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Redemption Happens When We Are Called to Light, Not Just Away from Darkness

Rohr forWriters

Richard Rohr writes:

“Anything downright ‘good,’ anything that shakes you with its ‘trueness,’ and anything that sucks you into its beauty does not just educate you; it transforms you. True religion proceeds like the twelve-step program—‘by attraction and not promotion.’ Simone Weil sad it so well: ‘There is only one fault, only one: our inability to feed upon light.’” Immortal Diamond pg. 77

 

When the darkness touches our lives, we’ll only recover by finding the light. That’s the hardest thing about Christianity for me most days. We don’t heal or take any positive steps forward by retaliating. If anything, we make the pain go deeper and that much harder to heal.

When I’ve been wronged or I see injustice, I want to attack, demolish, and avenge. With an important caveat about speaking truth and protecting ourselves from toxic relationships or situations, I’ve only truly recovered from the manipulation, judgment, or anger of others by finding God’s deeper love for me and for others. I’ve found life and even a sense of triumph by letting go of the ways I’ve been wronged in order to forgive.

Writing out of a place of anger or out of my wounds only perpetuates the darkness until I can move toward the light of God’s presence and love.

And here is the great irony of writing. I find that I must write out of the places of my deepest wounds, pain, fear, and shame, but the goal isn’t to rage against them, to call out others, or to even justify myself. When I’m in a healthy place, I explore these dark places through my writing in order to shine light on them, to expose their darkness with the contrasting power of God’s light.

Several of my author friends have a rule that they won’t write about their darkest moments until they’ve had a little time to recover and gather perspective. While there’s certainly a place for writing through your thoughts in the midst of the darkness, there’s also a great deal of wisdom in waiting a little bit for the light to break through. The risks of writing for others in the darkness could be great.

I can say this for myself, and I suspect that it is true for many, but I won’t point fingers: I have never been more liable to spread the darkness than when I’m in the midst of it myself. It’s the adage, “Hurt people will hurt people.”

The hardest thing to realize after going through a number of toxic and damaging church experiences was that I too had become a toxic, damaging person. The havoc that hit my own life from divisive congregations and being treated like fuel for the programs of the church infected me, and I spread that pain to others. Darkness will only bring more darkness.

I had to be healed by God’s light before I could become a presence of healing and redemption.

The words we type into our blog posts and social media profiles have real power to spread more darkness or more light. What we pass on is what we’ve been “feeding on,” to use Simone Weil’s words.

If we have only been exposed to the darkness of anger, intimidation, rejection, bullying, and injustice among one group, we may carry that same darkness to a different group. You could be judged and attacked among conservative Christians, only to find the same vices when you migrate to the liberal Christians, or vice versa.

I care less and less these days about labels and camps. One pastor once said, “I care more about your tone than your theology.” The issue of tone-policing aside, there’s something to that. Have you been feeding on the light of God’s love and does that love make you caring, inclusive, and centered on drawing others to that love? Or have you fed on the darkness that accuses, attacks, and diminishes?

We all have met someone who feeds on light and who draws us in with the acceptance of love.

We all know that darkness and light can be equally attractive.

We may forget that darkness can also transform us.

I have spent a lot of time perpetuating the darkness by telling people to stop indulging in the darkness without feeding on the light myself. I have been most transformed when those who feed on the light invite me to join them. Despite my failures in feeding on the darkness, I have found the most potential for healing and redemptive transformation when I’ve been called toward the light.

May we all find the healing we need in the light of God’s presence in our lives.

 

When Commercial Christian Publishing Was Bad for My Soul

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Christian publishing was bad for my soul, but I need to begin with a few caveats.

Christian publishing isn’t “bad” in every way in and of itself.

Christian publishing isn’t necessarily bad for everyone’s soul.

Commercial publishing in general could be bad for anyone’s soul.

Christian publishing isn’t even necessarily bad for my soul right now. It could be bad for my soul, but I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two after a decade working my way into this subset of the publishing world. I should probably leave it at this:

Commercial Christian publishing was quite bad for my soul for a period of time. I also suspect that there are many Christian authors who would agree with this assessment at certain points in their careers.

Idealistic souls like myself enter into Christian publishing with two major problems:

  1. We don’t know how to recognize when our souls are in bad shape.
  2. We can’t imagine how Christian publishing could be bad for our souls.

The two points are related of course. If you aren’t expecting a dark side in the Christian publishing world and you can’t even determine how the dark side is impacting you in the first place, you’re most likely in for a major, major crash.

I want Christian publishers to thrive, and I want Christian authors to thrive. This isn’t about pointing fingers or telling people to avoid working with Christian publishers. On the contrary, I want healthy Christian authors to work with publishers in order to produce excellent books that will help their readers. Having commercially published a few books myself, people often ask me for advice about how to get involved in Christian publishing. I usually write something like this “off the record,” but I think it would really help if we could speak about these things openly. So here we go…

 

How Is It with Your Soul?

When I started working on my first book proposal in 2005, I didn’t know how to evaluate whether I was in a healthy or unhealthy place in relation to publishing. I felt a strong calling to write, and I had a book idea that, in my view, met an important need in the church. I graduated from seminary knowing that I shouldn’t pastor in a church, but I could pastor through my writing.

At the outset I didn’t see how I tied my personal identity with my work and, most importantly, the reception of readers and influencers to my work. I cared way, way, way too much about what people thought of my books because I linked my work with their acceptance or rejection of me.

It wasn’t the sales numbers necessarily that wore me down, although we’ll get to that. It was rather an expectation that my books were only good, and by connection myself, if certain influential people noticed them, shared them, endorsed them, etc.

In addition, I waited for the feedback of editors for book projects and unwittingly began to associate my value as a writer with my status at publishing houses. I began to only think of myself as a serious author if I had a contract at a major publishing house. My “calling” to write was handed over to a few busy people who rightly wanted no part in determining my self worth or the direction of my life.

When I didn’t reach the sales goals I needed to meet, my future as an “author” hung in the balance. I didn’t know how to survive without the approval of others for my work. Adding in the pressure to make at least some money from book publishing, I had created a toxic mixture of personal approval and financial pressure that poisoned my writing work.

There are some trends or tendencies in commercial Christian publishing that feed these toxic trends, but there’s no doubt that I brought the majority of the crazy to my personal situation. I could choose to either ground myself in God’s calling for myself and my faithfulness to that calling, or I could look to my inbox and social media for approval.

 

Christian Publishing Is a Business

It’s easy to sit back and take shots at publishers for their publishing decisions. Just the other day I was thinking: if I see another Christian dieting gimmick book, I’m going pitch a proposal called My Year of Eating Under the New Covenant where I eat nothing but pork and seafood for a year.

Nevertheless, for every “Patriot’s Bible” and faux self-help author that causes me to roll my eyes, there are excellent, grounded authors like Jennifer Dukes Lee, Ann Voskamp (no “prosetry” haters allowed, Ann’s the real deal), Nate Pyle, Preston Yancey, Emily Freeman, Michelle Derusha, Christie Purifoy, and D. L. Mayfield (just to name a few off the top of my head) breaking into Christian publishing, writing excellent books, and even dominating the bestseller lists as they offer the rest of us hope.

However, commercial publishing remains a business that demands immediate results, and diet books and Amish romances do provide guaranteed sales. Every author feels the pressure to meet sales targets knowing that their next books hinge on those sales numbers. It doesn’t matter if outside circumstances contributed to low sales numbers, a marketing person dropped the ball, or, in my case, the publicist got fired before the book’s release. If you can’t produce the numbers a publisher needs, you’re getting axed and publishing another book will be tough in the future.

Suddenly sticking a woman with a bonnet on your book’s cover to jumpstart sales starts looking attractive… Amish Coffeehouse Theology Romance anyone?

Most writers either in Christian publishing or hoping to enter Christian publishing need to know why certain books are chosen over others and how publishers hope to make money from the books they acquire.

For instance, the pastor with a congregation of 5,000 people and a huge social media following can pitch a book that says something like, “Following Jesus is a relationship and church is about the people, not the building,” or “Don’t gossip!” and it may get published because his platform is huge and can guarantee the sales a publisher needs. Just create a sermon series around the book’s release and presto! Book deal!

I can only imagine what some of the authors of our spiritual classics would hear if they were pitching their books today…

“Dear Mr. Bonhoeffer,

I’m afraid we’re going to have to pass on your book proposal about creating a healthy church community. It is clearly well-written and based on your experience leading an underground church movement, but your Twitter following just isn’t up to snuff and your congregation is unfortunately too small and, most concerning of all, UNDERGROUND…”

The relatively unknown authors who aren’t household names will need to blog like crazy, make connections on social media, gather endorsements from influential people, and develop amazing book concepts that are unique and original while somehow landing within the interests and guidelines of a publisher.

That may not be true across the board for every book proposal, but so far as I can see, that is simply the reality for many. And mind you, if you create a really compelling book that a publisher takes a chance on, you really, really need to at least earn back your advance if you want to publish more books commercially. My struggle to land a second or third book deal because a first book was perceived as underperforming based on sales in the first year is not uncommon.

This puts a ton of pressure on authors to play the publicity game, and authors can really hit a wall here. We need to gather reviews, write guest posts, book speaking events when possible, and figure out ways to gain exposure for our books even though most of us have no experience in publicity, retail, or online merchandising. Publishers have essentially told authors, “This is the new normal, get used to it.”

I spent about ten years in this grind of writing proposals, blogging, working on publicity, and fighting to boost my sales. I’ve had some nice triumphs and some dismal failures.

When I started on a “Woe is me” lament with a pastor friend, he said, “But look at all of the experience you gained!”

I replied with something like, “Yeah, and that experience really hurt.”

Like I said, commercial Christian publishing was bad for my soul.

At the start of 2015, I decided that I needed to make a major change.

 

Taking a Break from Commercial Publishing

For this season of my life, I’m shelving my proposals. I told my agent that I’m taking a break. I’m not saying I’m done forever. I’m just done for now because I’ve had enough of the commercial publishing game. If I ever pursue it again, I want to develop a healthier way of publishing and marketing books.

I can tell you that this decision has resulted in both grief and relief. I never knew how tightly I was holding onto commercial publishing as the source of my identity until I let go of it. I also never knew that letting go of those dreams and goals could be so wonderfully freeing.

For now I’m mapping out plans to work on a few projects I’ve had sitting around and publishing them “Independently,” which is the term of choice over self-publishing for many. I first experimented with self-publishing in 2010 with my book A Path to Publishing (I updated the current version in 2014). Back then the majority of the people with self-publishing experience were still trying to get their books noticed through bookstores, advertising, and article placement—at least the people I read about. It was a ton of work, and sales weren’t amazing. I’ve continued little side experiments with independent publishing, and now I’m finally at a place where I think it’s worth trying.

With Scrivener, it’s ridiculously easy to put an eBook together, and tools like NoiseTrade, BookBub, MailChimp, Kindle Direct, and Draft2Digital make it easy to market your work in a variety of ways. I still have to work with a cover designer and sort out the editorial process, but it’s not that much more work than commercial publishing at this point, even if I do miss the support of some of the excellent editors and publicists I’ve worked with over the years.

Still, by going off on my own I don’t have any pressure to meet sales goals, to play the endorsement game (don’t get me started on that one), or to market my work in any particular ways. I can run promotions whenever I want and jump on opportunities for publicity as they arise. If a book flops, then it’s mainly my own time that I’ve wasted, and if a book struggles in its first month, there’s still plenty of time to figure out ways to promote it.

I can certainly still fall into the trap of judging my self-worth based on the reviews of readers or the response by my friends and colleagues. My soul isn’t in the clear. In fact, before the release of my latest book Pray, Write, Grow, I still had trouble falling asleep for a week as I worried whether enough people would like it. However, once the book released, my anxiety completely disappeared and I was able to simply enjoy the fact that readers were enjoying my book, and that the fate of my next book had nothing to do with its sales for the next month or two.

I like to think that I’m building a healthier way for me, Ed Cyzewski, to write, publish, and publicize my work. Perhaps a day will come that I can sort out a way to work with a publisher again. I’m certainly open to that possibility. But for now, I know that I needed a season to let go of my commercial publishing dreams and simply figure out a healthy way forward as an author.

 

Should You Pursue Commercial Christian Publishing?

One of my main motivations in writing this post is that I’m often asked about how to break into Christian publishing. I even coach some new authors who started out hoping for book deals and actually shifted toward independent publishing for the time being—decisions they made with zero prompting on my part.

I feel like I owe the people who know me some kind of response on the public record to this often-asked question: “Should I pursue commercial Christian publishing?”

I can’t answer that question definitely, but here’s what I know based on my experiences, and I suspect I’m not alone in this, even if my take certainly isn’t the norm for everyone:

  1. There is a ton of pressure to sell enough books if you want to make a career of commercial publishing in general.
  2. The process of publishing a book on deadline and marketing it within a publisher’s timeline can be draining and even make it hard to write the next book.
  3. Marketing support varies from publisher to publisher, and it’s hard to know if you’ve ever been given enough help or the right kind of help. (Publishers are all over the place on how to market books and even when publishers do a lot to market a book, there’s no guarantee it will work as hoped).

I still think there are some really talented writers who should shoot for the big publishers. I’m honestly looking forward to the release of many books from my colleagues this year, and I’m glad they’ve endured the challenges of this industry in order to work with talented editors who will make their books all that much better.

However, the majority of writers hoping to break into publishing simply aren’t ready for all of the demands of publishing, especially the marketing side of things. I’ve been hired to critique lots of proposals, and the vast majority are too thin in the marketing department. While I admire their willingness to take their chances with a publisher, if they do manage to publish that book, release week and the ensuing weeks could be extremely stressful and even soul crushing.

With the ease of independently publishing eBooks these days, most new authors should begin by publishing at least a book or two on their own and figuring out how they can best market it without the pressure of a publisher’s sales goals looming over them. If publishers are going to demand that authors bring their own marketing platforms along with their books, you may as well figure out a way forward that is enjoyable and, most importantly, tested in real life.

I spent years building up social media and blog contacts without understanding how to actually use them to promote books. I wrote newsletters each month without a clue about the value of those email addresses. I was just moving from one half measure to another based on what other authors were doing without fully understanding what would be most effective for connecting readers with my writing.

Commercial Christian publishing was bad for my soul, but I’m trying to learn from my mistakes. I’m hopeful that we can make things better, and we can at least improve upon the status quo.

I still believe that books are a powerful way to share carefully crafted ideas and stories that can change lives and bring joy.

I still believe that the majority of readers are looking for another great book.

I still believe that the majority of authors, editors, and publicists want to produce the absolute best works possible, even if they’re often placed in difficult situations.

The truth is that book publishing can be messy and painful. No one is going to look out for your spiritual health. Once you hop on the publishing roller coaster, it’s going to be difficult to bring it to a stop when you grow weary.

Before I experienced the publishing business from the inside, I thought that publishing books for my fellow Christians was pretty much the greatest gig ever. These days I applaud anyone who wants to get published commercially, but before you take the plunge, you need to realize that writing books for your fellow Christians could be very, very bad for your soul.

 

The Greatest Sin of All Isn’t Unbelief or Disobeying the Bible

visit-the-prisoner-matthew-25

I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about Matthew 25. It strikes me as one of the most important passages in the Bible because it describes a striking scene where the true followers of Jesus are separated from the false followers. Perhaps something about my “closed-set” evangelical background draws me to this scene.

My particular fascination has to do with this: Evangelicals, based on Paul’s letters, teach that the righteous are saved by faith, but this passage teaches that we’re saved by what we do.

Jesus doesn’t welcome people because of what they prayed or believed. He welcomes those who gave food to the hungry, visited the prisoners, and clothed the poor.

I don’t want to necessarily create a false dichotomy here. Of course real, genuine faith is confirmed by our actions. In fact, the word we translate as “believe” is the verb form of faith, which means we’re actually “faith-ing” or taking action with our faith. Having said all of that, evangelicals such as myself have spent so much time focusing on the sin of unbelief, heresy, or criticizing those who allegedly don’t take the Bible seriously enough, we don’t have any time left to examine what we do.

In other words, we don’t say to people, “You are unloving and uncaring, and I question your salvation.” We have traditionally question someone’s salvation based on beliefs alone that we could boil down to answers on a theology exam.

We could have a whole other discussion about whether we should even question someone’s salvation in the first place (I would argue that’s never our role). That discussion is not my aim here. I’m interested in personally examining ourselves with the same standards the Jesus said he would use.

How do we know we’re actually on the right course in following Jesus?

Matthew 25 has a pretty startling, yet straightforward answer.

You can safely assume you’re following Jesus if you love other people because you see Jesus in them.

Period.

If you see the inherent dignity and worthiness of the least powerful, most vulnerable, and even the most damaged and unworthy, then you’re in good shape according to Jesus. If you love these people, then “You get it.”

And it’s not just a matter of loving the people who love us. It’s a matter of loving everyone. If you can manage to love the people who have the least to offer you and may even cost you time, money, and sanity, then it should be a cinch to love everyone else in our lives.

Put another way, if God is love, then the ultimate sin we can commit against God is to not love others.

When I am angry at people, when I ignore those in need, and when I think I’m above serving, then I am most unlike God. I’ve hidden behind my theology long enough. I should have started practicing my speech:

When did I see you hungry, homeless, and in prison? I was busy studying theology so that my faith would be pure.

I have been working on learning the startling lesson that Jesus loves me just as I am, but he doesn’t expect me to stop there. I’m learning to simply value the presence of Jesus in the first place and to receive his love. If I have truly received his love, then it should start transforming the way I view others and, most importantly, how I treat them.

There aren’t the worthy poor and the unworthy poor.

There aren’t the worthy prisoners and the unworthy prisoners.

There aren’t the unworthy, lazy unemployed and the worthy, industrious unemployed.

Every year Christians spend thousands of dollars looking for Jesus at really nice conferences full of super successful pastors and teachers. I won’t say that Jesus isn’t there, but I will say that ONLY looking for Jesus among the affluent, successful, and influential is an epic fail according to Matthew 25.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 that he is among the poor, the failures, and even the criminals. The goodness we do to those we perceive as “the least” is done to Jesus.

So where does this leave us?

I still think the most important step we can take begins within ourselves: welcoming Jesus and his love. We won’t value the presence of Jesus among others if we don’t value or recognize his presence in the first place. This presence of Jesus brings the ongoing renewal of our minds and hearts that Paul speaks about and fills us with his love.

When we finally receive the love and acceptance of Jesus, we’ll have something powerful to share with others—especially the “least of these.” In fact, if we’re still dividing the world into those worthy and unworthy of Jesus’ love, then perhaps we haven’t truly experienced that love in the first place.

Guest Post for Micha Boyett: How The Examen Empowers Us to Pray and Write

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I’m guest posting at Micha Boyett’s blog this week to talk about prayer and writing, which is pretty much right in her wheelhouse. I met Micha back in 2012, and was totally blown away by the pitch for her (then) upcoming book Found (as of this moment, it’s $3 on Kindle!). If you haven’t read it yet, I think quite a few of us will really relate this book’s stories about her struggles to pray while parenting little ones.  I’m honored to write at her blog about the Examen and how it has transformed both my prayer and writing: 

 

When I try to pray, I often find that my anxious thoughts get in the way.

When I try to write, I often find that I can’t form a single thought.

It feels like feast or famine most days.

How can I face my thoughts for prayerful contemplation without getting swept up in anxiety and worst-case scenarios?

How can I hang on to a few thoughts that are worth exploring through writing before the blank page wins?

Thankfully I’ve found that one practice can help with both problems. The Examen, developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, offers a lifeline to stressed out, over-thinkers like me, while coincidentally prompting writers to address what matters most.

 

Praying with the Examen

Ignatius believed the Examen was a gift given directly from God. After spending a significant time in prayer, he found that prayer could move forward best with this time of reflection and meditation.

The Examen is set apart from run of the mill self-reflection right from the start by its first step: Awareness of God’s Presence. We don’t face the most challenging parts of our lives alone. God is with us as we begin the Examen, and as we move forward into it, that awareness will only grow. In fact, the Examen encourages us to invite God into our days and our times of reflection.

The genius of the Examen is the way it stops the roller coaster of worry and distraction when I begin praying, while still offering a path forward. It provides an orderly, prayerful direction to my thoughts so that I can honestly face what I’m truly thinking without feeling restrained.

Read the Rest at Micha Boyett’s Blog.

Guest Post for Michelle DeRusha: Where Do We Start with Prayer?

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I’m guest posting this week for my friend Michelle DeRusha, the author of the fantastic books Spiritual Misfit and 50 Women Every Christian Should Know. I’m sharing a guest post based on my new book Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together. While I suggest in my book that prayer practices can help us write, we first need to sort out where we’ll begin with prayer:

 

One of my most intense moments in prayer started on a whim.

I sat down to pray in our living room one morning, and for some reason my mind kept venturing back to the moments of my deepest shame.

The relationships I’d messed up in college.

The many stupid things I said during our first year of marriage.

The time (times?) I placed unreasonable expectations on a good friend.

As I squirmed and fretted over my shame, I had a “revolutionary” thought: “What if I just prayed as if God knew all about this stuff already?”

 

We Bring Our Vulnerabilities to Prayer

I’m not breaking new ground when I say that we can’t hide anything from God or that we don’t have to be perfect in order to approach God. That’s pretty much covered from most pulpits on Sunday morning.

Actually living as if we have nothing to hide and God still loves us is quite another matter.

 

Read the Rest at Michelle DeRusha’s Blog.

Releasing My New Book: Growth in Prayer and Writing Starts in the Same Place

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Today I’m releasing my latest book, Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together. This book combines the questions: “How do I find more time to pray?” and “How can I improve as a writer?” What if you could grow in both prayer and writing at the same time? What if the time you invested in writing could help you pray, and the time you invested in prayer could help you write? Here is part of the opening chapter that begins to answer those questions:

 

Every time you bow your head in prayer, open up a blank document on your computer, or flip open a journal page to write, you’re taking a leap of faith. Writers choose to believe they can string together another series of sentences that will speak to the needs of readers somewhere. When people pray, they’re choosing to believe there’s a good, loving God reaching out to us, listening to our prayers, and meeting with us.

We have faith that the discipline of writing will pay off. If we keep working at it, keep practicing, keep asking for feedback, keep revising, and keep publishing our work wherever possible, we’ll get better, reach more readers, and take meaningful steps forward. If we face the most challenging and vulnerable parts of our lives, we have faith that we’ll find words that offer clarity and perspective. If we put our words in front of readers, we have faith that some will reply, “Yes! Me too!” If we take the time to continually examine ourselves and care for ourselves, we have faith that the words will continue to come together year in, year out, whatever life throws at us.

We have faith that the practices of silence, praying with scripture, or reciting the prayers passed on to us will bear fruit over time. If we continue to fight through our fears and anxieties in order to sit in silence, we trust that God can meet us, even if it leads to results we aren’t expecting or doesn’t even result in quantifiable progress.

If we continue to cultivate habits of stillness and quiet throughout the day, we have faith that God can meet us and will speak even at moments when we aren’t expecting to hear anything. If we continue to wait on God, we have faith that periods of silence don’t indicate God has abandoned us.

We can even have faith that growing in one practice could lead to growth in the other.

Every time I grow as a writer, my prayer time receives direction.

Every time I grow in my prayer time, my writing has increased clarity.

Writing and prayer stand well enough on their own, but many of the disciplines that help you write better will also help you pray better and vise versa. This wasn’t something I planned out. I never set out to find connections between the two. Rather, I spend significant parts of each day writing and praying, and at a certain point I started to notice how the two converged.

As I prayed, my writing started to shift and grow. Both the disciplines of prayer and the lessons I learned transferred over to my writing, and my writing furthered my personal reflection and helped foster the habits and disciplines I’d been cultivating while praying. When prayer and writing finally started working together in my life, I began to take significant steps forward in both simultaneously.

I suspect that both prayer and writing can offer a lot of benefits by themselves. I certainly don’t think you have to do them together. However, if you’re already inclined to both write and pray, you may as well figure out how they can help each other. And if you’re experienced in one, you may find opportunities for personal or spiritual growth by trying out the other. I would even go so far as saying it like this:

If you want to improve your prayer life, try writing.

If you want to improve your writing life, try praying.

The two require many of the same practices, disciplines, and virtues. Of course you should certainly only pray out of an interest to meet with God on a deeper level, just as you should only write if you have something to say or process. I’m not trying to tap into the commercial writing potential for prayer or to guilt the reluctant into writing. Rather, I want to drive home the point that prayer and writing not only happily co-exist, but also feed off of each other and can benefit each other.

 

Order your copy on Amazon for $1.99 until March 16.
(regular price $3.99)

Nook | Kobo | iBooks | Print

Download a Sample PDF.

Read the reviews at Goodreads.

Guest Post: Why We Avoid Self-Reflection… Even Though It’s Good for Us

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I have the honor of guest posting today for my friend Tsh Oxenreider’s blog, The Art of Simple. If you’re new to Tsh’s blog, check out her podcast and her book about trying to live simply yet intentionally: Notes from a Blue Bike. I’m offering an adapted preview from the introduction to Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together ($.99 pre-order until tomorrow!): 

 

You don’t have to be determined to avoid self-reflection these days.

Most of us carry app-filled smart phones in our pockets to provide constant stimulation and distraction. Binge-watching shows on Netflix, social media, and even books all offer a ready escape from being alone with ourselves. Podcasts were my favorite way to avoid self-reflection until I tried going without them for a single walk.

After watching my productivity and free time slump for months thanks to the two-hour walks our son required for a morning nap (believe me, we tried everything else), I had a break-through plan. I decided to ditch my beloved podcasts and use my walks to either think of fresh writing ideas or pray.

Mind you, I love podcasts. I hardly did anything without a podcast two years ago—when all of this took place. I believed I was on the brink of a productivity explosion. I set off on my walk and promptly drove myself crazy with worry.

Read the rest at the Art of Simple!

 

I Limited My Time on Facebook and This Is What Happened

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I have so many reasons to be on Facebook.

I live far away from most of my family and friends. Solution? Facebook.

I work in a relatively isolated profession where my colleagues are spread all over the country and even world. Solution? Facebook.

I write stuff that I’d like people to read? Partial solution? Facebook.

I like to be entertained by witty comments on current events and cultural trends. Solution? Facebook.

I often get stuck with my work and need a distraction. MAJOR PROBLEM: Facebook

It’s so easy to just check Facebook one more time… just one more time… OK, just one more time… MAJOR PROBLEM: Facebook

Despite the benefits of connecting with friends, family, and colleagues over social media, it has a way of invading my free time that should be devoted to family, house work, and, if I’m lucky, a bit of reading. Social media offers me a quick out when I hit a slow point in my day, a difficult part of a project, or a minute of free time in the evening.

I’ve already enjoyed the benefits of the SelfControl App that shuts down any sites I’ve specified for a set period of time. It’s amazing what I can get done at work once I turn on the app and have no entertainment recourses for 45 minutes.

However, the invasion of social media into my free time has been a major concern. There simply aren’t clear lines for me between work time and family time on social media. I’m always connecting with family AND promoting my work. The two are tied together. Feeling the need for stronger boundaries, I opted to set up a limited social media fast for Lent:

No social media after 5 pm on weekdays.

No social media on the weekends.

I’ve learned two really important things about myself so far during this fast.

 

First, I Read a Lot More.

That’s not really a shocker. Without my 5,10, or 20 minute detours into social media, I often find myself looking for something to do in the evening if I’m giving the baby a cat nap or spending a little free time on the couch. Without the siren call of Facebook, the latest Richard Rohr book added to my collection, Eager to Love, quickly shoots to the top of my list of things to do.

 

Second, I Complain a Lot Less

I would have told you that I’m more of a joking complainer. I’m often tongue in cheek, right? Well, no, actually. I never realized how much of social media is actually just a litany of complaints for me until I set some boundaries around myself.

These limits have helped me see the ways I’ve “wasted” my tweets and status updates with complaints.

Mind you, some complaints are warranted. If I can’t rant about my hockey teams on social media, then I don’t really know what else I can do with it. However, each time I’m tempted to complain about the baby’s failed nap, a toddler tantrum, or yet another quirky, boundary-invading person at the café, I now stop and think about what I’m about to do. More often than not, I need to either get back to work, get back to my family, or, if I’m set on complaining, shift my sights on my hockey teams.

 

What Happens After Lent?

I love Lent because it offers a chance to experiment and test out which areas of my life are unhealthy and unbalanced. If giving up something like social media on the weekends feels like such an enormous burden, then it sure seems like some boundaries are really needed.

A few weeks into Lent, I’m sensing that these boundaries are going to become my new normal. Not that I WANT them to be the new normal. Rather, I don’t want these social media boundaries, and that’s what tells me I need them.

 

What are you fasting from during Lent?

Do you have any lessons or changes to report at this point?

 

 

Don’t forget, you can now pre-order my new book Pray, Write, Grow on Amazon for $.99.

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The price goes up on March 11, 2015 when it officially releases.

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Author Matt Appling Discusses Infertility in Plus or Minus

PlusOrMinusSmallCover

Infertility is one of those topics that can be particularly daunting to discuss for those of us who have never been through it. That’s why I’m so grateful to host author Matt Appling here for a brief discussion of his new book that he co-authored with his wife: Plus or Minus: Keeping Your Live, Faith, and Love Together Through Infertility. Matt is a fantastic writer, and I encourage you to pick up a copy of their book at the end of the interview:

 

What kinds of books are out there on the market addressing infertility and what prompted you to write your own?

There are a lot of books on infertility, but as we were going through our journey and looking for encouragement, it was the gaps in the market that we thought we could try to fill. A big chunk of books are about how to cure infertility – the “self help” type of books. Eat this, don’t eat that, do these things and have a baby as quickly as possible. There was another segment of books that were more faith oriented, but again, we saw a big share of them that were saying what the medical books said, but in a spiritual way: “Say this prayer, do this thing, and God will give you a baby.” Very little of the literature is directed at men – as if men don’t really want children and are just along for the ride. If men are acknowledged, it’s often in a separate chapter.

We wanted to write a book for couples, not just women, about how to survive infertility in your faith, love and relationships. There are no guarantees with infertility, like all of life. You can buy all the self-help books, visit the best doctors, and still might not get a baby out of the deal. So we started with the question, “What does it look like to survive infertility, no matter what the result is?”

 

Talk about the process of writing this book with your wife.

IMG_6402It was a process of major trepidation! When I brought up the idea with Cheri, we had to put it on the shelf for a few months so we could pray and think about it. We also knew that this book could not just be us. We asked some friends to come along with us and share their stories and wisdom. The book simply would not have existed without them. We knew that we had not done the most or suffered the longest, we just had an opportunity.

Our collaboration came in the form of discussions, which was just a continuation of the many long conversations we were having relating to our treatment. I was the principal writer, but it was a conversational back-and-forth all the time. It was certainly nerve-wracking for me – my wife can be one of my biggest encouragers and one of my toughest critics! The book ended up being about 60,000 words, but I had to trash another 15,000. Yes, my writing process is not very efficient. But the first time Cheri read the whole manuscript through, she wept the whole time for our friends who had suffered so much. It was very cathartic to work together on something so personal.

 

Why should couples not experiencing infertility read your book?

Some of the best words of encouragement I’ve received have been from couples who have not had this problem! We spend an entire chapter on discussing modern family life and how our idea of “family” has evolved into what it is today. Besides that, we feel that all marriages are going to suffer through some kind of season – of sickness, of financial distress, or something else, and what we gleaned from our season can be applied to other situations and help to put things into perspective.

We also hope that couples will not only be able to support their friends or the couple in church who is suffering, but that they will look at their own children a bit differently. Life is a wonderful, terribly complex thing, and our journey gave us new eyes to see that.

 

What are some tips for being sensitive to the needs and experiences of couples who are dealing with infertility?

The first thing you can do is to watch what you say.

Infertility is just not in our cultural vocabulary, so even when we put our feet in our mouths, we usually don’t know it. We see a childless couple and never assume that they are having problems, so we jump to questions about “When are you having kids?” and the like. We had some really personal questions directed at us by people who assumed we were just waiting for a long time.

Acting as an armchair fertility doctor is never really helpful either, so tips like “just relax,” are not necessary. Just express that you are praying for your friends, and then find some other topic of conversation other than your own children! Many of us can be okay around our friends with children, but try to have conversations about something besides the kids.

Just to illustrate that people don’t know what to say about infertility: a couple of months ago I was at an authors’ event and the very first person to approach my table had a child clinging to her leg. I told her about my book, which was upcoming at the time, and she said, “Pffft…I wish I was infertile.” My jaw dropped and I may have laughed a little to ease the tension, because that’s what I do, even when other people are offensive. But she never caught herself or realized how wildly inappropriate that was. I should have referred her to a doctor who could help with her problem!

 

This book is quite a departure from your previous book on creativity. Tell us a bit about that book in case folks aren’t familiar with it. 

Life After Art was my first book with Moody Publishers. I drew from my experiences as an Art teacher in rediscovering creativity as a source of spirituality. I am still teaching Art, still loving it, and still rediscovering every day the things I wrote on those pages. It’s a book that’s even more for the adult who doesn’t feel they are creative, who had teachers who told them that Art wasn’t “their thing,” the adult who feels stuck in life or work and just doesn’t know why. We all are made to be creative – it’s just a matter of finding out how.

 

Thanks Matt and Cheri for this extremely important book!

Learn more about Plus or Minus.

Rohr for Writers: Sacrifice and the Trap of Unmet Expectations

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I didn’t know there was a wrong to way to make a sacrifice. Shouldn’t the act be enough by itself?

Back in college I went out of my way to help a friend. I mean, I took the better part of my day to help him out. Huge, huge sacrifice! Epic! Look at how much I care for you!

He didn’t respond with much gratitude if any, and I just about lost it. The nerve! How dare he! I spent my day helping you, and you can’t even say thank you?

Richard Rohr has something to say about all of this, and it’s especially timely for my writing work:

“’Sacrifice’ usually leads to a well-hidden sense of entitlement and perpetuates the vicious cycle of merit, a mind-set that leads most of us to assume that we are more deserving than others because of what we have given or done. As the old saying goes, all expectations and self-sacrifice are just resentments waiting to happen.”

Immortal Diamond pg. 47

While most writers struggle with comparing ourselves to others, there’s another subtle trap that we can all fall into: the trap of resentment.

Writing requires sacrifices and commitments that can prove costly, and we can begin to expect a return that is in keeping with what we have given up. As we place a premium on our time, effort, and expertise, we can begin to resent the signs that our “investments” in writing aren’t bringing the proper “returns.”

If only “those people” would notice our sacrifices!

I write in Pray, Write, Grow that I had to learn that my writing is a gift to others. A gift isn’t a transaction. While some of us in a more affluent culture have certainly turned gift-giving into quid pro quo transaction where a gift given must equal the gift received, the nature of a true gift removes any hint of expecting anything in return.

That’s what makes writing so taxing sometimes. We could spend hours, days, and months honing a piece of writing only to see it sink into obscurity. Our audience owes of nothing. Sometimes the gift is well-received and sometimes it remains largely “unopened.”

I’ve been there. Heck, I’ve LIVED there for months at a time. There’s been no greater challenge than watching a book I’ve labored over fizzle as readers see it, shrug, and walk away.

Anything we do for others can become a resentment trap if it has called for sacrifices. We can begin thinking, “I had to give up so much for you! The least you could do is appreciate it on my terms!”

The moment we fall into the resentment trap, we turn a “gift” into a transaction, even if we’re not expecting something tangible in return. We’ve made a particular response or affirmation part of the exchange.

At the root of all this, we return to the core issue of identity. Where do you find your identity? Do you let God define who you are and what you’re worth? Do you let your work or other people determine your value?

Most writers I know hate editing, but what really breaks us is the publicity and marketing process—the moment when we put our finished work in front of readers and pray that some read it, enjoy it, and, hopefully, share it with others.

Letting go of my hopes and expectations for my writing has been excruciating. It feels like I’m giving up or at least setting my sites ridiculously low.

Letting go of my hopes and expectations for my writing has also been liberating. I just have to be faithful. I have to write where I feel led. And if I’m only going to base my success on faithfulness, then I’m only more motivated to make sure my work lines up with God’s direction for my life.

Can you see how that works?

If I’m only writing out of a sense of faithfulness to God, then I better sort out God’s direction first.

Without that direction, my work is a complete waste of time. If I’m not looking for anyone else’s approval or applause, I need to at least make sure the starting point is solid. If praise and applause follow, that’s nice, but it’s not the foundation or the driving force behind what I write.

May we learn how to make sacrifices without falling into the trap of resentment.

May we find the freedom and joy of giving our creative work to others as a true gift.

About This Series

Rohr for Writers is a new blog series at www.edcyzewski.com that is based on the ways Richard Rohr’s writing speaks to writers. We’re going to spend the first few weeks looking at key quotes from Immortal Diamond.

Learn More about Prayer and Writing

You can grow in both your prayer and writing by developing the same practices. Check out my new book Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together to learn simple exercises you can incorporate into your day right now.

Pre-Order it until March 10 for $.99! 

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