Thursday, June 19, 2014

Are You Keeping a Healthy Heart?

Today is all about hearts-- disappointment, triumph, and keeping perspective in it all.

Photo by mapichai, at
Turn on the TV, drive down the street, or walk through a grocery aisle, and you're going to get bombarded with messages about having a healthy heart. Take rom com movies, for example. Why is it all the leading heroines seem to be joggers? Do these writers and producers get their best ideas on their own morning jogs or something? Then there are the endless conversations about trans fats, butter, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc., etc., etc.

What we don't talk about nearly as frequently is the condition of our writers' hearts. Which is unfortunate, because if you're human, and you're a writer, you're going to have a struggle-of-the-heart at one point or another. And more than likely, this struggle will happen daily.

Our poor writers' hearts are constantly being bombarded, and it's usually with disappointment. Maybe you were really hoping to final in a contest (*ahem*), and you didn't make the cut. Or maybe your dream editor has been looking at your heart story, and rejected it without any feedback. Or maybe you're just plain discouraged. Maybe you've been doing this a long time, and . . . well, you feel like you've had to give up investing your heart in your stories just to survive the struggles of the publishing journey.

This past week, I stumbled upon an audio recording by Robin Jones Gunn from a writing workshop she taught in Africa. You can find it here in her online store. It's a steal at only a few dollars, and I can't recommend this recording enough.

In this workshop, Robin uses Psalm 51:10 as the cornerstone of her teaching: "Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me."

Now, we've all heard that verse before--probably hundreds of times. But have we ever really allowed it to sink in to our hearts as writers?

Robin uses the illustration of our stories being like a cup of water that is offered to readers, and really, to God. At first, that cup of cold water sounds really appealing--especially if you're in a parched place in life. But imagine tossing in just a few grains of dirt and sand. Maybe a little pepper and spice. Suddenly, the glass of water doesn't seem so appealing any longer. Even if there's only a little dirt inside, who wants to drink that?

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And yet, that's exactly what we do when we sit down to write with bitterness in our hearts. With unforgiveness, envy, pride, and anger as our company. Even if these things have no apparent, direct bearing on our stories, they will naturally and inevitably "come out" in the water. That's because writing as a ministry is different from other types of writing. It takes all of us, all of our hearts. And in that way, it becomes a form of worship.

So let me ask you again. Are you keeping a healthy heart?

Or have you allowed bitter things to take refuge inside?

See, when things happen to us that seem to justify our response, this whole process gets really hard. Because sometimes people really do hurt us. Sometimes they really do let us down, in a big way. And it's easy to feel like we have a right to be mad.

If we're not careful, we begin to compare ourselves to others. Maybe we envy them. Or maybe we think they took our spot in the next-to-be-published line.

Or perhaps it's not an actual person who threatens your dream as a writer. Maybe it's the seemingly- elusive goal of being a bestseller. Or maybe it's a family member or friend who has hurt you and let you down, weakening your resolve to keep writing.

After a while of responding these sorts of challenges, a couple things happen. Either we just begin to give up, or we keep going-- harboring in our hearts little bits of frustration, disappointment, and bitterness we've picked up along the way. So we begin to write with a little bit of dirt in the water, muddying the message God has given us.

But God has called us to so much more.

Romans 2 says we have no right to give these sorts of things free living space in our hearts, because God has forgiven each of us for so much more. Just as the Biblical debtor who was forgiven, then went out and collected the smallest of debts for his own gain, we so often forget the vastness of God's grace in our lives. We are not our own measuring stick. Grace is the measuring stick. And thank God for that.

God has given you a story that only you can tell. If you get so caught up in contests and rejection letters and the comparison game that you forget to listen to the voice of God, the world will lose out.
Your future readers will lose out. Because no one else can tell your story.

So if you find yourself in a position where the water of your heart is a bit murky, or perhaps all-out mud --and really, aren't we all in that position?-- the remedy is simple. Pray. Ask God to create in you a clean heart. Ask Him again and again every time you begin to write. Because the ministry of writing is a mighty calling. And readers deserve nothing short of the whole, beautiful story God has put in your heart.


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blogFacebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Joan Hall said...

This post touches on a subject that many of us are guilty of - the comparison game. Thank you for the reminder to turn our hearts to God.


Unknown said...

What a beautiful post, Ashley. You're right. We need to monitor our writer's heart health. It's important to deal with hurt, rejection and disappointment while it's still small. The longer we let it go, the stronger an influence it has on our writing and our lives.

Your clean glass of water visual is perfect. That's what I want my heart to be.

Thanks for sharing this today!

Ashley Clark said...

Joan, I think it's so easy to fall into that temptation as we look for validation, especially when we're already feeling insecure!

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you, Jeanne! You should download Robin's workship-- I think you'd really enjoy it!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Beautiful post, Ashley!

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you, Karen!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Wow, Ash! This is lovely. Perfect encouragement. Thank you!

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you, Ames! :)

Susan Anne Mason said...

Oh my, Miss Ashley, you have a way with words! Thank you for this beautiful reminder!


Ashley Clark said...

Aw, thank you, Sue! Glad you stopped by today! :)

Bree Combs said...

I just stumbled upon this blog for the very first time this morning and God used you to speak to me. Psalm 51:10 is sort of my life verse and for it to be used in this blog, related to my exact struggles with writing is just...well, incredibly like MY GOD. Thanks for being an encouragement to me this morning.

Ashley Clark said...

Bree, I have chill bumps! THANK you for sharing that! It's always so cool when God uses something in His infinitely-big way. And whatever you're going through with your writing, be encouraged-- don't give up. This week was a bit of a bummer for me as I didn't final in a contest I REALLY wanted to final in. But you know what? I reminded myself of what Robin said in her workshop-- "Only YOU can write your story." Isn't that true, and such a beautiful thought? Anyway, it's great to have you at the Alley! Hope to see you back soon! :)

Bree Combs said...

Thanks Ashley, I am extremely new to this writing world, just trying to figure out how to be sure-footed and rest knowing God has set me on this course. I appreciate your encouragment very much. God used you and your writing today in my's not winning a contest, but hopefully that brings a joy that runs even deeper! God bless :)