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When Taking the Next Step


This week, I've been looking for a new used car. Nothing too fancy. On top of slaving to finish the basement before the darkness of winter saps my energy, my wife has helped me realize that I need new wheels. Now that I'm driving Ellie to school, my 1990 Honda Civic wagon, beauty that she is, doesn't cut it. No airbags, no all-wheel drive, no traction control, no anti-lock brakes. I told her there's no remote start or heated seats either, but she didn't seem to mind that so much. Or the fact that I've been driving it to work all these years.

Now adding value to a house, increasing features, upgrading a car, I'm acutely aware how all this comes with a price. And there are lessons here for a spiritual writer. I can relate these things to the depth and "value" I'm striving to infuse into my life and writing.

Generally, simpler is better. Ask me how much trouble the Honda or the unfinished basement has been. None. But like with God and in writing, when it's time to develop beyond where you were, there are costs. And I think I'm getting a better sense of what those costs really look like. I believe learning to write well is like learning a musical instrument. It's also like learning to hear and follow God's leading. What we're really talking about in all these things is deepening relationship. Learning to hear. And respond. I read a great little article by a car enthusiast (which I am not, yet) that said, in essence, "You can't really love a simple car." I know what he means. Once you realize you're in a limited relationship, you have to develop it. Or sell it.

I know that once I'm finished with my basement (and my novel, for that matter) I'll appreciate it in a whole new way. So what I've had to do is evaluate the costs. We're not going crazy. Just the next step. Still, the personal costs involved in these investments are extensive.

  • Time– For relationships. For other involvements. A strained schedule.
  • Money– Reduced income from time spent on this. Reduced future income for neglecting that potential current income. Increased expenses.
  • Effort– Inevitable challenges. Need for increased awareness of those. Decreased mental space/sanity. Decreased productivity in other areas. Increased frustration.
  • Stasis– Need to find a new "normal." Find balance. Rediscover new perspective. New priorities.
  • Reach– Impact to reputation. Decreased ability to pursue other goals/relationships.

That's just off the top of my head, but this short list of costs shows something to me. It shows that at least on paper, the investment may not be in my best interest. Depending on the specifics, pushing for progress in any relationship–whether human or machine, living space or written word–can be perilous, as advancing into any new territory. Yet not deepening my relationship with these things, while safer, is not better. Considering the featureless Honda, it's not even safer. Come to think of it, none of these things really would be "safer" without development. They'd be simply lesser. Underperforming. Incomplete.

I know. Evaluating like this is something of a luxury–it seems I do it less and less (probably another area to develop a deeper relationship with). I don't see many Twitterers or Facebookers or even bloggers doing it much; Google brain damage is our unstoppable epidemic, after all. We have to fight to think, force quit all the applications we're running, and reboot to process where we're really headed. Otherwise we'll keep clicking the mouse, like mice clicking that loaded trap, and wind up tail up, out of time. Time is all we have. What relationships are we spending it on?

But the other thing this list shows me is that all of these relationships are interconnected. They'll end up saying something about me (and not only in my Facebook pics). My ability to reach people and form more relationships is dependent on effectively evaluating the costs and choosing only the next step that's right in front of me with the relationships at hand. If I try to skip over a couple steps or form new relationships beyond my reach, I'll find the curse rather than the blessing. God, keep me from overextending my reach!

Anyway, I hope you find some of this useful in your thoughtful time. But more importantly, make sure you break away to think about the relationships you want to deepen over the next few months. Then look at each week and decide the costs you're willing to pay to get there. Are they reasonable? Can you pay them? And what are the real costs?

4 Responses to “When Taking the Next Step”

  1. Nicole says:

    I find it challenging when I realize that expansion often includes pruning. The balance you spoke of keeps shifting like tectonic plates because of your profession. You have to be “on” so much of the time outside of your most important relationships. There are most likely things you’d like to prune or eliminate but requirements just won’t allow them.
    As always, Mick, submit them to the Lord with that “throw the hands up in a ‘I can’t do this’ format”, and he’ll show you the way. What else can we do sometimes?
    You’re an investor in people. I’m one who is thankful for that. Yeah, it costs.

  2. Miss Audrey says:

    Hi Mick. This was interesting. I can see my own life and the time constraints and the costs that I have had to weigh. I feel like I am slipping behind on the technological highway, but refuse to invest in things I know that I’m not willing to take the time to fully pursue. I have never Tweeted, nor am I active on Face Book. I created a MY SPACE account in which I rarely, if ever, visit, and that’s about it. I have a blog that sits dormant for weeks and sometimes months at a time. And my current WIP. I eek out paragraphs at a time with a will to complete the work, against all odds… Or against all distractions and prior commitments! It’s good to be able to come here and to know that you haven’t written “Your Writer’s Group” out of your schedule or priorities! I’m grateful.

  3. Mick, Thanks for these thoughts. I’ve been struggling lately with balancing the actual writing that I love with all the other requirements of being a published writer, and feeling like I’ve failed somehow.
    But this puts it in perspective. I’ve kids and a husband and a home, all of which require my time. I’ve a church community and friends and extended family, who also need my time. I can’t spend every waking moment marketing my book (even if I wanted to, and I don’t) or even writing another one (though that sounds awfully nice).
    I’m going to think more about this idea of costs–what am I willing to pay? And if what I’m willing to pay isn’t enough to enable me to reach my goal, am I going to pony up more? Or let it go?

  4. now working on my second book, I can only say, YES to almost all you’ve written. I’ll only disagree at the point where you say this kind of evaluation is a luxury. It’s not a luxury… it’s a necessity. Otherwise, the well runs dry and writing becomes nothing more than noise.
    Richard Dahlstrom

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