Hold Loosely

I remember back in my reporter days for a business magazine hearing from a sales motivational coach who said at the beginning of his presentation that if you walked away with only one nugget of wisdom, he had done his job. Just one nugget. That’s all it took to not only make his talk worthwhile financially, but worthwhile in terms of making your business better.

That advice changed my life as I have always remembered it didn’t do you any good getting bogged down with lists of tips or bullet pointed must do’s in order to change your life for the better. All it took was one nugget—received and then acted upon.

Such a nugget recently came my way and it has made a wonderful impact on my life. Early this summer I was attending a writing symposium at Princeton Theological Seminary. I was gathered in a group of advanced writers who had the opportunity to hone our craft, share our prose and talk one-on-one with a former pastor-turned mother-turned published author of teen devotionals and other such books.

One afternoon, as we were gathered in small groups practicing and perfecting our elevator pitches to be used someday on potential book agents, the former pastor-turned mother-turned published author offered some sound advice. She said when writing a sermon, a daily reflection for a devotional, a scene to a mystery novel, whatever it is you’re writing, don’t ever be tied down to the words or ideas you are so in love with.

You might have a vision of where you want your story to go, but many times the story will have a life of its own. Let your story live. Be brutal and pry yourself away from that too long paragraph, that extra descriptive scene, that conversation between two characters that doesn’t move the story forward. Yes, you might think it is the most brilliant thing you have ever written, but holding tightly to your words doesn’t make for a delightful read. Hold loosely the words you write, she said. Cut and paste and put aside. You might eventually include what was cut. Or you might use those words in a different way. Or you might come to see they weren’t as great as you thought them to be.

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Out of all the nuggets of wisdom gathered at that conference, her nugget is the one I keep hearing and applying  beyond my writing. For how many times do we find ourselves holding on to something we are so enthralled by but it isn’t moving our story forward? How many times do we refuse to edit out something that isn’t good for us? How many times do we cling tightly to something that has died a long time ago? Isn’t it true we tend to stay too long on the battlefield, bloodied and beaten down, never realizing the skirmish has long been over?

While the preacher side of me always gravitates to the message that there’s always hope for tomorrow and that God can revive all that is lagging, there’s also the reality that a seed must first die before bringing forth new life. We are to hold on to hope, but our hope is in the promise of resurrection. And resurrection cannot happen without the holding loosely—and the eventual letting go—that death asks of us.

Hold loosely—to your words.

Hold loosely—to your ideas.

Hold loosely—to your future plans.

Hold loosely—to even those you love and things you love.

Cut and paste and put aside. The story of your life will be brilliant. Just let God offer His revisions.

Into the Deep End of Gladness

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Frederick Buechner

Not sure why I wrote this quote in my journal. It wasn’t as if I’ve never heard it before. I had. Many times over. There I was, though, scribbling it down as if the words were brand-spanking new to ears I thought were deaf by now to such pithy quotes. The longer you’re in ministry the longer the list of these quotes seems to get.

I scribbled and reread it. Then I underlined “deep gladness” and read it some more. Next, I circled “deep hunger” and read it yet again. Then “God,” “call,” “meet.” The words were taking on an exciting new life. The speaker at the clergy conference I was attending continued as I gazed down at the fresh ink marks made on the soft gray lines of the bright white journal paper.

“If you don’t know where your deep gladness is—find it,” he commanded, emphasizing “find it” with enough power and punch to get his point across.

It was then my pen jumped at his command and began dancing across the page of my journal. Like the Bible story about the writing on the wall mysteriously appearing in the courts before King Belshazzar that mesmerized me as a child I, too, looked at the words before me wanting to know what they meant, for it was a message I didn’t quite understand or, better yet, didn’t trust to be true.

The mysterious words were, “I do know.”

Really? I do know where my deep gladness has the ability of meeting the world’s hunger?

I thought some more about the divine message that I could no longer ignore—or even erase from my journal. Darn. I knew I should have written this down in pencil! But the truth was let loose.

I did know where my deep gladness was. I knew, but some where and some how I had let life get in the way. How strange it is that the things we need to do in order to “live” are often the very things robbing us of deep gladness? If only we were more aware of that which makes the heart leap for joy would we then start seeing God’s kingdom becoming a beautiful reality in our midst.

This is especially true of our faith communities where, in sacred spaces and on holy ground, time and energy is spent trying to solve the problems of low attendance and little money. Focus on what is thought to give new life, though, actually thwarts the new life Jesus is offering. What is all too soon forgotten is revival begins first by reconnecting with one’s deep gladness. And this deep gladness is always accompanied with the gifts, talents, resources, energy, etc., needed to satiate a hungering world.

Yes, the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. Find that deep gladness now, for the world is indeed hungering.

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Deep gladness is found out in God’s big backyard where the accidental country pastor’s passion for rural ministry meets the hungering needs of small churches.