Those of us who dare to write about the spiritual life face a daunting challenge—how do we practice what we preach? How do we keep our writing authentic? As we “write for God,” how do we tend our own souls?
Spiritual disciplines are simply practices of faith that create some space in our lives for God. If you have ever sat down to read your bible or pray, you’ve engaged in spiritual disciplines. But there are many other disciplines that will help us to grow, while ultimately improving our writing.
It’s important to listen to God’s direction on which disciplines are needed in our lives. God may call us to embrace solitude and silence for a season. He may ask us to build trust by giving.
The most commonly practiced disciplines are study and prayer—also called solitude or quiet time with God. Writers need these. But here are three other spiritual disciplines that I have found a particularly helpful as a writer:
1. Community. But we also need the balance of authentic community. Writing is a solitary venture—we bravely face a blank page, alone but for the thoughts in our head. We need the discipline of setting aside our work to connect with others—and not just via Facebook. God may speak to our hearts, but we need to test those leadings with the wisdom of friends, mentors and people who love God, love us, and are willing to speak truthfully to us. That’s what community is.
We need time with others who can speak into our lives, offering encouragement to counter our natural neuroses. Sometimes, we need someone to read what we have written and assure us that it is not awful, so that we can have the courage to write a little more. We need others to guide us when we get off track.
Join a small group, preferably not made up of just other writers. Pull yourself away from the writing for a time to actually nurture others by praying with them, listening to them, simply enjoying them. Celebrate and enjoy the gift of friendship.
2. Inspiration. When we take time to notice and to be inspired by beauty, we connect with God. Walk through a garden or an art museum, read really great writing. In a way, this is a form of listening prayer, of hearing God through beauty.
I hear God in the beauty of creation, in the careful staccato brush strokes of a Monet, in the grace and athleticism of a modern ballet. So my spiritual practice includes taking time to pry myself away from the computer and get outdoors each day—to notice beauty of snow on tree branches or spring flowers blooming. It also includes occasional outings to get my fill of “culture” in the form of music, theater, art or other beauty, because it draws me into the presence of God. Such activities are not a waste of time—they feed my soul, which nurtures my writing.
3. Sabbath. Most writers do not go to an office to work. We carry a notebook and furtively scribble in it when thoughts or images come to mind. We sit in coffee shops in or in the spare bedroom and pound out words on the computer. Hence, we’re easily tempted to work 24-7. Our lives are unframed by trivialities like a calendar. However, if we never rest, our reservoir of words will run dry. We need to honor God by keeping the Sabbath.
In nearly two decades of Sabbath-keeping, and being a professional freelance writer during those same decades, I’ve found that there is a beautiful mystery when we honor God by obeying his command to take a day of rest.
You may be worried that taking a day off will put you further behind. But Sabbath actually has the opposite effect. In the weeks that I don’t write on Sunday, my overall production (measured by words written, articles finished, whatever) is higher than it is on the weeks I don’t stop. And on Mondays, after a day of rest, my productivity soars.
During World War II in England, a factory conducted a productivity study. Workers were put on a schedule of working twenty-one days in a row, then having a several days off, and their productivity measured. Then, by way of comparison, the workers were put on a six-days-on, one-day-off schedule. On each schedule, the number of days worked was the same. Yet when they got to take one day off per week, their productivity doubled. God gave the command for Sabbath because he made us and knows how we would function optimally.
Writer Cec Murphey has found this productivity principle to be true in his life. (I tell his full story in my book Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity). Cec is a prolific writer, having written or co-written 104 books and more than 700 articles. He makes his living primarily as a ghostwriter, taking other people’s ideas and shaping them into books. He’s taught at over two hundred writers’ conferences. At seventy-four, he still works full-time and has no plans to retire. For most of his life, Cec says, he was a bit of a workaholic, even in seemingly spiritual careers as a missionary, pastor, teacher, and author. Today, he’s still very driven and highly disciplined. But he’s found that he’s a much happier man, and no less productive than before, now that he has incorporated the practice of Sabbath rest into his life.
At first, Cec could not even conceive of taking a whole day off from work. So, he started gradually, with just taking one or two hours after church to simply do nothing, to relax. “After a while, I gradually made it three hours, then four,” he laughs. Now he understands that value of keeping a Sabbath, and gets more done by taking time away from writing.
Build the practices of community, inspiration and Sabbath into your life, and you’ll find that your soul, and your writing, will flourish.
-Keri Wyatt Kent