Tag Archives: listening

When You’re Ready to Start Doing the Work

W  henever I head to the piano to capture what I hear, I have to be so careful. Any little misstep could easily crush it. Even if I play it almost perfectly, one wrong note in the melody or harmony can make it slip away.

lilacsA similar thing happens in the word work. The best times are when it comes more as something to preserve than to create. It isn’t easy to pin just the right words down, though thankfully it doesn’t seem quite as fragile. But I do have to pay attention not to write too quickly–or too slowly.

Yet most the time, the main difficulty is finding inspiration. The world seems full of yelling people doing important things. And it can increasingly seem there’s nothing for me to write about in the hubbub.

Conditioned, trained to respect action–to be productive and practice, I want desperately to act. I’m ambitious and I want to say something new, something good, something important.

Yet, as I read earlier, “…the one great need [is] not…the question whether we are of any use, but to face Him.” – Oswald Chambers

Isn’t this the one thing I need to do, to face the One who continually calls me here? And isn’t this the place I continually meet him? Can’t I relax knowing I’ll never lose or miss out if I forget striving for the right inspiration or to be productive and simply wait on God?

wisteriaI know this simpler answer is the right answer to my story. The main struggle every hero faces in the end isn’t primarily the villain, but himself. The external antagonist only prepares you to face the real internal battle.

I love that saying from Teddy Roosevelt: “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”

I can lose my writing focus so easily. Though I know I received the call and there’s nothing I must do but this job, it’s still a challenge. I often feel crushed by the pressure–to stand out, to write well, to say just the right thing just the right way. What matters is between me and Him, not expressing something profound or launching into the public space. My job is settling back and waiting, preparing, and stilling myself to be content with whatever the call means and accept this as the practice.

I do remember that the only people who shout about the sun rising tomorrow are those who don’t quite believe it themselves yet.

It’s a loud, self-important world of constant need and demands. In the ever-increasing rush, we don’t need more words. We need more people who will be quiet and faithful.

We need writers who will lead us back.

“Whenever a story is well told, the gospel is served.” –Eugene Peterson

front walkWe need writers who will help us escape the noisy voices crowding around, especially those who seem to love using their outside voices when in God’s house. We need listeners, those desperate to be reminded of God’s inside voice.

Can I just settle back in my chair, ready myself now? Not to create, but to preserve? To pre-serve the world around me, isn’t this the necessary preparation? In finding the right words to write, I know this practice comes first and foremost. If our entire culture seems to have lost its ability to sit still, then it’s all the more important that we take this time first to preserve that forgotten place, so we can invite others to do it too.

Maybe this is why it starts as a call. Because it will always first require listening.

And maybe this is the only way to living the work.

“Art consists of limitation….art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.” –Gilbert K. Chesterton

Is it time we drew the line?

For the higher purpose of your deliberately quiet, daily practice,

Mick

What My Daughters Have Taught Me about Writing

Working as a writer has much in common with learning good parenting: more than how to communicate, it really starts with learning to listen.

my kidsAlso, both teach by showing you a lot of what not to do.
It was several years ago now, but I still remember it as clearly as when I first discovered it.
And of course, I thought I had my story straight as I was walking up the stairs.
Speak the truth in love. Remember to balance understanding and firmness.

As I make my way up to the smaller bedroom, I consider what the best, measured words might be to help my daughters realize they haven’t stayed on task in the bedtime routine. I know it’s a common parent gripe, this nightly battle over getting the pajamas on. But I need to help them respect the fact that because they’ve been goofing around up here and not getting ready for bed, it means no fun game together before brushing teeth. I’ve already explained that, and now it’s happened.

If they prefer goofing off that’s fine, but I also know they’ll be disappointed. And the truth is, now I’m disappointed too. I don’t get to enjoy them as much as I’d like and it’s always fun to play Memory or the Face Game with them.

I’ve tried to empower them to use their brains and compel themselves forward to make the best decision.

DSC_0002But as a parent in training, I’ve screwed it up. I got distracted and didn’t provide my usual 5-minute warning. I walk in and tell them their time’s up. Sorry, they didn’t make it. And of course, they’re upset and the younger one starts to argue: I didn’t give them the warning. She’s right, but instead of realizing this is a reasonable expectation and admitting my own distraction, I fight back and stay firm, aware that I don’t have much more time before bed myself and I need to finish up a few things first.

And that’s the first place I failed.The next one comes when I forget that this whole situation is just more practice for all of us, and it’s a glorious opportunity to show them something they’ll learn from, enjoy, and hopefully even remember for a long time. I blow it by not listening to my girls–in this case, both my audience and my subject–and I reduce the conversation to simply speaking decisively to them so things can be done. I don’t even explain. And because they’re naturally quiet, they don’t argue much–the older is naturally submissive, so she doesn’t argue at all. And I oversee the changing of the clothes and the brushing of teeth and we say prayers and turn off the light.

DSC_0036

If you ever wonder why this parenting thing is so hard, this is exactly the reason: you simply won’t realize very often how stupid you’re being because you didn’t listen. You’d already decided what to do. And you’ll think you’ve got to be consistent. And firm. When really, you’re just proving why there are so few truly good parents in the world.

And you want to know the worst part? It totally doesn’t matter to them. In the morning, they’ve already forgiven you and you’ve lost no respect because they believed what you did was justified. You’re the adult. You get to disrespect them because they’re just kids. And that’s when you know you have to apologize before they drink up their juice and get out the door. Why did you have to be a power-tripping policeman instead of a dad willing to be gracious and kind to the two people who make his entire world spin?

DSC_0116It’s after the apology and their quick, undivided forgiveness, after breakfast is cleaned up and I’m back in my chair writing that I realize why they say writing is rewriting. It’s because it’s what it’s all about: learning from your mistakes.

So don’t let yourself get frustrated today, little writer. You didn’t quite get it right? It’s okay. You can get it right this time if you stop and listen. Don’t think you’ve already got it all figured. It’s really okay not to. And it’s also okay to need the support and encouragement. Raising a book as good as yours should probably take a bit of practice.

Today is just more practice. So give yourself the space to learn as you go. And don’t forget to listen. He speaks that all-important inspiration when you do.

For the higher purpose,

Mick