficult, but it’s definitely the one that gave me the most trouble. I wrote it acting on faith. I didn’t really believe I’d get it out, or that it was really a path to freedom.

But expressing that and facing the fear, the truth I’ve kept hidden inside, I didn’t realize it was hidden all this time. It came from a dark place, a wound I’ve carried and likely inflicted on others for years—it felt so good to get it out. I’d carried it, afraid of never getting it out, and now it’s gone. It’s been said. Maybe not perfectly, and maybe it won’t be understood by everyone. But it’s out there now, and no one can take that away.

It’s not ready to be shared, but I’ve got time. And I’m motivated now because I feel free now that it’s out. I had to work hard to commit to going there and saying it. But I also had to let go and not force it. There was something in being willing to go into the dark cave simply trusting it could be a tunnel. But not trying to make it happen.

I’m still thinking about this as I head back to my office with my refill. I tend to believe I can control a lot. But actually, I control very little. And sometimes, the only thing I think I do control is how I see the work–either as drudgery toward a goal or as a beautiful, developing process.

chair3

Am I being trained in how to see?

This world often feels much too big to do much about. And I’m so small–what could it possibly matter if I share my pain in words or not? When life’s pain feels big, bigger than us, bigger even than God and the whole world, I can feel hopeless and want to crash through buildings and make something change. Other times I decide to hide.

Can I learn to see that the only things I control are my responses? Can I be the master of my emotional universe, knowing I’m weak and unworthy of love and yet still in possession of God’s infinite protection and guidance?

Either both are true or neither is true. And without His rebalancing love, I tend to become either like the entitled older brother or the worthless younger one.

The key for both of them is compassion, but in their blindness, both believe it’s up to them. Pain and fear steal my senses and make me think it’s foolish to believe God could help/save/fix/love/meet/heal/train/know/use me through this calling of writing.

It’s this sucking hole inside, the one I know so well and spurs me on–and sure, God will use it because he takes what he can get, but I can’t expect this to be my deeper motivation. My healing is not his highest purpose. But he knows I need it if I’m ever going to get to what he’s really after. As often as I realize again what that is, I just as often forget it. The demand for love is insatiable.

If only I could remember what’s beyond my own gnawing need…

Ah, but I can! I have seen over the wall of my pain. I’ve seen what’s over there toward the light. And it’s (so far) unspeakably beautiful. Even though I didn’t quite believe it was there this last time I set out to write, I wrote my way out of the cave and I stayed and listened and forgot to try to control it. And that’s when I found freedom.

Maybe the simple fact is that in the darkness, we must choose to magnify the light in order to see.

Maybe all we can do, our only job, is to decide to believe. Maybe our eyes can’t easily see the light that God has been slowly revealing all along our path until we learn to magnify it. That is, to delight in his perfect control.

If pain has made us afraid and blind in our caves, maybe we simply have to be willing to let go and choose to magnify the light we have.

Bravery begets bravery. Maybe we just have to let God lead, to show up and let him try to reach us beyond our own blinding needs. When I let go of trying to fix myself, then I’m filled by him and I see others’ needs more clearly and even how he might want to fill them.

Is this why the only way out of a controlling dark life is faith, is the only way we are enabled to choose other than what our deficits demand?

This answer, even if only a partial one and still open to interpretation and full of mystery and ambiguity, it feels like just enough to remind me next time I forget and need encouragement. What matters is that I go into the dark, invite him, and choose to magnify the light.

That I can choose today. Because that is the choice I have been given.

-M

 

How to Edit Out FEAR–for Good

It’s still early.

That’s true. A true sentence.

scary bridge
Don’t look down.

Regardless of how little there is left of the day, it’s still early. There’s time yet to write the daily clutch of words.

Despite the fact that my brain is doing its usual whirring with all the things to get done, the manuscripts needing edits, consult calls to make, talks and articles to write, courses to plan, a boulder to shoulder up the hill…

I know the fear is out there. And it’s strong. It’s still strangling so many great works, the words of writers yet to be written. How can I not fight to destroy this most fundamental of barriers?

This post is my Great Rebellion.

I’ve been meaning to write it for weeks, this culmination of thought I’ve listened to and spoken to myself for longer than I can remember…

I believe, despite everything else that’s pressing, there’s nothing else I’m supposed to do but this.

So with that reassurance, I’m ready to face the question:

How do we edit out fear for good?

fear quote
Roosevelt said that. I think.

1. Just write one true sentence.

Fr. Ernie had one unbeatable word of advice for himself I’ve begun repeating often:

Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

If writing is the only way for you to be truly happy, what choice do I have but to stop procrastinating and write that one true sentence?

To write the one thing I’ve been waiting so long to speak, how good would that feel? To forget all the many excellent reasons I shouldn’t? To finally deny ALL the distractions and do what I was put here to do today, as I draw this breath into my statistically impossible existence from this terrifyingly perfect blue-green spheball?

I’ve got to stop overthinking it. Just start with what I know.

2. Do Input/Output Every Day

There’s a depressing truth I’ve learned: no one, I repeat, NO ONE is born a writer but reading has made them that way. Just starting out or years into it, writing well takes reading–to find good INPUT, to make good OUTPUT. So I’m resigned that the writer I want to be is not much more than a good scavenger. When I’ve processed enough garbage, I’ll know what makes good material, and what doesn’t.

And by reading, I’ll learn to respond by doing it every day.

Fiction. News. Poems. Memoirs. Then I write and let it be what it is. My job is only to use what I have to its fullest today.

And then tomorrow, I’ll find more manna. I have to let go of any other expectation.

When I get afraid, I’m usually thinking my writing won’t be good enough. But writing isn’t about getting fancy. It’s about writing.

And you can quote me on that.

cowardly lion
Mmmm….rrruff!

3.  Stop, Then Go

I’ve been writing long enough to know it often feels stupid. It starts to seem selfish. I’ll start hearing voices. My limbs will develop phantom pains and I’ll need to, absolutely need to google “misplaced attention.”

I’m getting used to it. This is my tricky brain acting up. It’s perfectly normal. At least for writers it is. So first I have to…

Stop. Sit still and listen. Yes, I’m talking about “mindfulness,” but it’s really just cultivating awareness of the deeper reality behind reality. One Thousand Gifts is a perfect guide for this. When I slow down, I find humble gratitude and the inspiration and permission in the love God freely gives through Jesus and his endless reminders in my daily life.

And when I’m still and silent for a while, I get antsy. After I stop, it’s time to go. Pomodoros are a must to schedule focused work and breaks. But out and about, I carry a notebook and give myself permission to be the weirdo who pauses to capture fireflies.

Life is a series of trades and I’m trading everything else I could do for writing. That’s who I am. So I write to control my time and attention, or it will control me.

This stopping and going thing is based on my hunch that writing doesn’t come from a desire to express so much as from a desire to listen. To me, higher writing is prayer. It’s not asking for something so much as feeding and being fed by a relationship. It’s finding a thread of a thought that seems important to The Inspirer, and following it down the hole, across the bridge, and through the meadow.

When writing becomes no more than God-directed thought, then when I write I am praying without ceasing.

So every day I need to schedule time to practice writing the words down, time to shape them, and before that, time to read. And life happens in between that.

Stop, then go.

Yoda wisdom
The form may change. But wisdom always remains the same.

One true sentence. Input/output. Stop, then go.

These are the distilled lessons I’ve set for myself. Certainly there’s more to them than this. But these 3 keep me on the path, stepping forward, and away from the guardrails.

Remembering is how I overcome the fear. And reminding each other is our simple focus at Your Writers Group. It’s a thrilling surprise that with their continual encouragement and support, I’m facing my fears a little easier every day.

Regardless of how long it’s taken me to get here, I believe it’s still early.

[Getting excited to expand on these basics for storywriters in the 30-day YWG Story Course coming up in 2 weeks! Check the event page for details.]

What helps you face your fears as a writer? Would love to hear your secret…

Distraction

Distraction –

The day has just started and I haave 24 new emails.

I don’t have time to fix that typo…

The Wikipedia entry for distraction is here.  It's basically "divided attention."

File:Veddah_girl"

Here are 2 pics from that page. 

I fought to read today’s entry in Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. (I at least know this much, that if I don’t establish the “rule” of connecting with God first thing, my freedom from anxiety in this fight will be forfeit all day.)

I do have to engage the battle. But I don’t have to do it alone.

In Quiet, Susan Cain uses the example of Seth Klarman, one of the great investors of our time, who said he’s "a big fan of fear and, in investing, it’s clearly better to be scared than sorry." Klarman is a world-class worrier, according to the NYT, and he owns a racehorse called “Read the Footnotes.” During the stock market crash, he stuck to his guns and bought when everyone else was panicking. His style is an example of the value of waiting quietly when the world seems to be telling you to rush ahead.

There's another great book called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp about learning to stop and write the simple gifts right in front of you. This little book has been my antidote to distraction for 4 years now, like C.S. Lewis, convincing me to slow down and go deeper, but also showing me how to take tangible, practical, daily steps toward the better stuff of life, in the midst of anxiety and chaos.  

Fear and anxiety can make us feel ill-equipped by nature, by God. But according to Cain in Quiet, not rushing ahead in the face of strong potential rewards, i.e. maintaining a strong respect for risk and uncertainty, is a powerful, maybe the most powerful predictor of success.

I should check those emails…oh, 2 text messages now…

We need not see distractions as all bad. In fact, in our morning pages today, Sheri and I decided to try an experiment to hold one thing we wanted insight on today. Mine was "distraction."

My hunch is this experiment might help me avoid getting bent out of shape by life’s (and wife’s) interruptions. 

File:Office_Worker_with_Two_Monitors

Some folks do so many things at once that they have to use two screens.

I don't know when it started or why I forget this so often, but I frequently try to hold too much.

Is it any wonder I get frustrated when a practical matter like kids' violin practice or dinner is more pressing?

And though I’m deeply in love with my wife, when I’m hot on the trail of some flash of lacking insight I think God's offering me, I could even turn down a kiss from the love of my life.

I’m happily married, thank God. But yes, this has actually happened.

Obviously not a happy marriage thanks to me.

It’s only with help from some much more level heads–my wife's, parents', friends', even kids'–that I’ve managed to organize my manic mind into some still-very-loose structure (I'd bust out of anything more restrictive).

Work is calling…people waiting…I really should go do something…

Shhh…it's okay. Even so, it isn’t as though my “Noodlings” file isn’t full to overflowing with the brain batter that flings every which way when I’m hot on the trail of a flash of lacking insight (let’s just go ahead and shorten this cumbersome phrase to “HotToFoLI” to save time–which also conjures “hot to trot,” “hot to fly,” as in, my desire to escape this mortal coil and join the spirit in the sky, and “hot to follow” white rabbits of curiosity…also it rhymes with Hot Tamales which are the bomb even if they're no match for Atomic Fireballs. And yes, all of this is applicable.)

But most of all, HotToFoLI is folly. Of the highest order.

It will ruin me. In fact, it has threatened to many times.

There’s nothing wrong with excitement and passion. But when it isn’t kept in check, it can do unspeakable damage. If this needles you in any way, you probably have some apologies to make like I do (and don’t get distracted from the point, but remember to actually follow through with that conviction when we’re done here–it could be very rewarding).

Not only can our excitement overwhelm some of the great wonders of the universe—people we love, and especially sensitive people we’re probably married to, parent, and call friends—we can so dominate them that we drive them away. You know of what I speak.

Trust me, you don’t want distraction to ruin your life. Learn my lesson and learn to submit. As Chambers says, “Obedience is the natural life of a child.” Stop trying to be an "adult." Accept your limitations.

You are not a superhero and you can't catch all the opportunities raining from the sky.

Listen: you don't have to catch it all. You can not catch them all.

So calm down, Junior Executive. Calm down, Missionary Jane. Relax, Hot-to-Trot Author.

Don’t let the endless shadow missions distract you from your true work—this primary job you were given to be right where you are today, swaddled by your Dad…your flailing appendages tight in his straightjacket of love…

m

Crossing Over: Who Is Your Audience?

In the closing month of 2008, Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion released these findings:

  • 20% of Americans said they have “heard God’s voice”
  • 55% feel they are protected by a guardian angel
  • 23% say they have witnessed a miraculous physical healing


In a similar survey in 2005, 67% of Americans were convinced heaven exists. Dick Staub made an interesting related commentary recently about all these spiritual seekers (estimates say it’s commonly around 82% of Americans) who perpetually come up empty in their spiritual search. This is not a new audience.



 


But the “spiritually interested” audience is this group. Among their primary interests are a spiritual reality that isn’t immediately apparent to the five senses. They are not necessarily looking for doctrine, Bible studies, or tips on successful living. They are not even necessarily looking for verifiable proof, tangible evidence, or practical application of this spiritual reality. Their interest is more elemental—tracking closely with universal human curiosity. To wit, the spiritually interested are:


  • Open to new ideas and possibilities
  • Eager to consider new ways of looking at life and reality and the universe
  • Concerned about issues such as personal freedom, self-realization, destiny, fulfillment
  • Not geared to motivators such as paranoia, shame, legalism, and fear. In contrast to many evangelicals, these motivators are off-putting to the spiritually interested.
  • If God exists, they want to know that he/she/it loves them  
  • Tuned into invisible reality, which includes spiritual reality, parallel reality, mystical reality, supernatural phenomena, mystery, spiritual power, intersections between the physical realm and the spiritual realm, and direct experience of these things
  • Tuned into spiritual power, especially as it helps them live everyday life and achieve their goals/desires/aspirations
  • Interested in exerting control over external circumstances through spiritual means
  • Driven by direct experience over theory, logic, or arguments
  • Open to new possibilities, not bound to dogma, religious systems, schools of thought or worldviews.


This “cafeteria-style” approach to belief, religion, and spirituality is exhibited in the self-improvement fields, which lends itself very nicely to current CBA and ABA nonfiction focused on self-help and a humanistic worldview. In fiction, this is harder to quantify, but redemptive stories that illuminate a benevolent, engaged, and beneficial spiritual reality are aiming at this broad audience. But in fiction and in nonfiction, this audience is interested in information that illuminates:

  • Natural laws of the universe and how one can live in harmony with it
  • Special wisdom and/or knowledge about those laws, power within them, and often control over them for personal gain and making sense of chaotic life
  • The future and what lies ahead
  • The other side, heaven, the afterlife, angels, the parallel spiritual realm, non-corporeal experience


In general, the types, genres and categories for these books is broad. They can be fiction or non, straight-forward or deceptive, traditional or quirky, literary or crassly commercial. They may have direct discussion of spiritual reality or opt for organic discussion of spiritual reality woven in. They may speak of Christianity as a supernatural faith, of meeting God & the devil on Haight-Asbury, or finding Heaven in an oil-slicked parking lot. They may be tame or surprisingly wild, serious or funny, artless or crafted, emotional or intellectual, scientific or not. Most will engage with experimental elements that break assumptions and illuminate a supernatural theme (which can include everything from vampires to superheroes to commercial thrillers to literary magical realism).



 


Some comparative titles to this audience:


The Shack, William Young (Windblown Media)


Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, David Gregory (WaterBrook)


The Secret, Rhonda Byrne (Atria)


A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle (Plume)


The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle (New World Library).


90 Minutes in Heaven, Don Piper with Cecil Murphey (Revell/Baker)


The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs (S&S)


Walking the Bible, Bruce Feiler (Harper)


Journey of Desire, John Eldredge (Nelson)


The Faith Club, Idliby, Oliver, Warner (Free Press)


What Jesus Meant, Garry Willis (Viking)


The Traveler’s Gift, Andy Andrews (Nelson)


Closer Than Your Skin, Susan Hill (WaterBrook)



 


Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Francis Collins and Timothy Keller. This audience is not a new one. Obviously, this creates something of a “supercategory” that quickly becomes unwieldy. But for readers of this blog, I hope you see how it may include books that present an indirect gospel essence to those not yet convinced. Books of this nature don’t sound like a typical Evangelical Christian book, largely because they aren’t written by your typical Evangelical Christian. Yet these books can still be completely orthodox and in line with the biblical account while connecting with an audience most Christian books will never reach. This is why publishing to the “spiritually interested” is a significant growth area and we need to find out how best to position ourselves to intentionally and strategically target this market.



 


That is the million dollar question. If your book with spiritual themes can invite anybody in no matter what they believe, and put them on an equal footing, without teaching or preaching, that’s the first step. If you allow readers to draw their own conclusions, if you are comfortable asking “What if ….?,” and allownig your curiosity to guide you, you can write for this audience. If you acknowledge that there is still much to be discovered about the universe, the challenges of life, God, spiritual reality, etc., and you are someone who asks Why me? instead of feeling grand or entitled to your opinions, you have the voice. This makes you valueable to this type of reader. Because these readers are looking for authenticity, an author who knows enough to ask that question and not expect an answer is someone different than those the establishment likes to hype. Nine times out of 10, they’re more real. And readers want their books for that reason.



 


This is how you will open the door wide to the “emerging” readership.