Thursday, November 20, 2014

Out of the Heart - Guarding Your Heart and Writing the Bigger Story

"But the words you speak come from the heart..." - Matthew 15:18 (NLT)

Lately, I've been feeling a bit weary when it comes to writing. I'll be honest. I still love it. It still fills me with hope and excitement and anticipation. But it feels me with other things do. Fear. Worry. Anxiety. My proposal is out there in the world right now, and while that should make my heart flitter with opportunity, it also scares me in a way I don't know that it's ever scared me before. After five years of writing and my fair share of "no's," I find myself braced for other sorts of possibilities... rejection. Even the feeling of failure. Not pretty things to talk about, but things all writers eventually deal with.

In addition to the fear that so often creeps into the writing life, our world is full of negative stories. All it takes is one glance at what's trending on your Facebook account or a few seconds of the news to hear all sorts of maddening things. Ebola. Terrorism. Kidnapping. All sorts of should-I-or-shouldn't-I scenarios begin to arise as we try to make decisions about what is safe and what is not, what is being overly cautious and what is necessary.

Too much time spent on social media can certainly exasperate this problem, can it not? I am a firm believer in standing in the gap for our friends and praying for one another's needs, let me be clear. But on the flip side, some people seem to use Facebook to exclusively share horrible news stories. After just a few minutes on Facebook, sometimes I find myself feeling burdened, depressed, or even a little panicky.

Why does this seem to happen to us so easily? And what is the answer? To go even further, how can this tendency affect our writing?

Photo by winnond, at
I believe that, as all youth pastors have at one point or another said, what goes in comes out. Put very simply, we feed our minds, hearts, and spirits every day. Some days-- perhaps most days-- we are not conscious about what we are feeding ourselves. But when we get that I-ate-too-much-ice-cream feeling after reading some shocking news story or imagining the worst possible scenario happening to our books, there is a reason for the feeling. We have fed ourselves the wrong things.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting we stick our heads in the sand and pretend the world is perfect. The world is far from perfect. We are far from perfect. People get sick and need healing. Jobs are lost sometimes. Evil people can seem to be so loud. And at times, the unexpected happens. We must be diligent and disciplined, compassionate and actively interceding for those around us.

But we were never called to fix the world. We were never called to be God. We were called to release our trust to Him.

How can we manage to do that when the world seems so very chaotic and maddening?

It's vital that we set boundaries in our lives and remain intentional about what we "feed" ourselves. Our thought lives, our imagination, and our hearts so readily stray from the goodness of God that we must pull ourselves back to Him, as a watering pail pulled from the bottom of the well. He is our living water. He is the answer, not only for our needs, but also for the needs of those in our world. But if we run 'round and 'round the well frantically with our hands atop our heads, we will never help anyone, including ourselves.

In practical terms, this may mean limiting Facebook time so you can spend more time reading the Bible, or watching only a few minutes of news per day. If you're a particularly creative person whose mind goes wild when you hear about health epidemics or terrorism, you may need to become especially diligent about cutting off your imagination before it breeds fear and panic.

Above all else, guard your heart. As Proverbs tell us, it is the wellspring of life.

The really cool part is, the mouth (or in our case, keyboard) speaks from what is in the heart. So if you're feeding your heart a bunch of awful stuff, it only makes sense you may find yourself struggling with your writing. But on the other hand, if you are filling your heart with living water, it's going to flow into your stories in a way only God can orchestrate.

If you want to write the kind of story that changes lives, first let God change your own. If you want your writing to be a ministry, recognize that means praying over your stories and future readers, and guarding your own heart. What is inside you will naturally flow out. And that's one of the coolest, highest callings of the writing life.

It is oh-so-easy to sit down at the computer drained, neglecting devotions and our prayer lives. But God has called us to so much more-- to create with Him from a pure heart.

I challenge you today to do something bold. Consider yourself a minister to your readers, even if you don't have any yet. Imagine what they'd look like if they were standing in your living room, in need of advice, encouragement, and maybe even a laugh. Would you offer them more than what you're doing now? Would it be worth protecting your heart for them?


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 blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


kaybee said...

Ashley, this is deep. We need to remember Who we write for and leave the results up to Him. It is NOT like secular writing. I'm a journalist by day and I can tell you while I ask God to use me in my work, I'm not invested in the same way I am in the fiction. It's a ministry and we have to treat it like any other ministry, including pastoral: Leave the results up to God.
Thanks for the post,
Kathy Bailey

Courtney Ballinger said...

I needed this today. Really needed it.
Thank you.

Ashley Clark said...

So strange! I replied to your comments earlier, but it looks like my response didn't go through. My apologies if this is a repeat!

Kathy and Courtney, thank you both so much for stopping by today!

Kathy, I know what you mean about how different secular writing can be from ministry-oriented writing... sometimes it can be a real challenge to switch gears back and forth! But you're so right-- leaving the results up to God is the huge difference, trusting Him for our definition of "success" even if it looks different from what we expect.

Rachelle O'Neil said...

This is an excellent reminder, Ashley! Our stories will reflect what we're putting into our minds, just as our lives will. So, if we want to create good, beautiful stories, we need to be putting good, beautiful things in our minds. I found myself thinking of all the non-writing applications of this post as I read, too. It definitely hits deep!

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you, Rachelle! It's definitely a concept that challenges me, but it's also such a cool thing to think through when we consider the ways God can use us and our stories. Glad you stopped by today!

Angie Dicken said...

Great post, Ash. I wish I could send it to a certain someone but I don't think he is ready to hear it right now.
Can't wait to hear your good news!!! IT's closer than you think!
Love ya!

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you, Ang! So glad to have you on this journey! :)