This morning I remembered how everyone contributes something just by who they are. There’s room for you. Don’t be discouraged about your work. The world needs it. Don’t think that because it’s not viral, trending, or talked about that it’s not important.
Sometimes I see creative people shut down because their area of work seems saturated by other talent. They see too many other people writing on their topic or posting about things they also think about or create. But consider this: the world’s population currently stands at 7.7 billion people. Is it possible that you could find a niche in there, an audience, and a place to produce your excellent work? Yes! You can! You won’t be famous–that’s unlikely (and who would want to be)–but you’ll shine in your perfect network of people who appreciate you and need your contribution. (I just read that 0.0086% of the world is “famous,” so stop worrying about it as a goal.)
Today I remembered something C.S. Lewis once wrote in a letter to his friend Mary Van Deuson in 1955. Lewis describes the joy of youthful activities and how they tapped into “something more than physical pleasure.” All along, the things he truly enjoyed and longed for were what Lewis calls “echoes” of scripture. In other words, his most joyful experiences really pointed toward something larger and far greater. Something only contained in God Himself.
Lewis writes, “All my life nature and art have been reminding me of something I’ve never seen: saying ‘Look! What does this– and this– remind you of?’” Lewis describes these thoughts again in his autobiography Surprised by Joy. He writes this:
“This discovery flashed a new light back on my whole life. I saw that all my waitings and watchings for Joy, all my vain hopes to find some mental content on which I could, so to speak, lay my finger and say, ‘This is it,’ had been a futile attempt to contemplate the enjoyed. . . I knew now that they were merely the mental track left by the passage of Joy–not the wave but the wave’s imprint on the sand. The inherent dialectic of desire itself had in a way already shown me this; for all images and sensations, if idolatrously mistaken for Joy itself, soon honestly confessed themselves inadequate. All said, in the last resort, ‘It is not I. I am only a reminder. Look! Look! What do I remind you of?'”
When I find myself longing for some experience or some new place, I remember Lewis’ echoes and reminders. All we would ever–and could ever–want is merely a reminder and an echo of the greatest thing, our true Joy: Jesus.
I love Psalm 80 because it reminds me of our only hope for the life we all desire. In verse 18, we read this prayer: “Revive us, and we will call on your name.”
That little Hebrew word “revive” reflects the desire for abundant living, for a restored sense of joy, hope, and prosperity. It comes from the Lord alone. It’s the best prayer of our heart, especially as we wonder where joy comes from. We need the reviving presence of God–and His ordering of our whole life–to bring about what our heart most needs.
Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed, I tell myself, “Just Five.” In order to feel successful in a task before me, I say things like this: I will grade just five papers. I will tidy this room for just five minutes. I will write just five sentences. I will walk outside for just five minutes. I will plan meals for the week for just five minutes.
I think anyone can handle five minutes. At least that’s the amount that doesn’t overwhelm me. Seven would. Ten would. But five? I can do five of anything. The benefit of this “Just Five” campaign for myself is that I always do more. I’ll probably grade up to twelve projects this morning once I get going. I’ll end up cleaning the entire room. I’ll write a whole chapter. I’ll walk for an hour. I’ll finishing meal-planning. You start with just five, and then you keep going if you wish. I’ve learned that once I get going, I keep going. But you don’t have to. You don’t have to at all. That’s the power of Just Five. You allow yourself to feel like a success if you accomplish that little thing.
Sometimes Just Five leads to bigger things. Sometimes it doesn’t. The important thing? You did something hard. You overcame the inertia, the procrastination, the pain of it. And you did it. For Just Five, you did it.
Today I thought about the wisdom to behave in ways consistent with the person you would like to be.
I’ve learned to ask these kinds of questions (and imagine hypothetical scenarios) to build consistency of character:
How would a healthy person act right now? What would they do? How would a godly person behave in this setting? What choice would the godliest person I know make? How would a kind or helpful person act in this setting? How would the best leader I know act here? What would a curious, confident, or successful person do in this situation?
Imagine the best version of yourself or the kind of person you’d like to become. What if you made decisions now to act like this person, to think and behave in ways consistent with this person’s character?
It’s a fun mental exercise that often changes your mindset when faced with a challenge or temptation.
This morning a friend mentioned the wonderful hymn writer Frances Havergal (who I wrote about in 2018). I searched the internet to learn more about her, and I discovered many words of wisdom from this godly woman. Here are my favorites:
“In perplexities-when we cannot tell what to do, when we cannot understand what is going on around us, let us be calmed and steadied and made patient by the thought that what is hidden from us is not hidden from Him.”
Frances Ridley Havergal
A great deal of living must go to a very little writing.
Frances Ridley Havergal
“We give thanks often with a tearful, doubtful voice, for our spiritual mercies positive, but what an almost infinite field there is for mercies negative! We cannot even imagine all that God has allowed us not to do, not to be.”
Frances Ridley Havergal
These three quotes teach me so much: I love considering that “what is hidden from us is not hidden from Him.” I love thinking about the slow task of writing and how, only after so much living, can the text come. I also love thinking about “mercies negative” and how much God has not allowed me to do or be out of His goodness to me.
I love to work. And then I love it when the work ends. What does it look like to put in a good day’s work and then allow yourself the pleasure of rest? I know many people who don’t stop working. They wait till they collapse in exhaustion, and then they wake up and start work all over again.
In graduate school, I remember learning how to survive: the solid eight hour work day. That’s it. Eight hours. Then, you rest. You sleep. You cook a good meal, you watch a show, you take a walk, you go out with friends. As I neared my dissertation writing process, a mentor said that you really only have about four hours worth of creative work available in your brain. After four hours, creativity wanes, fatigue sets in, and it’s so much harder to work. “So stop working after four hours,” he said. I couldn’t believe it. Four hours?
He was right. I accomplished so much in those four hours.
Sometimes, a good day’s work is four hours of focus; sometimes it’s eight or more. But at some point, you close down the shop and you rest.
Sometimes at speaking events, I’ll mention the quotes I’ve kept in my purse or on my phone. I tell the audience how certain quotes ground you on unsteady days.
During the book signing time, a woman approached my table with a weathered piece of paper, crumpled and even smeared with the dough from pie crust she once made.
“This is the one I keep in my purse,” she said. She leaned down to me. She didn’t speak, but she carefully unfolded the piece of paper (gently, like it was precious silk) and let me read it. And I knew that this was a life that needed this quote. I imagined her story. I held her life in my heart.
Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.
Kay Warren in Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn’t Enough
When you travel to speak, you meet amazing and fascinating people. Most of all, you meet women who have suffered greatly who confide in you–who whisper their stories of pain and triumph in Christ–and who lean in to hug you and tell you how the Lord has sustained them. Bible verses, quotes, treasured wisdom, timely provision, miraculous answers to prayer: I hear it all and soak it in. What a privilege! I didn’t know that writing books would lead to this kind of ministry.
There’s something about the way this woman held onto this quote (and the pie dough staining it) that kept me smiling all day long. I imagined that day she made a pie and needed this quote by her side. What was happening? What sorrow, what trial? And why the pie? Was it a pie to comfort someone else? I woke up this morning thinking about her and her whole life. I thought of her settled assurance, her quiet confidence, and her determined choice.