The Cats at the Door: Trust and Discipline in the Creative Process

I’ve been avoiding writing. Mostly because I’m scared. Scared of writing the wrong thing, scared of what people might think, scared that all this work may be for nothing. It wasn’t always this way, but the farther along I get in the process of writing Enough, the more feedback I receive. And the more feedback I receive, the more I remember just how hard creating is.

So I come up with all sorts of things to do instead of sitting down at my computer and typing out these words. So many tasks beg for my attention. They call out to me and entice me to enjoy them now and put off the hard work of writing until later. I’d much rather sit down and read a book or whip something up in the kitchen – like the pumpkin spice granola I just had to make last night. The granola is delicious, and I’m greatly enjoying my books, but when they come between me and writing, there’s a problem.

We all do this with the things that scare us – or that just seem plain hard. From running to writing to initiating a tough conversation, we’re skilled at coming up with an endless list of excuses to avoid the situation or person we’ve left unaddressed.

But we can’t ignore those things forever. That task at work or that unresolved conflict begs to be acknowledged.

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The Cats at the Door

When I lived in Orlando for a summer during my internship at RELEVANT, I was blessed to find free housing with some family friends who had a gorgeous, huge house on a little lake in one of the nicer parts of the city. The couple was taking their boat up to Chesapeake Bay for hurricane season and needed someone to watch the house, water the orchids, and take care of their three cats. While not a cat person, I was happy to become one for the sake of free, comfortable lodging.

Those cats required my constant attention. Whenever I was home, they’d find me on the couch and look up at me with their big brown eyes, begging for a scratch behind their ears. I had to keep a close eye on the older orange tabby cat, Max, because if left outside too long, he’d get in a brawl with one of the other neighborhood cats. All that was fine, except for the mornings.

Every morning I’d wake to the sound of the cats scratching and meowing at my door. I’d try to ignore them for a while and just lay there in the cool breeze of the multiple fans that helped me adjust to the muggy Florida heat. But those cats were persistent. Eventually, they’d win out, and I’d cross the wood floor to open the door and greet them.

Of course, being cats, their acknowledgment of me was minimal. But they’d quickly start scampering down the stairs to the kitchen where our breakfast rituals would begin – first for them, then for me.

I think about those cats sometimes when there’s a need gnawing away at me. And when I say “need,” I do mean that. I need to write. Just like you may need to cook or dance or write code or solve complex financial problems. As I’ve been learning through Timothy Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor, we all need our work because we’re created “like God” who is a worker by his very nature. After all, he created us.

Whether in the workplace, at home, or in relationships, our work is what allows us to cultivate what God’s entrusted to us, to create new and beautiful things that point to him, and to help fix what’s been broken along the way.

Sometimes baking granola or reading a book is exactly the kind of live-giving work I need in a given moment. But I know when I’m ignoring other pressings things – especially writing – because I can almost hear them scratching at the door, meowing incessantly until I acknowledge their existence and attend to them.

Faith in Action

So that’s what I’m doing this morning. Sitting down, writing, knowing that God will meet me in this place – just as he always does – trusting that he’ll provide the words I need to say today.

Trust is faith in action. It’s believing that even you though you don’t see the end of the road, you can take the next step forward. And trust is cultivated by discipline. By sitting down and doing the hard thing, by lacing up your shoes and hitting the pavement, by reaching out to that friend you’ve been avoiding and extending an olive branch of humility and love. Discipline isn’t comfortable, but it’s so good for us.

Have you ever done something good but didn’t really enjoy it because it was just too easy? Like you didn’t even have to think about it, and so you didn’t feel all that great about the effort you put in?

That’s what I mean when I say we need our work – and we need to work hard, not just when it suits us. We need the trials, we need a little sweat and tears, we need to get dusty and let our feet get tired so that at the end of the day we can look back and recognize that Trust was our constant companion. That we needed Discipline to get to where we were going.

Our church has been going through what we’re calling a Year of Biblical Literacy – a year of reading through the Bible individually and corporately, letting the text come alive, and learning to read it “literarally,” as our pastor Dave would say. The point of this year isn’t to learn more about the Bible per se, although that’s certainly happening, and it’s great for all of us. The point of this year is to learn more about God – both through his Word and through the simple (or not so simple) act of reading this narrative of love. In dedicating ourselves to the discipline of reading the Bible, we’re opening up our hearts to God – to learn from him and let him challenge us through what we’re reading and through the fact that we don’t have all the answers.

That’s the conclusion I’ve come to most often when reading the Bible. I often think, Did it really have to be this way, God? Why all the wandering in the desert? Why choose this people? Why do you love us so much?

And that’s when God responds back and says, Because that’s what I do: I love you.

I don’t often get much of an answer beyond that, but I have to imagine that God would also say, You’re right, you don’t understand all my ways. I’m not asking you to; I’m just asking you to have faith, to trust, and to obey.

Learning to Trust the Creative Process

And that’s what I’m trying to do – to be obedient to his call to write, to share with others, to serve at my job, and to learn to love more like he does. Just as the process of reading the Bible changes me, so does the process of working and writing and creating. I know I need to cultivate that trust – that faith in action – by regularly sitting down to write. I can’t just do it when I feel like it, when it suits me, because then it doesn’t have the same opportunity to change me.

When I’m dedicated to the discipline of writing as well as the enjoyment of it, I find the end result is so much bigger than what I could have imagined. When I push past the fear and allow myself to write in vulnerability, God – by his mysterious grace – allows my meager words to serve as a broken vessel for his love.

Writing and Wandering in the Desert

Sometimes when I write a post or work on my book, I lose sight of that truth – that God knows where he’s taking me and my work, and that he has a plan that’s much different from (and better than) what I could dream up. But at times, it feels like I’m just moving from post to post or edit to edit. Much like the Israelites in the desert, the wandering and writing can seem endless, and I worry I won’t have the strength to finish. Will the book ever be completed? Will it really go anywhere? How will I ever know when it’s done, Lord?

But with Trust and Discipline by my side, I’m determined to keep going. To keep moving from place to place as God calls me forward. Because I have faith that he makes good on his promises. He’s promised to take me to a place I can’t even imagine yet. And he’s promised to use the work that you and I do for our good and his glory – meaning he’s going to change us through the experiences we go through, and he’s going to show himself to be powerful and trustworthy in all the places we set up camp.

He doesn’t leave us wandering in the desert without a guide – he is always there. And that truth of his presence is the antidote to worry, which if left unaddressed can lead us to despair, anxiety, laziness, and the temptation to just give up.

I love what Jesus Calling has to say on this matter: “Worry is the result of imagining a future without Me in it. So your best defense against worry is to stay in contact with Me – both talking to Me and listening to Me.”

So this morning, before I sat down to write, I talked with God about my worries. About how I want to be bold, but how I’m still afraid to share certain parts of my story. How I’m trying to be faithful in the writing of Enough, but I sometimes doubt that I have what it takes to finish it. And God, in his loving way, was faithful to remind me that I don’t have it what it takes – not on my own – and that’s why I have him.

He’s in my future. And he’s in yours.

Whatever you’re avoiding, bring it to God. Whatever is worrying you, let him carry it. If you feel like you’re just wandering from place to place, ask him to shed some light on the next right step. If you’ve lost sight of the end goal, ask him to reinvigorate your love for your work and for the people you interact with on a daily basis.

Then, get to it.

Flex that trust muscle and put your faith in action. Do the next thing. Do the hard thing. That’s what I keep repeating to myself. And as I do, my prayer is that I’d find Joy and Peace have joined me as companions on the road. This is my prayer for you too:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26, NIV)


Want more? Join me in the process of moving from fear to faith – from “I’m not enough” to “I have just what I need” – by signing up here to be the first to know about updates on Enough.

 

6 thoughts on “The Cats at the Door: Trust and Discipline in the Creative Process

  1. Pingback: What No One Tells You About Letting Go of Perfectionism | Waiting for the end of the sentence…

  2. Laura,
    This is very well written! I especially liked when you wrote, “Sometimes when I write a post or work on my book, I lose sight of that truth – that God knows where he’s taking me and my work, and that he has a plan that’s much different from (and better than) what I could dream up.” I need to remember that as well. My writing is not as frequent as yours is even though I do want to make it a bigger priority in my life, but I sometimes get bogged down with what’s going to happen with the writing. I try to make my own plans and dreams, but God knows exactly where he’s taking each of us with our work. Thank you for the reminder!

    • Thanks so much, Emily. You’re right. God totally knows what’s up. I was reading Ruth yesterday and was reminded of how God is working behind the scenes, arranging al the details of our lives, and making meaning out of the seemingly mundane aspects of our days. Glad you’re working through that too – we all need that reminder!

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