Tag Archives: suffering

If You’ll Accept the Struggle

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

– Rumi

Writing is hard–for so many reasons. Is it worth the effort?

I get so many manuscripts from new writers asking me if it’s worth the effort to invest in. I used to try to convince them, but I don’t anymore. Instead, I turn the question around, the way I feel God has done in my life whenever I’ve asked him that question (and I’ve asked it a lot):

Can you accept the struggle?

We’ve all committed ourselves to things that haven’t ended up worth the effort. But it may be that just asking the question proves it could be worth the effort to commit and fight for–if only we’ll accept the struggle.

Maybe it’s always true–sometimes the results won’t be what you’d hoped, but the struggle will always produce positive benefits if you commit to embrace the struggle itself wholeheartedly.

And that’s a bit different than embracing the hope of a positive result, or some specific outcome. And it’s going to be difficult to do. Because a good embrace always involves being grateful.

Being grateful is open-handed, receptive, nonresistant. And only from that place can our art respond to what’s truly relevant about a subject, a theme, a story.

Why does it take such effort? Dang, I wish I knew! But my guess is exertion is just what life requires; effort is where life happens.

And I had it confirmed again recently: it’s struggle that creates the best fruit.

Did you know good grapes come from stressed vines? I learned this from a winemaker. Stressed vines give good fruit, and if the vines have too much water and not enough heat, they won’t produce fruit. They don’t have to struggle to hold on to their water, which makes them not work on creating fruit. Why? Because life requires exertion, I guess.

When he said it, I thought of how baby chicks have to struggle to peck out of their egg or they’ll be prone to “failure-to-thrive” syndrome. How many natural examples of this required exertion are there? Thousands? Millions?

It was just more support for the theory I’ve been slowly coming to: if you want to move forward in your writing, you’ve got to challenge yourself to be grateful for the struggle itself. Maybe that means we’ve got to think more intentionally about the purpose of struggle, and the benefits it brings to our life. And maybe that will convince us instead of trying to defeat it, resist it, run from it, or ignore it, we need to seek out deeper appreciation for it as an essential tool–and a gift.

Instead of defaulting to complaining and looking at the pain of struggle, maybe we can look further. We know pain lies to our brains and says fighting isn’t worth suffering. But there’s so much that is worth suffering for. More than avoiding pain, there’s experiencing joy.

You can’t avoid pain anyway. Life will bring it no matter what. You can’t choose not to experience it–might as well make it good for something and choose to be grateful for the struggle.

And the benefit for making that effort will be good fruit.

Maybe anything less is a waste of time.

I think my earlier mistake was thinking this effort had to be so serious and heavy. It felt hard and not widely appreciated, so I’d push and try to force myself to invite pain through willpower. But in fact, not letting the struggle steal your sense of fun seems much of the point.

Maybe joyless effort was inevitable for me, part of my journey. But I’ve found when you do find gratitude for the hard things you’re up against, you’ll be in the right frame of mind to preserve joy. You’ll see that opposition and resistance isn’t hateful—it doesn’t care. And you taking personal offense as though you’re too special to have to experience this pain, that’s you caring way too much. So you can help yourself out and stop wasting your energy. 

Let yourself off the hook for misunderstanding and taking offense. It’s the most natural thing in the world to resist and get angry. But you can break that habit with a little effort. Yes, you can.

Ask me how I know.

And you’ll be released from having to fight so hard. You can understand that your natural response is unhelpful and unneeded. Don’t curse your nature—just let it go. It can have its uses, just not here.

Struggle, pain, and suffering are inevitable. Don’t be afraid. And don’t waste them.  

“The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.”
Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

For the higher purpose,

Mick

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.

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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.

Silence.

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“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?”

Writer’s Shortcut: The One Question that Ensures Success

In writing your story, you’ll come across so many distractions online, from self-publishing blogs to highly-rated writing courses, and 2-for-1 “essential” ebooks for writing with passion. But forget all that. All you need is what’s already inside you: that true passion you feel for your story. Passion is simply your greatest essential for starting a fire in someone else.

One of Sheri’s and my favorite stand-up comedians, Brian Regan has a bit where he jokes about an airline company that lost his luggage. When he went to the lost baggage counter, the employee says, “Don’t worry,” and reaches beneath the desk to pull out a little plastic case that reads “Essentials Kit.”

“Oh,” he says sarcastically. “So these are the essentials! I overpacked.”

Many writers I meet seem to have this similar dazed and confused look when they arrive at our appointment. I know they’re thinking, Did I bring everything I needed? 

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Just once I’d like to say, “So, did you bring your qualifications for speaking with me today?” Of course I would never do it!

You have to be careful teasing writers. We’re fragile as it is. Most of us just want to know if we’re doing it right.

And usually, we overpack.

What I really want is to hand them the Essentials Kit. Then they wouldn’t need to bother with all the how-tos and writing instruction and conferences and blogs. Whittling this writing thing down to the bare bones, the bottom-line basics, has been my quest ever since I struck out on my own. And now, one of the very few items in my kit is this question, the one I start an interview with:

“What’s your passion?”

Who doesn’t love talking about their passion? And reading about people’s passions can be just as fun. Take a subject you couldn’t care less about and if someone shares their passion for it, it can be endlessly fascinating.

Why?

Strangely, we’re attracted to what others are willing to suffer for.

I’m really asking, What are you willing to suffer for?

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Something in us knows that whatever we do, whether we pursue love or money or the 7th sword of Grindol or whatever, it’s going to require some suffering. Even if it’s only getting to sit at home and watch sports all day, we know this dream of ours is going to take some doing to make that happen.

As a counseling couple I love says, in life you choose your pain. It’s suffering either way.

So if we know this, how do we employ it?

Passion. It comes from the Latin verb patī meaning “to suffer.”

I can talk a good game, but for me, suffering is right up there with sales meetings. I know it teaches me, and God uses it and can redeem it. But only a fool wouldn’t take an easier way if it was offered. Right?

What makes someone choose the harder way? That’s the question.

And every reader is looking for one thing: Was it worth it? Did you get out of it what I want and need?

Writing and rewriting is signing up to suffer. People lose more than their luggage. They lose their shirts, their health, their sanity. Who wouldn’t want a shortcut?

If you want to succeed, you’ve got to find the one secret: you’ve got to be so passionate about what you’re sharing that you know it’s going to change readers’ lives.

I’ve been privileged to work with a few of these rare authors, and I’m always amazed at how light they travel. They’ve figured out the secret. Their “Essentials Kit” is tiny because they’ve reduced and refined to this one thing.

What it’s really all about.

one thing
“What’s the one thing? Your finger?”

If you’re writing, learn this and you can save yourself much headache trying to pack in all the tools and tips and writing courses: continually reconnect with your passion at the core of your story. Remember all the love and excitement and drama you naturally feel for it, and the words that come out of you will convince me.

I’ll tell you what I’d say if I was sitting across from you, what I’m often reminding myself: Don’t worry, release all fear. This is your God-given gift for strong feeling. Use it. This suffering you endure is for your noblest cause. Turn up the passion.

That’s your freedom. You have complete permission now and forever to fan those flames, and never look back.

For when you do, you’ll be proving why our stories are worth suffering for.

Taking for Granted vs. Taking with Gratitude

It’s a familiar story. But it still has the power to change your thinking.

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room.

One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs.

His bed was next to the room’s only window.

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The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back.

The men talked for hours on end.

They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation.

Every afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window.

The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside.

The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake.Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.

As the man by the window described all this in exquisite details, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine this picturesque scene.

One warm afternoon, the man by the window described a parade passing by.

Although the other man could not hear the band -he could see it in his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.

Days, weeks and months passed.One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep.

She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.

As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window.The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.

Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window besides the bed.

It faced a blank wall.

The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this
window.

The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall.

She said, “Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.”

There is tremendous happiness in making others happy beyond our own situations. Shared grief is half the sorrow, and happiness when shared, is doubled. If you want to feel rich, just count all the things you have that money can’t buy.

As Master Oogway said, “Today is a gift, that is why it is called the present .”

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“When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

~Gilbert K. Chesterton