I Resisted Winter and Missed the Renewal of Spring

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The kale we planted in the garden last spring grew into thick stalks all summer and kept our table supplied with greens. By fall the kale stalks were curling and falling all over themselves. Their leaves, which had been full, crisp, and green throughout summer started wilting, turned shades of brown and yellow, and finally succumbed to the constant attacks of tiny pests. By the time the cold winds of November swept the final leaves off the trees, our kale plants were little more than battered stalks with tiny bits of green poking out here and there. Yes, they were just barely alive, but they were far from healthy.

I don’t know why I waited so long to pull out the old kale. Maybe I was hoping that it would survive the winter and sprout new life in the Spring. I left it hanging limp and lifeless all winter. By the time the snow melted, the kale had all but rotted away.

As soon as the weather grew warm, I finally gave in and yanked the old kale stalks out of the garden. I poured new compost into the beds and raked it smooth. A few weeks later I scattered a new crop of kale and lettuce seeds into the orderly garden beds.

The new kale is going to take some time before it’s ready to eat, but I couldn’t hold onto last year’s planting. It had to go in order to make room for what’s next.

How long have I tried clinging to last year’s planting and held up the new things that must take their place?

I have been longing for the new thing, but have continued to cling to what is old.

I have become withered and overgrown, bitter and stagnant, but then I wonder why the new life hasn’t taken root and grown yet.

This week I had a chance to finally pull some old roots up as I make space for a new venture. The “Revert to Author” notice arrived for my first book that I wrote about theology. At the time I was one of many writers trying to sort out Christian theology and whether my faith could survive without the promise of certainty. Some are still wrestling with that question, some have moved on with their faith, and some needed to leave their faith behind. I have moved on with my faith, realizing that I didn’t need an airtight theology in order to have a relationship with a God whose top concern is love.

As I set aside my identity as a writer about theology and culture, I felt both a relief and a fear of what’s next. The fear of “what’s next” is why we often cling to what’s old and dying. We can’t imagine that something better is possible.

I made the mistake of thinking: Better to stick with the broken thing we understand than the new blessing we can’t fathom.

The same day that I signed my agreement to revert the rights of my theology book back to myself, I also continued to work on plans to launch a new website: www.thecontemplativewriter.com. This is a project that has been in the works for a long time, but I just didn’t see how to move forward with it. I kept plodding along with what I knew about theology, uncertain about what would grow if I pulled everything up and started all over.

I finally started planting new things a few years ago when I took a break from blogging about theology and then released Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together. Since then, each step toward prayer and writing, or writing about prayer, has been affirming and life-giving.

It was a long winter, but I now see that I needed the winter. I needed a winter to kill what was no longer productive or life-giving. I needed winter to force me to uproot the past and to make room for what’s next.

Shifting to writing about prayer feels like the beginning of Spring. There is new life to this direction, and I’m finally realizing how I’ve held myself back by failing to uproot what I planted last season.

How many of us go into winter kicking and screaming, lamenting the loss of summer’s warmth and the brilliant colors of the fall because we lack hope for the future?

Perhaps fighting winter is a good sign at times. Perhaps we rightly see the good that we’ve had. I’m grateful for all that I’ve accomplished and learned from that last season. In fact, the things I’m planting today are benefitting from what I planted before.

For this new season, I need to keep writing on this website with longer form posts about prayer, writing, and Christianity, but I’m also making a new space for brief, daily posts about contemplative prayer. The site officially launches April 2nd and begins with regular daily posts (not Sundays) on Monday, April 4th.

My new site, The Contemplative Writer, will offer daily posts that provide guidance for daily prayer, Christian spiritual practices, and sources for meditation and contemplation. You can sign up to receive posts via email, the weekly email with highlights and a custom Examen, or follow through the RSS feed. In the coming month I hope to add more spiritual direction topics and a podcast version of the newsletter.

This website is what I’ve needed in my own life. It’s my hope that my own imperfect journey toward prayer and the wisdom of others will prove beneficial for you as well.

Visit The Contemplative Writer today.

 

What If We Defined Success as Freedom?

on-track-freedom

How many times have I made myself miserable by focusing on my unfulfilled hopes and desires?

How often have I stayed put for fear of appearing like a failure?

When haven’t I said that I’m not enough or not doing enough in order to meet a certain measure for success?

Sometimes life feels like an endless race where I just keep moving the finish line for myself. All it takes is a bit of unchecked envy or comparison to make me realize I’m doing everything wrong, am in danger of appearing as a failure, and at risk of being a lonely isolated failure forever. So I squint my eyes hard to look at that finish line and commit to work harder than anyone else in order to reach it before people learn THE TRUTH about me.

A New Standard for Success

Let’s forget that finish line for a second. Let’s forget what everyone else is doing.

What if that finish line for success and the fear of being found out as a fraud is actually holding you in bondage? What if the allure of freedom through success, money, influence, etc. is just a fleeting mirage of our consumer society? What if the people who appear to be on top are actually MORE TRAPPED than we are because they have all of the same fears as us and they need to maintain the appearance of having it all together?

I’m done with defining success as a particular accomplishment that we can measure with material possessions or online analytics.

Let’s define success as freedom.

Do you know that God loves you deeply and has sent you to love others?

Are you creating space in each day to rest in that love and in the presence of God?

Are you sharing that love and freedom in some way? Are you free to love your family and friends?

I’ve lived under the weight of anxiety, fear, and performing for others for far too long. Sure, there are many things that I can legitimately fear, but fear and scarcity become lifestyles that rob us of the gifts we should enjoy.

If you’re looking to define yourself or your day as a success, let’s ask this question: Am I living in freedom?

God Offers What We Need

The Gospel message that I have given my life to is about freedom, freedom in Christ and freedom through the Spirit. Our lives are hidden away in Christ and Christ lives in us. We have been set free for the purpose of freedom. This is the anthem of the Gospels and Epistles where Jesus and Paul repeatedly argued with people who wanted to add behavior requirements and mandatory rituals for followers of Jesus. Paul clearly stated that we don’t live in the freedom of Christ by subjecting ourselves to yet another written code.

The love of God frees us to love and serve others. There is a cost of following Christ, but there is also tremendous freedom as we drop the crushing weight of pursuing success and trying to identify ourselves by what we can earn or the influence we can gain.

It is extremely problematic to define ourselves by the flimsy judgments of others and the forces of the market.

I can’t do anything to make God love me more.

I can’t do anything to improve upon the freedom that God gives.

I can only choose to accept God’s freedom by faith and lean into it each day. That is where the real struggle of spirituality comes in for me.

Are You Thirsty for God? Then You Are In!

Each day I can either seek the presence of God and move toward freedom or I can seek outward measures of my worth and success. I can start to look at everything I haven’t achieved or I can rest in all that God has given me.

The good news is that even if we face this struggle daily, we can turn things around. We can stop the fear, anxiety, and longing for something, anything other than what we have.

Instead of working harder, getting more efficient, or adopting new ways to schedule productive days, we can opt out of the crazy, soul-crushing system. We can take the ultimate leap of faith into a moment of silence where we believe that God calls out to us: All who are thirsty, come!

 

What’s Your Next Step?

Keep in touch via my newsletter where I’ll share more “off the record” thoughts on prayer, writing, and caring for your soul. Sign up and receive two FREE bestselling eBooks.

Does this describe at least part of your writing career? Check out my book: Write without Crushing Your Soul. The eBook is usually between $1.99 and $3.99 on Kindle.

Dig deeper with some helpful books: Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond and Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly are among the most helpful books I’ve read.

 

 

Rohr for Writers: Writers Are Driven from Within

Rohr forWriters

“The good news of incarnational religion, a Spirit-based mortality, is that you are not motivated by outside reward or punishment but actually by looking out from inside the Mystery yourself. So carrots are neither needed nor helpful. ‘It is God, who for his own loving purpose, puts both the will and the action into you’ (Philippians 2:13). It is not our rule-following behavior but our actual identity that needs to be radically changed… You do things because they are true, not because you have to or you are afraid of punishment.”
– Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond pp. 85-86

It’s common for writers to talk about “finding” something to write about or “looking” for writing topics. We get the sense at times that we are chasing ideas that are hiding somewhere, and at times we can begin to despair that we’ll ever track them down.

Just as Richard Rohr suggests that our spirituality should originate within ourselves as we rest in God’s indwelling Spirit, I believe that writing can spring up in a similar way. As we ground ourselves in the present love of Christ and tune into what he’s saying to us, we’ll find wisdom and direction for our lives and even for our writing.

This changes us from religious people who strive and think our way to God and turns us into spiritual people who rest in God and allow God to guide us. You could say we’re cutting to the chase here, and that really is the beauty of the Gospel message after all. What we strive to accomplish on our own has already been done in us. We just need to receive it and live in it.

However, if anything takes work in the spiritual life, it’s clearing out space in our schedules and in our minds for this spiritual reality to take hold. The indwelling Spirit is all over the New Testament scriptures, and yet, how often have I tried to move forward with God’s work in my own strength and wisdom?

Perhaps you’re weary, uninspired, or just plain fearful about the direction of your life or your writing work in particular.

The Good News for you is that God is already in this with you. The Spirit is present. Your work is to rest in the Spirit of God, to trust that the words of Christ are true for YOU. There aren’t any footnotes in the words of Jesus with special clauses that rule you out.

If you can find peace in the presence of the Spirit here and now, you’ll be able to write from a healthier place of security and direction. You’ll know that first and foremost, God is in and with you, and you’ll find greater creative freedom to explore the directions that God places on your heart.

Criticism won’t sting in the same way if you’re writing out of God’s leading. Approval won’t carry the same weight. Anxiety and fear will gradually lose their power.

You’ll have freedom to seek the truth, and when you find it, you’ll have the freedom and peace you need to write about it. And when you are finished writing, you will have the comfort of knowing that writing is only a small part of the awesome mystery of God dwelling among us.

Read more about prayer and writing in my book:

Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together