On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. I discovered Amy's writing last October when we were both involved in Write 31 Days. I have devoured her work over at Sun Steeped Days since and am honored to have her words here. Whether you write or not, I know you will relate to the tension she describes, as we are all such torn souls, heirs to both the Fall and the Covenant. - Nicole
I once read about a woman who approached Elisabeth Elliot and said, "It must be wonderful to be able to read your own writings!"
To which the inimitable author replied, "It is like chewing on stewed Kleenex."
On many days, reading my own words feels exactly that way.
When I set out to find my voice as a writer nearly two years ago, I ended up with two. One arose from my exposure to writers who cultivate their faith through contemplation, who approach word-craft like a pursuit of beauty; the other, from living in a world that craves life-in-the-trenches anecdotes and honest truth for survival. They have always pulled me in different directions, and I never enjoy the struggle.
I want to be gentle; I want to be firm.
I ought to paint a thoughtful picture; I should just drive the point home.
Do I encourage by illustration, or say it plain?
Each time I sit down with this ill-fitting pair, my tones and words clash like building blocks in the frustrated hands of my toddler, and I struggle to find the space where they'll finally click.
But after living in the tension between them for over a year, I'm beginning, at long last, to make my peace with this position.
For I’ve begun to see how deeply both voices are rooted in me.
I am spirit and flesh. I need talk of beauty and of God's high country, and then, too, I need someone to tell me she's also had a cart full of groceries when a small voice says, “I need to go potty.” Even in my soul alone, the division is strong:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. . . . [I]n my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Rom. 7:14, 22-23).
I nod along to Paul's words, because I feel urgency pulling me in both directions. If it is true for both of us, then perhaps the dissonance I feel in how and what I write exists because I come of a people who are, by their very nature, torn.
The story of mankind is a story of pairs: soul and body, sanctification and sin, and -- from its very beginnings -- a high and humble lineage.
"You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve," said Aslan. "And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth." (Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis)
As heirs of both the Fall and the covenant, we hunger for holy things even as we battle our burdens. When we read stories and listen to songs, we search for lines that look us in the eye and acknowledge our current realities, and we also look for ones that point out of our spheres and tell us that there are things beyond.
We are creatures whose feet grit into the earth even as our inward selves strain for clearer air.
So then, how does one write — both to and from — these realities?
I'm still asking this question, finding my way one sentence at a time, trying to light match after match against the darkness even if I don't know how useful it will be for anyone else's path ahead. I am broken, too; we are all stories half-told, and halved by our very living.
But what I try to remember, each time I unfold my secretary desk, is this:
If there is tension in all of us, then that shared struggle is precisely what gives our split voices purpose, and what transforms our struggles into the birthplaces of our best art.
The accounts I write from my life don't flow together magically. Sometimes a mess is an unspoken sermon for me about God's mercy in my family's growth; sometimes it's simply a pile of elastic bands, receipts, and picture books that I need to pick up with a cheerful heart. But no matter which perspective prevails on a given day, I can’t deny that they do both speak of the same trajectory: a ransomed life that's traveling Home to walk with and know joy perfected -- mine as well as His.
I want the space I create for others, then, to be a place of inspiration, of microscopic views of God's creative elegance and sweeping vistas of His grandeur -- but also a place of bare-headed confession. The One for whom I write knows what it is to be mortal and eternal, after all, and by some mysterious means, He's also working the dross out of me through that very struggle of scribbling.
I still wonder, on many days, if my stewed Kleenex doesn't extinguish the tiny flames of truth it tries to relay. But as I so deftly brew my next batch, I often stumble across a fine read somewhere that reminds me that the Kingdom's coming, and is even now here. So I take up my soggy, flickering words and hold them out beside others' blazing torches, because we are all weary travelers stumbling up the avenue in search of a gracious refuge.
In such a place, even a tiny, split-wicked candle may make a difference for a solitary soul.
And together, with our reflections and depictions of Him who cannot be overcome by darkness, we are lighting the way Home.
When I was young, both in maturity and in my faith, I threw myself into my walk with Christ with abandon. I wanted to soak up every bit of knowledge about God I could, to do as much for Him as possible. I wanted to be around believers constantly, to be a part of the church I had never experienced as a small child.
When I got my wish and was around believers constantly…and my faith was utterly shaken.
I quickly saw hypocrisy in the friends who knew all the “Christianese” to speak at church but who were equally adept in keeping up with our high school culture of sex and drugs.
In college, I witnessed the pervasive speeches about the love of Christ given by campus ministry students literally right next to the guys set up in the student center berating those with different beliefs. All in the name of Jesus.
My heart cried out to return to the church I had left as God drew me back to Himself but I was shaken by what I saw in others, in the church, in beliefs I couldn’t hold to.
I found a group of girls to meet with weekly and we prayed together, struggled together over all kinds of theology and faith issues. I found the reality of believers being real about their faith and I saw something for the first time.
Our theology can change over time. I can sit in the same room with someone who doesn’t hold to each tenant of my particular denomination as we worship the same Jesus. There are a lot of issues we get hung up on in the church that make us throw up our hands and walk away or that make us push others away that don’t believe exactly as we do.
Cultures shift. People grow. All of those little issues that divide us really don’t matter at all. There is one thing that is unshakeable.
His name is Jesus Christ.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” says Hebrews 13.8.
“What do I most unshakably believe in?” asked Elisabeth Elliot. “God the Father Almighty. Jesus Christ His only Son. The Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, the life everlasting. Not a long list, but all we need.”
My heart is full of confusion and pain when I forget this and look to the individual issues and the people around me to define what I believe. To have a quiet heart, I have to look to that short list of what really matters and keep my heart tethered there.
God says in Malachi 3.6 “I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”
The shifting sands all around us can either consume us or we can choose to stand upon the rock of the Unshakeable One.
Thank you for joining me in this journey towards keeping a quiet heart!
You have just a couple more days to enter to win a copy of Elisabeth Elliot's Keep a Quiet Heart. Enter through October 31 and a winner will be chosen November 1.
I love my husband, my kids, my home, and my life. But I have this dream.
I have a whole day to myself to spend with God alone, in prayer, journaling, or just resting and reflecting. Every now and then my amazing husband makes sure I get one of these days. At least once a year I get away for at least part of a day spent in this way. I wish I could do it weekly instead…
Because this world is so full of noise. My mind is so full of noise. Most days I feel pulled in a thousand different directions and so often lately one of those directions is not towards prayer.
In this season of my life I know exactly what Elisabeth Elliot meant when she said, “Prayer is no easy pastime. As I grow older I find that I am more conscious than ever of my need to pray, but it seems at the same time to become more of a struggle.”
Whether it is a child calling out or a deadline looming, a lunch to be made or an appointment to be kept, it seems there is always something pressing.
For me, this is why prayer can become a struggle and my heart can become cluttered with thoughts and worries instead of kept quiet by prayer and surrender.
If I get distracted in my day and forget to pray, then I feel guilty for having forgotten and the vicious cycle begins. I feel unable to come to God because I should have remembered to pray first. So, my shame over thinking I should know better keeps me from the throne of God. I can go a whole day this way, running from prayer.
But here’s the thing – God never said prayer would be easy. Even those closest to Jesus asked Him to teach them to pray because they weren’t certain how.
No matter whether we feel the prayers rolling off our tongues easily throughout the day or we feel hard pressed to utter a word, we must continue struggling. It’s our lifeline to God, the way we stay connected to the Good Father who is waiting to hear our hearts.
Romans 12.12 says for us to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
Does patience come easily in times of affliction? I don’t know about you but it doesn’t for me. And neither does faithfulness in prayer. But the struggle is so worth it!
Prayer itself can be a wrestling with God. If we are really coming to Him with the deep needs and desires of our hearts, we won’t just be uttering platitudes. We will be struggling against the flesh and against the darkness.
Keep struggling. Keep fighting for a heart that can lay it all down before God, quiet and resting in Him.
“Please accept my distractions, my fatigue, my irritations, and my faithless wanderings. You know me more deeply and fully than I know myself. You love me with a greater love than I can love myself…Look at me, see me in all my misery and inner confusion, and let me sense your presence in the midst of my turmoil…Take my tired body, my confused mind, and my restless soul into your arms and give me rest, simple quiet rest.” - Henri Nouwen
Thank you for joining me in this journey towards keeping a quiet heart. This last week I will be giving away a copy of the book that God used to prompt me to seek hard after the qualities of a quiet heart. Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway and a winner will be chosen at random on November 1 to receive Elisabeth Elliot's Keep a Quiet Heart.
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