Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Little Word That Destroys Your Writing Life

There was a little word in my life.

A little word that could. Literally.

You see when I spoke this word I could do all sorts of things. Make others smile. Convince myself I could handle one more task without collapsing of exhaustion. And I did...for a while.

That word was "yes" and it destroyed my writing life, caused exhaustion levels so high I was susceptible to every flu and common cold that passed through my town. That word kept me up at night trying to fulfill my obligations, whether it was completing more Bible studies, helping with a task nobody else had volunteered for, or sometimes I lay awake already overwhelmed with the thought of tomorrow.

One of my favorite childhood books was called The Little Engine That Could. In the story a trailing train needs to get up a gargantuan mountain. This train is filled with all sorts of wonderful things: playthings for little girls and boys and red-cheeked apples as well as lollipops.

My life was filled with all these wonderful things, too. Homeschooling, Bible studies, the wonderful co-op my children are involved in, our family-style community group at church, discipleship groups, prayer groups...so many good things.

So many good things that when I sat down with a piece of paper to write up a schedule I discovered the day didn't hold enough hours for all the things I had said yes to. Yet there were some things that never showed up on my schedule.

Things I forgot to say yes to. Walks in the park. Unhurried field trips, just for fun, not to learn anything. Painting with my husband. Drinking coffee on the patio with good friends. Just being with Jesus without an agenda and enjoying the quiet so I might hear him speak more.

And moreover, saying yes was the path to destruction of my creativity. Thoughts and ideas are birthed out of a quiet heart, one that has been still before God and allowed him to inspire. A quiet mind, one that is not racing with the busyness and rush of the day. Only a clear mind that lives in the silence can be filled with the noise of God's words. Even a still body, well-rested to be able to sit at the computer and brainstorm or to take a long walk and find beauty in nature that spurs on depth of thought.

Every yes I said to something was saying no to something else.

Engine after engine said no to pulling that train up the mountain. Some were too busy, others too important. It was the unassuming red engine that said yes. The engine doubted and questioned whether he could do it but in the end attempted the task with a brave front giving himself a pep talk as he went along. The boys, girls and toys shout in joyful glee, lauding the train by letting him know that all the other children will be happy with him.

Effort, diligence and being willing to do hard things are some of the tasks lauded by this book and well they should be. Discipline is essential to the work of life...and the work of a writer.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. -Colossians 3:23

Work heartily. Its the second part as for the Lord and not for men that can be problematic as well. Why am I writing? For men's approval? We would say no but when we obsess over the wording of a rejection note. What about the times when we struggle (albeit secretly) with competition? How about the times when we are afraid to admit we need help in some aspect of our writing?

The reader breathes a sigh of relief when the tiny engine successfully reaches the top of the hill, distributing the toys to the elated children and triumphant, rolls back down it preaching a self-confident mantra. I think I can, becomes I thought I could. Confidence rules the day in this book.

Only we aren't called to be self-confident, only Christ-confident.

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:-Philippians 1:6

Confident that he is working in our lives. Our salvation is only through him and he is continually working in and through us.

Sometimes in our own confidence, a yes can be a no to Christ's power. Its when I admit I can't do anything in my own strength that I am yielded for him to fill me more fully. Sometimes when I say yes I am thinking I can do more. Pile it on. I can handle one more task, until my back collapses with the burden. But I can do nothing in and of myself. 
Instead of people pleasing I need to bathe my yeses in prayer, growing in diligence in studying the word of God. If he has called me to write, I can be sure he will give me the wisdom to find the time to complete the task, whether its a book or an article. 

I've begun reading a book I'm enjoying called The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst. The author says:

The decisions you make determine the schedule you keep. The schedule you keep, determines the life you live. And how you live your life determines how you spend your soul. 

What decisions are you allowing your schedule to make for you? How can you be intentional instead? 

I wish I was writing from a place of arrival, living the priorities I set continues to be a challenge for me. But as I am prayerful and intentional I find I am learning to say no to those things that don't fit into my life at this stage. 

 Julia is a New York transplant living in central Virginia with her husband, two children, and three ragdolls. You can find her writing at Wonderfully Woven and Library Journal.


Casey said...

This. This. This. Amen, upon a thousand amens, my friend. I could not have found the words or the wisdom to share this better. You have taken every part of my struggle for the last few months and breathed this truth over them this morning. I've been working to get those "yeses" out of my life and I have to say the white space has left me with such freedom to be MORE creative. To be MORE present with God. to be MORE available for my friends. It's hard to stop striving. To stop saying yes and start saying no. Man, I think it might be one of the battles I'll have to fight the hardest, but I'm loving even this peek into the results that it brings my soul. Thank you for this reminder this morning, Julia of just how important this is!

Mary Vee Writer said...

This is .. a powerful post. So spirit filled. While I couldn't add another word, I can bring friends to read this post so they, too, can be blessed and encouraged.

Angie Quantrell said...

Exactly! I've been awake for parts of the last few nights literally counting backwards on my fingers the number of months and hours needed for this and that commitment! It's exhausting. Learning to say yes to the right things for me and no to the things not meant (though perfectly wonderful) for me is such a fine line, and it's one I continually zigzag all over! Thanks for your words of wisdom and experience. I have to admit, your schedule wore me out! Blessings!

Robin E. Mason said...

so much YES!! to this post that is! Julia, I learned this lesson much as you did—the hard way! I still fight it sometimes, the urge to say, "yes, sure I'l... (fill in the blank)" Thank you for your words of wisdom.
ps, the verse that says I *can* do all things doesn't mean I *should* do all things... jus' sayin'

Julia M. Reffner said...

CASEY, Being intentional is such a battle, isn't it? One that unfortunately doesn't seem to get easier just changes its spots. Sounds like you are taking the first steps to getting more space. The more quiet I get into my life with Jesus, he brings such a beautiful rest to the hustle.

MARY, thank you!

Julia M. Reffner said...

ANGIE, So true, it does feel like such a fine line. But I suppose that makes us more dependent on the Spirit as we need to seek him fully for the wisdom to know. Prayers for you right now, too.

Julia M. Reffner said...

ROBIN, Oh yes I am having to literally bite my tongue sometimes. Oh so true! I need to remember that we shouldn't do all things just the ones God has designed specifically for us.

Laurie Tomlinson said...

I love that book and this post so much! Such great truths here!

Pepper said...

What an amazing post Julia! SUCH a good thing to remember and thank you for being to elegantly transparent.

Amy Willoughby Burle said...

Three cheers! Here's to saying "no." But seriously, I totally get this. I think as women, esp women of service to the Lord, out family, or church, we think God wants us to say yes because someone must need our help and they asked and we should be happy to assist. But that's just not the case.

Thank you a great post. Just yesterday I said no to my own daughter who wanted me to make an hour and change round trip out of my way to take her somewhere when Dad was headed there in just an hour-but she wanted to go then because she was bored. This was my writing time that I'd be giving up to drive her around. It was hard as all get out to say no to her, with her pouty pre-teen face, but she didn't NEED me to do this.... mom guilt almost got the best of me, but I stood my ground, she went with Dad, and it didn't kill her to wait. :-)