Tag Archives: perseverance

Writers? Quitters?

Writers… are you sometimes tempted to quit? I’ll never forget lamenting to a friend and fellow-writer that I wanted to give up. She shot back, “Go ahead and quit. See how long it lasts.”

Because we’d both been there, done that. And we both knew why it wouldn’t last. Writers are wired to write.

Recently, I had the opportunity to share a guest post, “Quitting Time?” at the Seriously Write blog. You’re invited to pop over and join the conversation.

Small Steps Add Up

I had the chance to guest-post at InScribe Writers Online this week, on small steps and perseverance in the writing journey.

I think it was Phyllis A. Whitney, in her Guide to Fiction Writing, who compared getting published to a train arriving at a station. If that train is a breakthrough of some sort, for you or I to benefit, we have to be diligent in the small steps of showing up at the station, bags packed and ready to go… [Pop on over to read the rest, and check out the other writers’ posts as well. Link: Small Steps Add Up.]

Writers, Reading, and Comparisons

The books I most love to read are dangerous. Something, in the crafting or in the content, stirs a restlessness, an “I wish I could write like that.”

It’s important for writers to read words that leave us hungry to grow. We can study them for clues about how their author achieves whatever aspect of prose or poetry that we find so effective, to sharpen our own techniques.

That kind of comparison is healthy. It’s not the dangerous part. What trouble me are the whispers of doubt that make me want to hide the evidence that I’ve ever tried to write anything, and just kind of blend into the cushions of my couch.

As a beginning writer, I confronted the fear head-on: “Okay, what if I can’t write well? First, is there anything wrong with simply writing for fun? Second, if God gave me this gift, however rough its present packaging, isn’t it both wise and good manners to accept and use it? How else will I improve?”

Now, the comparisons keep me from being complacent about my words. They remind me that there’s always more to learn, and that there are better ways to apply what we know.

Whichever writer we’re currently admiring hasn’t always written at this level. Talents are developed and honed. We need to read carefully, learn from what we see, and apply it to our own skills.

Comparisons also remind me that we don’t all write for the same audience. One person’s delivery and style won’t work for another. We need to be true to our individual voices and not try to copy anyone else.

A symphony or a kazoo, crystal vase or clay jug, are equally useful in God’s hand to serve the people He designed them to serve. Mark Twain once said, “My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine — everybody drinks water.”

My writing friends, when we encounter excellent reads, let’s choose to learn and grow, instead of giving in to comparison’s dark side. Perseverance, it seems, is won in the mind.

Writers: Perseverance is won in the mind.

[A previous version of this post appeared under the title of “Comparison” in the September 2015 edition of FineTuned, the newsletter of author/editor Carolyn Wilker]

How do You Handle Suffering?

So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.
1 Peter 4:19, NLT*

Peter’s writing to Christians who are being persecuted for their faith, reminding them that this can go with the territory. He says there’s no value in suffering for doing wrong, but if they hold up under attacks on their faith, it’s pleasing to God and it may help others see the truth.

The context is persecution, but I think it applies to any form of suffering that we don’t deserve. Peter does warn them there’s no value in suffering as a criminal, etc.

Christians are risking – and losing – their lives for Jesus in parts of the world today, and it’s horrible. Here in North America, the most “suffering” we do for our faith is putting up with snide comments, misunderstanding, and a culture bent on denying our God.

But we’ll all face other forms of suffering, too. Sickness, financial crises, broken relationships, worry… it’s a long list. How do we handle these things as Christians, in a way that shows others who God is?

Peter says we’re to “keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you.”

What’s our confidence to do this? “He will never fail you.”

That means we guard our words and our actions, and keep our attitudes pure before God, because we trust Him. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”

It means we repeatedly choose to trust God instead of giving in to the fear and the pain. It means we make time to care for the person beside us in the hospital waiting room. (Sometimes I think God allows us to end up in those places just because there’s someone else there He wants to reach.)

It means… even when we “deserve” some self-pity, we need to ask God how He wants to use the situation.

And it means “if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it (1 Peter 3:15)”. Gently, not pushy. Tell the story of how He’s made a difference and strengthened us to endure.

It’s all about Jesus, and we sort of forget that in our daily routines.

Mighty and loving God, You saved us and called us to live for Your glory. Help us learn to walk with You each moment, living in response to You instead of reacting to our circumstances. Show us how to live in our relationships and our responsibilities with hearts turned to You and with spirits depending on You. Give us faith to know that You will never fail us.

A good song to keep us focused on the Lord’s care is “Your Faithfulness,” by Brian Doerksen.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Pain and Endurance

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.
Romans 5:3, NLT*

Most people’s natural reaction to problems and trials is a plea to get us out of there. We don’t like pain, and it’s often a signal of danger (think about touching a hot stove, or feeling symptoms of a health problem).

In a fallen world, pain is inevitable. Nobody wants it, but God can use even this. Let’s not waste it.

Today’s verse can remind us to invite God to work in our problems and to “help us develop endurance.” It shifts our focus from the trouble itself to God. Not that it diminishes the pain, but it restores perspective. We’re not alone. The God of the universe is with us. He cares for us, and He is our best and only hope.

Instead of slipping into self-defense mode, can we learn to ask what will God do here? Can we look for His help in anticipation and trust instead of watching fearfully for disaster?

The Message actually uses the words “alert expectancy” as we look “for whatever God will do next.” (Romans 5:3-5, MSG) That’s a challenge I can’t live up to, most days. But I want to.

God our Strength and our Shield, when You let us go through trials, help us remember that You are there with us. Help us keep our eyes on You. Teach us to look in alert expectancy for “whatever You will do” and to remember that however huge the crisis, You can give us what we need to endure it.

When I looked for an “endurance” song, I couldn’t get this one out of my head, so perhaps God wants to speak to someone through it… it’s definitely a good prayer for each of us: Matt Maher‘s “A Future Not My Own.” (See the background to the lyrics.)

 

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Abraham’s Example

Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God.
Romans 4:20, NLT*

Abraham believed God. He obeyed, went where he was told, and tried to live a righteous life, but it was his faith that made him “the father of all who believe.”

Perhaps the hardest thing for him to believe was God’s promise to give him and his wife a son. Especially when the years kept passing with no sign of pregnancy. Humanly speaking, it was impossible for this elderly, childless couple to reproduce.

But “Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise… his faith grew stronger.” He didn’t know how, or when, or even why (except that God said so). But he knew Who.

God gives some people “impossible” promises, but He gives all of us the promises in His word. Promises like “I am with you always,” and “whoever believes in Me will have eternal life.”

Abraham’s example shows us how – and why – to live in the big challenges and the small ones. Our purpose is to bring glory to God. That doesn’t have to involve doing great things. Sometimes the greatest thing is just to hold onto our faith and to act in obedience.

Father God, help us to trust You with our honest questions. Grant us the faith to keep holding onto Your promises, no matter what. Help us trust You and wait for what You will do. Help us hold onto You, and to know that You are holding onto us. Your grip is sure.

Let the Newsboys‘ song, “Stay Strong,” encourage us today.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Running and Life Lessons

Last Saturday, I participated in my first-ever 5K running event (that’s 5 kilometres for my US friends, which translates to roughly 3.11 miles). This proves that God has a sense of humour, because I have never been athletic.

The Hillside2Haiti run is sponsored by a local church that regularly sends mission teams to Haiti to teach life skills. I’d wondered for a while about attempting a challenge like this, and when I saw the promotional material at another event, I recognized that the time was right.

I’d been running in the gym with my music, and now I started running on the streets around my home. Alone and content that way.

From the early stages of the Hillside2Haiti event, I ran with my friend Kim. I kept telling her not to slow herself down for me, but we found a pace that suited us both and by running as partners, encouraged one another to reach our dream goal of running the entire distance without taking walk breaks. (Yes, I know you can go faster if you take walk breaks. If you have enough stamina to go faster.)

Crossing the finish line was as surreal as signing my first novel contract. Despite my hopes, clearly some deep part of me never thought it would happen. Along the way, I observed a few parallels between running and the Christian life:

  • The participants came in all shapes, ages, sizes, fitness levels; some walked, some run/walked, some ran: we were all heading for the same finish line.
  • We swarmed out onto the road, stopping traffic: there’s strength in numbers, and together we can overcome certain obstacles.
  • A runner put on extra speed to catch us and return Kim’s headband, which we hadn’t known had fallen: help one another out, even when it’s hard work.
  • One runner stopped to fix a shoe: it doesn’t matter if something stops us, what matters is that we start again.
  • Those who ran in bursts and walked for brief recovery times finished with a better time than those who ran all the way; different people had different goals: pace yourself, set and know your strategy.
  • Some wanted speed time, some to run the full way, some had other goals: don’t judge someone for being on a different strategy; but do alert someone who has veered off the route.
  • Stopping to walk before you’re gasping means a shorter recovery before you can restart: be realistic about your abilities, while leaving room for God to stretch you a little farther than you think is comfortable.
  • It was a twisty, unfamiliar route, with no distance markers: not seeing how far we still had to go, or what hills lay ahead, kept discouragement away.
  • Previous running experience teaches you to slow down on the hills and to know you’ll recover on the flats: remember where God has already met us, choose to trust Him to do it again.
  • After slowing for hills, speed back up when you can: pace yourself, but beware the danger of starting to coast longer than necessary.
  • I thought we’d reached the end, but it was the start of a long, hard final stint; discouragement would have stopped me there, to walk the rest of the way, but my partner was still running: in disappointment, we need help to carry on.
  • There were water stations: take your own sustenance for the journey, but expect God’s provision en route.
  • We cheered for the children crossing the finish line on their race before ours started, and cheered on other runners as they passed us or came across the line after we did: we need to be encouragers, and it does something positive in us when we are.
  • Training for a race helps us run it better: remember the Christian life is a race, be diligent with spiritual training. Also, we train better with a goal, so don’t slack off because we don’t see trouble yet.
  • Good equipment helps: what spiritual equipment do we need?
  • Keep your sense of humour because there’s no dignity in the final stages of a race: don’t worry about appearances.
  • The sense of unity: isn’t that’s what it’s all about – the body of Christ, united in relationship with Him?
  • There was a big red start/finish arch: finally seeing the end in sight gives fresh energy.
  • The celebration at the finish line: “when we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be,” and yes, it may feel a little surreal.

Still with me? Give yourself a medal, and here are the biggest benefits I discovered about running with a partner:

  • we encouraged one another to keep going
  • we bonded through the experience and through sharing conversation
  • we distracted one another from the hardest parts
  • knowing that stopping would let the other down kept us each pushing on
  • under 38 minutes from the start, we crossed the line together
Photo of Janet and Kim, side by side, putting on extra speed because we've seen the finish line.

Janet and Kim: we have seen the finish line, and we can do this. Photo credit: Your Running Race Photos (Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/YourRunningRacePhotos)

https://www.facebook.com/YourRunningRacePhotos

 

Running and Writing

When you set a personal best, do you call it a one-time success, or try to make it your new normal? Last week I did my best run ever at the gym, but it took everything I had. I wouldn’t have made it without some well-chosen music on my mp3 player.

Running this Monday, I wondered. Could I do it again? Maybe. But did I want to?

Truth: I didn’t want to do it. But I didn’t want to settle for less. I wanted to have done it, and that meant powering through.

Running is a bit like writing:

  • small steps add up
  • I need to pace myself
  • drinking water helps (yes, even with writing)
  • it can be painful
  • watching the timer or distance counter or word count makes it feel harder
  • but seeing the numbers climb does get encouraging
  • there’s a spot early on where I want to quit
  • there’s another spot in the middle where I want to quit
  • there’s a spot near the end where I want to quit
  • my mind has the power to finish me or keep me going
  • regular discipline is crucial: repeated effort does get easier
  • but it’s still hard work
  • prayer helps (yes, even with running)
  • comparing myself to others is a bad idea
  • pressing on can be an act of worship
  • goals must be reachable if I stretch for them
  • breaks are important
  • benchmarks along the way motivate and encourage
  • it all comes back to tenacity
  • no one else can do it for me
  • the right music helps (upbeat worship for running, mellow instrumental jazz for writing)
  • “The End” feels good

Sneakers resting on a laptop computer.

On Perseverance and Writing

The ideas! The words! Sometimes writing is so exciting (pardon the rhyme) and the thoughts come so fast it’s hard to keep up.

Other times it’s hard work. A mountain of work. Work tainted by despair: will anyone want to read it? Most writers serve a very long “apprenticeship” learning the craft, discovering their niche and finding a way to get their words “out there” in terms of paid publication.

It gets discouraging. We start to wonder if we’re wasting our lives. I had the privilege of guest posting this week at Seriously Write, and I shared how liberating it was to discover that writing is a gift that needs to be used. (Click the link to visit the post)

Photo of an elephant, with the text: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you (re)write a novel? One word at a time.

photo credit: Janet Sketchley

The Long View

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.
Philippians 1:9, NLT*

This prayer is Paul’s deepest longing for these people he loves. They’re enduring hard times, but he asks for this—not for relief from suffering, for health, protection or happiness. In verse 6, he expresses confidence that God will use even these hard times to complete what He has started in them.

He’s praying they’ll hold firm for their lifetimes, or until Christ’s return. Whichever comes first. (Phil.1:10) Either way, Paul is taking the long view. And the highest thing he can ask for these believers whom he loves is that they’ll bring much glory and praise to God. (Phil.1:11)

For ourselves, and for our loved ones, it’s so easy to be distracted by the circumstances. To beg for relief. Rescue.

I’m not suggesting those desires are wrong, but I’m challenged to look at both the immediate need and the bigger picture. To pour out my heart while remembering Jesus’ prayer, “Nevertheless, not My will but Yours be done.” To pray, “Use this.” And in praying for help, to include the emotional and spiritual with the physical. To pray for love, encouragement. Hope. Endurance. Remembering that the ultimate goal is growth for us and glory for Him.

Mighty and loving God, we know that when Your glory is revealed it means people will see Your character and will be drawn to You. Help us be willing to endure hard times if that’s what’s needed for others to see Your goodness in how You sustain us. Help us not to be too quick to rescue others, if You might have a lesson for them in their struggles. Show us how to be Your hands and feet, Your voice of encouragement. Grow us in faith and trust, for the long view.

MercyMe‘s song, “Bring the Rain,” sounds like something Paul would have sung. May the Lord grow this surrendered attitude in our spirits. For His glory, and for our peace.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.