Seeds of Hope for Discouraged Writers

Discouragement has been a frequently recurring writing companion for much of 2019. Usually, finding the time to write has always been the most difficult obstacle to my writing. But this year, although writing time has certainly been elusive, discouragement has haunted the time that I have been able to dedicate.

Have you ever noticed how interconnected everything in life can be? If I am spiritually dry, it often overflows into other aspects of my life. So, I took some of the very good spiritual advice I’ve received in the past about discouragement and applied it to my writing…and it seemed to jumpstart my brain out of blank page “terrors.” These seeds of hope included:

  • The Cross.
  • Lessons of spring: Pay attention to anything that grows, especially if you envy it.
  • Companionship.
  • Choose the voices you listen to.
  • Take baby steps forward (maybe one a day), no matter how silly, worthless, or unimportant they seem.

Each week for the next couple of weeks, I’ll reflect on one of these “seeds of hope for the discouraged writer” to keep up my own writing and, perhaps, to inspire you when your writing isn’t flowing.

The Cross

“If the Lord loves us—and he does love us—he will permit that in our lives we will have to pass through difficult moments and times, and perhaps through trials. And even if temptations last for a long time, and it turns out as it did for St. Teresa [of Avila]—who remained burdened for fifteen years with temptations and aridity; if your spiritual state has to be such, then your sanctity will be reached only in this way: abandonment in God.”  – Blessed James Alberione

Everyone has bad days. But how do we follow Blessed James Alberione’s advice to abandon ourselves into God’s loving hands when we are living through a difficult season that wears us down emotionally, creatively, and spiritually (and perhaps physically)? Suffering and loss push us into the uncomfortable process of being stripped of the familiar, sometimes of what we most don’t want to let go of. Just as we are feeling the most out of control and at our weakest, when discouragement and sadness haunt our every thought and perhaps our every breath, Alberione advises us to let go but not give up. How do we do that? How can we keep going through seasons of dryness, discouragement, perhaps of temptation, suffering, or loss?

The season of Lent can offer us a very real help here, because of its focus on the cross. We may think of Lent in a very human way, rather than as the invitation it is meant to be. Lent is all about growth: in recognizing, receiving, and responding to God’s saving, life-giving love.

A) Lent is a season.

No matter how long it is, every season will pass, even a “season of darkness.” That alone gives us reason to take comfort. Knowing that this time of dryness or lack of inspiration is temporary makes it easier to accept. No matter how much we fuss, we cannot make winter (or summer) shorter. Just as Lent’s purpose—however unwelcome it may feel to our suffering-averse human nature—is to help us focus on God’s great love for us, every season has its purpose. Accepting our internal “season” is not just helpful but can become invaluable, especially as we move through it.

This doesn’t mean that we are to simply give in to discouragement! But it can be helpful to temper or adjust our expectations: in the past couple of months, I have slowly come to accept the temporary loss of enthusiasm that I usually feel when it comes to writing, and to explore the role that this natural energy has played in my life.

  

B) Lent focuses on life and growth.

Just as in the natural world, seasons are important in nurturing life and growth, Lent immerses us in the Passion and Death of Christ with the purpose of helping us to focus on God’s great, life-giving love for us.

When we are already so immersed in trials or difficulties, we may find it hard to focus on Jesus’ sacrificial love for us—because all we can see is more suffering! Our fear of suffering can blind us to the truth that Jesus’ suffering is not just a profound manifestation of God’s presence, but a promise that in all suffering—including the very real suffering of discouragement—we are never alone.

Whenever I feel tempted to give in to discouragement now, I think of Jesus falling under the weight of the Cross on his way to Calvary. What an experiences of weakness, suffering, and discouragement for the Son of God to allow himself to go through! Yet, he did so for love of me, to show me that I am never alone, even in my darkest, most desperate moments.

And just as Jesus is with me in my suffering, I can choose to deepen my union with Jesus in my suffering. A simple act of intentional love is all it takes.

C) Lent points us beyond this life to God’s eternal plan for us

Natural seasons prepare the way for the next season, but Lent also points us beyond seasons to an eternal reality: God’s great love and plan for us manifested in Christ’s Resurrection. In Lent (and in Christianity itself), Jesus’ Passion and Death are always seen in view of his Resurrection. Jesus knew that his Death on the cross was not the end.

Discouragement may feel like a “death” in our writing life. We may fear:

  • that we will never write again
  • that we will never have an original thought again
  • that we have lost our creativity forever

But no matter what we are going through, no matter how endless and/or hopeless it may feel, it is not the end. Stirring up our belief in God’s loving plan for us—and our writing is part of that plan!—enables us to find a way to continue on. Ultimately, our writing is a gift from God, and God’s fidelity is something that we can count on, trust in, and be grateful for. Whatever this season holds for us, there is a gift of God present here, although perhaps hidden by our expectations. Could God be offering us the opportunity to explore new ways to nurture our creativity? Is this is a time to receive, rather than to create? A time to listen, rather than to speak? A time to grow in honesty? to deepen our knowledge? to discover a “new way” of writing that doesn’t rely on “felt inspiration”?

If the ultimate purpose of our lives is to “fall into the hands of God,” can we not prepare to do this by learning to let the precious gift of our writing fall into his ever-faithful hands?

 

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

A great read for writers: Scribbling in the Sand by Michael Card

As a writer and communications artist, I am always looking for further inspiration for creativity from a faith perspective, but only rarely do I find real resources that I want to keep going back to. There are seem to be only a handful (which you can see on last week’s post here).

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That’s why I was delighted to recently discover Scribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creativity by evangelical musician and songwriter Michael Card. Michael’s songs are based on the Word of God and his following of Christ. They draw from the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church, as well as his own prayerful reflection and lived experience. I have enjoyed listening to his prayerful insights into the Scripture in his exquisite lyrics for decades—since my first years in the convent when I first discovered his music.

Scribbling-in-the-Sand-PapeScribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creativity is a wonderful companion for anyone on a creative-faith journey. His insights and personal sharing into the artistic creative process and the closer following of Christ  inspire, provoke (in the best sense of that word—as Jesus’ parables provoke!), encourage, and set the heart aflame.

Michael’s evangelical wisdom is something I connect with deeply, perhaps because it comes from his authentic life experience.  To hear how his creative process works—which is much different from my own, but has so much in common with how I see writing as a service—was both encouraging and life-giving for my reflection on my creative process. This is especially true because at this time my creativity is “unfolding” in new ways, taking different shape and form.

Chapters 7 and 8 of Scribbling in the Sand are my favorites, although Chapter 10 is also amazing—a collection of letters from Christian artists to Christian artists. And the very short appendix, “Growing in Creativity: Some Practical Advice,” is also a rich summary of the book that is ideal for reflection and prayer on our lives as artists. In Chapter 7, with a true appreciation of the Letters of Paul which he frequently quotes, Michael invites readers to focus their creativity on the kenosis “song” of Christ in Philippians 2:6-11. He offers three “themes” of the Philippians Canticle as the “character” of creativity: Humility, servanthood, and radical obedience.

Chapter 8’s title is “A Lifestyle of Listening.” Michael’s description of the “three keys” of listening resonated for me: listening to the Word of God, listening to the silence of prayer, and listening to our own lives—as poem and parable.

If your creativity feels at a low ebb; if your faith life feels like a dry husk; or if you simply want to explore further the connection between faith and art, between our discipleship of Christ and our call to evangelize, Scribbling in the Sand is a real treasure. Michael’s other works (found on MichaelCard.com) are wonderful to explore as well.

I’ll close with a few of my favorite quotations from the book—it was hard to pick just three, there were so many beautiful ones!

“We are driven to create at this deep wordless level of the soul
because we are all fashioned
in the image of a God who is an Artist.
When we first encounter God in the Bible,
it is not as the awesome Lawgiver
or the Judge of the universe
but as the Artist.”

* * * 

“Being the Creator-Artist that he is,
the great Romancer,
the perfectly loving Father,
God calls out to us, sings to us, paints images in our minds through the prophets’ visions.
These sounds and songs, these visions,
stand at the door of our own imaginations
and knock.
Through them God opens the door of his own inner life to us….
This is the heart of prophecy:
God speaking to us
in such a way as to recapture our imaginations.”

* * *

“The greatest, most beautiful expression of our creativity is to find a way to give ourselves.”   

— Michael Card, Scribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creatity