Maybe this is a good place to start

  Every time I see another person say “suck it up” or “stop whining and move on,” I feel more bereft than before—because those statements show that people don’t get it. This isn’t about politics, and suggesting that my sadness isn’t valid is belittling. Honestly, this response only underscores the reasons I’m upset in the ...

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Every time I see another person say “suck it up” or “stop whining and move on,” I feel more bereft than before—because those statements show that people don’t get it. This isn’t about politics, and suggesting that my sadness isn’t valid is belittling. Honestly, this response only underscores the reasons I’m upset in the first place.

Since hearing someone else’s story always changes my understanding, I’m sharing mine with you. I’m sure there are plenty of people who are whining and pouting and just like to be mad. But there are lots and lots of other people who, I think, feel much like I do. Our rights may not be compromised, but we see that those of others might be, and we feel the pain on their behalf.

If anything unusual happened during these past few months, it is that people went public with their thoughts and opinions and our social media environment helps remove social filters. Which should be good. We want honesty and authenticity, right? Except that in so many cases the thoughts and opinions exposed were ugly. Downright hateful and mean and insulting.

(I know this goes both ways, although among my friends, I’ve seen next to nothing of the sort coming from the liberals and tons of bashing from the conservatives—but many of the conservatives I know tell me that all the liberals are hateful and violent. And that’s exactly my point. When we make broad generalizations, we’re insulting actual, specific individuals. Most of us are not extremists, and general statements like that are, quite simply, not fair. And I’m genuinely sorry I didn’t realize that sooner.)

Am I happy with the outcome? No. I accept that Donald Trump will be my President, and I will try to give him a chance. But my political disappointment is no more extreme than that of a conservative when Obama was elected. About half the time, simply because of the way democracy works, we will all be disappointed. No big deal.

Am I grieving? Yes. But the reason is not because “my” candidate lost the election.

It is not because Donald Trump was elected. It’s because grief is sometimes the appropriate response when something is lost. It’s right to feel sad when you see wrongs and injustices.

These past few months, we all witnessed new levels of hatred and division, name-calling and bullying. As I watched the results pour in on Tuesday night, I started to cry because I realized that the conclusion of the election will not conclude the problem.

We’ve seen too much to go back. We’ve seen who we are—as a country, as different political groups, as a Church. Maybe Trump didn’t cause the ugliness in individual people but he inherently, by his own words, gave permission to people to speak out. They felt comfortable letting others see parts of themselves they would have once kept hidden. And now millions more feel acute rejection—because even if, as a Trump supporter, you’re not hateful or bigoted, Trump’s victory seems to many to be an endorsement of those traits.

When people are hurting, we—as Christians—should feel empathy and sorrow. It’s not sadness about Democrats “not getting our way.” It’s about having compassion for the millions of hurting people who need to know that even though Trump won, we believe they have value. We see them.

Here’s just a little bit of what else we’ve seen.

  • Many people—who are anything other than straight, white, middle class Christians—are feeling justifiable fear. Countless individuals are being taunted, facing hatred, and experiencing violent backlash simply because of their ancestry or a stereotype.
  • Millions of women are victims of sexual abuse, and many men simply cannot understand what mainstream acceptance of sexism and abuse does to a woman’s soul.
  • Not all Christians believe the same things—or if we do, we choose to live out our ideologies very differently.
  • Many Christians (and to be fair, probably many other religions, too) feel threatened by those who believe differently.
  • Nobody likes to be stereotyped; we want to be evaluated on our individual merits and behaviors, not someone’s opinion about a group we belong to.
  • Our actions have a real impact on others’ perceptions of who we are—especially as Christians, who are called to show God to the world. People (within and outside of the Church) are questioning if Christianity is all they thought it was, and if our God is worth following if His followers act this way.
  • Minorities and differences are not as accepted as we thought.
  • Thousands (probably millions) have spent their lifetimes feeling ignored, so when Trump made them feel seen, they responded to him. At the same time, countless others feel unseen now because of the number of votes for a platform seemingly opposed to their beliefs or lifestyles.
  • Because so many voted “against” rather than “for”—we know that negative emotions like dislike and distrust are extremely powerful motivators.

These issues aren’t about politics but basic human decency—the lack of it and the necessity for more of it. Now that we know, it’s not as simple as just “dropping it” and moving on.

This could be a really good thing. It could. When something is hidden, it can’t be addressed. Hidden things hold a dark kind of power over us.

But now we can change.

So, as a liberal, am I packing my bags and leaving the country? No. I won’t deny that in the midst of my emotions, I didn’t wish I could. But I don’t usually run from a problem, even if I could. So instead I’m spending time with trusted friends who make me feel safe to be me. I’m talking to God and trying to come to terms with our new reality. I’m praying for insight and direction and inspiration.

And I’m hoping—fervently, passionately hoping—that this will be the start of something amazing. That this will not be an era of hate, but that people will pull together to find the good. That we will work together to help people who aren’t just like us feel they belong. That we will learn to look beyond our own experience and be aware of someone else’s.

Recently, we’ve focused on our differences, but if we look harder, I believe we can find more to bring us together. And if we believe what our faith teaches us, we all have work to do.

  • As Christians, we have to forgive—not because it’s our gut response or because we’re feeling magnanimous but because we were first forgiven by Christ.
  • We have to love others—because we were loved first with an extravagant love whose depths we cannot begin to fathom.
  • We must stop judging because God is the righteous judge. We must stop casting stones because we are not without our own sin.
  • We need to accept others, because Jesus turned no one away. God’s love is freely offered to everyone.

But it’s not all hard stuff.

  • We get to hope because God alone brings hope into impossible situations.
  • We get to remember that these trials in our world are nothing for a God who is not limited by place or time or circumstance. No need is beyond his capacity for repair or his ability to procure.

We do know this, right? Then let’s act like we believe it. Let’s build genuine relationships with all types of people and not be afraid of that which is different. Let’s attempt to understand where those we disagree with are coming from. Let’s not get bogged down by despair but let’s do find more, better ways to extend kindness and generosity with sincerity and grace. Let’s show God’s love in more genuine ways. Let’s acknowledge that the Church will never be perfect because it’s made up of imperfect individuals—but that doesn’t mean we can’t be better.

It’s not all on us as a country or community, though. We each have our own personal work to do—getting to know God better, seeking Him sooner and more often. Turning from selfishness and ignorance toward the light of His understanding. Putting our trust in God, who never fails us. (He may do things we don’t like, but He doesn’t fail us.)

So even though I am mourning and hurting, and even though I’ve been insulted and am disappointed in others, and even though I’m overwhelmed with despair, I will keep trying to do what’s right. Because I know that someone else’s misbehavior doesn’t justify my own. Lashing out to hurt someone else doesn’t heal the wound they inflicted on me.

I have to believe that mankind is better than the examples I’ve seen lately. I have to trust that every insult directed at (pick one) liberals/Democrats/Christians/women isn’t a personal attack. I have to give people the benefit of the doubt, even when I don’t want to, even when it would be easier to skip church or cancel lunch with a friend or unfriend someone on Facebook. I have to be all right with knowing that lots of people don’t understand me and never will.

And it’s okay. Because in the end, I don’t have control over anyone else. I can only be responsible for myself, and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I don’t want to be bitter. I don’t want to hold grudges and be bogged down by despair. I want to be better. I want to let other people know they matter. And I want to be able to look God in the face and hear “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

I want His best. I want Him. I want to be quick to embrace and slow to take offense. I want to live true to my faith and convictions. I want to see that in you and I want to develop that in myself. And that, my friends, is something that goes way beyond politics and elections, and it provides a solid start on a place in which we can agree. I hope you’ll join me there.

When the world is upside down (and not in a good way)

I don’t know how to make sense of all the things happening in the world—in our country. I don’t have answers. But I’m determined not to ask other people to change without first changing myself. And so I’ve been thinking, and praying, and mourning, and pondering. You may not feel the same way I do. ...

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I don’t know how to make sense of all the things happening in the world—in our country. I don’t have answers. But I’m determined not to ask other people to change without first changing myself. And so I’ve been thinking, and praying, and mourning, and pondering. You may not feel the same way I do. And that’s okay.

I listened to a podcast of Nadia Bolz-Weber, in which she put to words something that I try to do in my writing (and which I’ll probably fail miserably at repeating without listening to it again—because I listened many weeks ago and my memory is shot). She said that when she preaches or counsels, she uses the “I’ll go first” mentality. In other words, she puts it all out there—her own failings, her own experiences, her own stories—in order to create a safe space into which someone else can say “me, too” and share their experiences.

So. I guess I’ll go first.

Every time we say “it’s not my fault,” we absolve ourselves of responsibility to fix things. To find ways to make things better. We deny people the compassion of trying to understand them. It truly may not be our fault. But the fact remains that we are in this together—or we should be. It’s what Jesus wanted, for His people to band together to show the world who He is through the way we treat people.

Every time we reply to “Black lives matter” with the statement “All lives matter,” we’re missing the point. Yes, of course all lives matter. But I’ve read enough this week to finally understand that that’s not what this is about. It’s not denying anyone importance, but pointing to a problem that exists with the way society as a whole responds to black lives.

If we’re white, we don’t have to care the same way as if we were black. It’s easy to deny the reality of everything from a tiny slight to a radical injustice if we don’t see it in our daily lives, if we don’t know people who face hatred in subtle and overt ways. Because I’ll tell you the truth: In my comfortable place in a mostly-white community, I’m insulated from that reality. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect me or that I’m not part of the whole institutional system that created the problem.

And because I’m somewhat sheltered, I read. I read writers of color, of other religions and denominations. I read pieces by men and atheists—and even some people who support ideas and causes I couldn’t be more against. It takes its toll on me. I feel heavy. My heart hurts and I’m sickened by the ugliness of humanity. I’m grieving and discouraged and overwhelmed by my lack of ability to make a difference. I want to hit people over the head with my “obvious” conclusions and facts and make them finally see the truth. I struggle this election cycle—for the first time in my life—with being able to like friends with whom I disagree. I’ve had to do some serious soul-searching when I discovered that my husband supports the most abhorrent candidate (in my opinion) ever to run. It’s made me question whether my husband is the man I thought he was. And face the fact that I can love someone I so hugely disagree with. So believe me, I get it. I know why people are having trouble getting along.

But I also know that I can’t solve this alone. Most likely, I’ll never be able to make the slightest dent in this culture of hate we now live in. I don’t know when to speak up and try to enlighten people—to do what feels like my duty to help people understand—and when to shut up because it’s not going to be received. Or because it’s not the right time or place, or because I don’t have the relationships established that I need to have in order to have the right to speak up.

But there is one thing I’m starting to understand. As long as I’m feeling defensive, there is not going to be any change. As long as I deny a problem, nothing will get better. As long as I refuse to accept some responsibility—even if it’s been completely guileless and unintentional—nothing will change.

So I’ve taken the one step I can—the only one I know how to take. I’m saying “yes, I believe you” to the people who say there is a problem. I’m opening my mind and heart. I’m going to let myself be vulnerable and feel the pain. I’m going to listen and not fight back. I’m going to say so when I don’t relate to someone else’s struggles and I’m going to recognize that maybe their struggles should become mine, too.

I don’t want to see one more tragedy, one more horrific instance of hatred, and sit back, silent. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. He is the One who taught peace, who opened His arms to the marginalized and rejected, who trusted that God was in control, who knew that God’s people had the capacity to take care of the needs of the people. I am believing that we’re not all that different and that we are better—and stronger, and kinder, and more generous—when we find reasons to be connected rather than divided. I am committing to trying to understand. I’m promising God that I will do whatever I can find to do that might help. I’m praying that He will show me the steps to take. I’m praying that He will show you, too, and that we both will listen. And, above all, I am vowing to do my absolute best not to make things worse.

Because God has a way of making the impossible possible, the wrong right, the pain into something bearable. That is the God I follow. And I am not content to turn away.


I’m linking up with Suzie Eller’s #livefreethursday (yes, I know I’m several days late. It’s been one of those weeks!). Her prompt was “when the world is upside down.”

How I got my book published

“Hey, Kelly, have any advice for me about getting my book published?” I have no shortage of opinions (about anything, really). Whether they’re useful to anyone else remains to be seen. I’m always happy to share my experience, but I’m an expert only on my own experience, not on the industry in general. I know what worked for ...

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“Hey, Kelly, have any advice for me about getting my book published?”

I have no shortage of opinions (about anything, really). Whether they’re useful to anyone else remains to be seen. I’m always happy to share my experience, but I’m an expert only on my own experience, not on the industry in general. I know what worked for me, but it might be completely different for you. However, I’m asked this question enough that I wanted to post some answers on my blog.

There are many, many helpful resources online for writers. My first go-to source is Jane Friedman. Her site is full of accurate, realistic information and she is a master at curating helpful resources for writers. This post covers all the basics of getting a nonfiction book published. You can go there, explore and read for days and days, and never need to look back here. You can also find information on Michael Hyatt’s website and in The Christian Writer’s Market Guide—or a million other places.

But, in case you’re curious, here is how it worked for me.

I had a quirky idea for a colorful gift book called Praying Upside Down. Various circumstances and comments led to me realizing it could be more than that. I spent nearly a year (working on it a little bit here and a little bit there) preparing a nonfiction book proposal, which contains information like summaries of each chapter, marketing ideas, competitive titles, my qualifications, and anticipated audience. I also wrote several chapters to get a feel for how the book would all come together and to establish my voice. I planned to pitch my idea to an agent who would be at the Midwest Writers Workshop that July. (She liked the idea and asked me to send her the full proposal, but eventually got back to me and said it was “out of her wheelhouse” and she wouldn’t be able to help me.)

In the meantime, I Googled “Christian literary agents” and found a list compiled by Michael Hyatt. I visited each agent’s website, printing out information about what types of books they were looking for and who else they represented, which I then alphabetized in a three-ring binder, complete with tabs. (OCD much?) After choosing the agents that seemed to be good matches, I narrowed it to my top three choices. Two of them asked for electronic submissions, and one requested a hard copy by mail. I sent off the emails and then, when I got together with a couple friends to pray over a house one of them needed to sell, I took the envelope with me and we prayed over it, too. I also submitted a shortened version of the proposal to Christian Manuscript Submissions, a website I’d read about online.

And then I felt like I really wasn’t in the place to be writing about prayer. I was floundering spiritually and emotionally, and I wanted to try something new. So I did the practical, obvious thing (not) and decided to go to Italy for a writers workshop with Elizabeth Berg and learn about fiction. Instead, I learned about myself, and God started healing my broken heart. I wrote this essay about it, and then came home. Six weeks later (almost four months after sending my queries), in one weekend, I heard from the acquisitions editor at a small publishing house and from the agent who received the prayed-over envelope, wondering if the book was still available.

A while later I signed a contract to be represented by that agent, Blythe Daniel. She helped me improve my book proposal and sent it to seven publishers. I got an offer on the book from the small publishing house I mentioned earlier, and then got one from Tyndale. Eventually I signed the contract, agreed to a pub date almost two years away, and got to work writing the rest of the book. (For most nonfiction that is not memoir, potential publishers only see a proposal and sample chapters up front, and you write the bulk of the book after you’ve accepted an offer.) After a year or so of writing, and several months of editing, and numerous hours building my platform (developing my blog and increasing subscribers, establishing a presence on Facebook and Twitter, reaching out to writers I’d met over the years at conferences, and so forth), and a few more months of waiting, Praying Upside Down came out in May of 2015.

It sounds fairly easy. It isn’t always. I was fortunate—it’s unusual to get an agent and publishing offers so quickly. But in a way it wasn’t quick—I had attended workshops for years to improve my writing and I didn’t send anything out until it was the best I could make it. I had worked hard to polish my query letter and book proposal, and I was deliberate about where I sent it. Later, I found out that I hadn’t quite followed the rules. I wrote each of the chapter summaries in my “voice,” and they were too long. (Ideally, they want a utilitarian, short paragraph explaining the content, not a beautifully-crafted, ultra-condensed chapter.) I did a terrible job of selecting comparable titles. My overall proposal was way longer than anyone really wanted. The agents and publishers didn’t get back to me in the timeframe I expected.

But it worked. And I have some ideas about why. My background is in marketing, and I had lots of ideas about ways to promote the book, ways to merchandise it and extend it into a line of books. I also had a quirky, catchy title and an unusual approach. And it just so happened that I had chosen to write about a topic which interests a lot of people and answers a “felt need”—in other words, even if they hadn’t articulated it to themselves, people want to know how to pray. How to do it better. Why they should do it. Because so many people feel inadequately equipped to pray.

But even if I’d done absolutely everything else right, I wouldn’t be here without Him. This book wouldn’t exist if He hadn’t wanted it to. Because one thing I can tell you for sure: this book wasn’t just about prayer. It was prayer. It was my act of worship and sacrifice and thanksgiving. My whole life’s story. A love letter to God. My church prayed over it at every stage. Friends “took” a chapter apiece to pray over as I revised. I enlisted people to be involved in a prayer campaign leading up to the release. My pastors and friends (and even some near-strangers) prayed that God would inhabit my words, that He would prepare hearts, that He would make Himself visible in the process and in the product.

Whether or not anyone else ever thinks the book was in any way divinely inspired, I know He was with me as I wrote. Because He changed me, taught me, and molded me as I wrote. Maybe He did all of this just for me, and having the book published is just a bonus. The book has opened up conversations with family and friends; built relationships with people I’ve never met who live all across the country (and even overseas); and made me stronger and bolder in my faith. I have no idea what God will do with that book, or with the next one coming out next year, but I’m absolutely giddy that I get to write.

I guess it all comes down to one final piece of advice, then. Ask God to inhabit what you do. Ask Him to use you, teach you, and prepare you for whatever He wants to do. And if you think He wants you to write, then by all means, write—with all of your passion and ability and heart. And if He doesn’t want you to write, that’s OK, too. Whatever He has in mind for you is the right thing. Our part isn’t to decide how God should use us. It’s to be open to exploring the opportunities He gives us…and then to give it all you’ve got. What you get back in return is so much better than what you had to offer in the beginning.

Are you a Christian? And does that matter?

Several weeks ago, one of my friends and fellow MWW peeps, Kelsey Timmerman, posted an entry on his blog that I think everyone should read and discuss. It’s called “Are You a Christian?” One thing that I didn’t expect when my book was published is how many people have asked me to tell them my faith story—What denomination am I? ...

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Several weeks ago, one of my friends and fellow MWW peeps, Kelsey Timmerman, posted an entry on his blog that I think everyone should read and discuss. It’s called “Are You a Christian?” One thing that I didn’t expect when my book was published is how many people have asked me to tell them my faith story—What denomination am I? When did I come to God? What is my church background?—before they hear what the book is about. I thought the prayer topic would come first.

I admit, I am often surprised by things that, upon reflection, I realize shouldn’t surprise me. I want to believe that people aren’t judging me, that they’re simply trying to put me into some kind of category to make it easier to put what I’m about to say into context. We do it all the time—Is the speaker a man or woman? What color is she? How old? Where does she live? What does she do for a living? Do we have any friends in common? We note cultural differences, career training, even hobbies as a way to frame or evaluate the information that person is about to give us.

Gathering information isn’t bad. It reminds me of what I’ve said for years—that doubt isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It all depends on the reason you’re asking—are you trying to find a legitimate reason to reject God, or are you seeking to know Him better and draw closer?

A similar concept applies here. And I don’t know about you, but this train of thought leads me to all kinds of questions. Do we have a right to know whether someone is or isn’t a Christian? Do we get to make a judgment call about where someone is coming from or whether it’s relevant to the discussion at hand? Although the questions in and of themselves aren’t necessarily bad, when we ask them, I think we mustn’t overlook the most important one: Why does it matter? Are we merely observing, or are we limiting or stereotyping someone?

Those are some big questions worthy of reflection. And before you get offended, let me say, I’m asking this of myself, too. I absolutely like to know where people are coming from. In my better moments, my intentions are good. I like to understand the motivations behind actions, the reason people hold certain opinions. But I have to admit, sometimes I ask those questions as a way to vindicate myself, to reinforce the stereotyping I’ve already done. (See? I was right about her.)

In Kelsey’s post, he tells us that when he was talking about big, global, humanitarian issues, someone wanted to know whether he is a Christian. It made me think: would we (as Christians) use a negative answer as a way to discredit all the good he’s done, all the insights into people he has to share? Isn’t it still good, whether or not it’s motivated by his faith? Aren’t the stories about people’s lives still worth sharing, whether or not the teller is coming from the same faith tradition you are?

As the posts on Facebook (and, really, everywhere you look) focus more and more on the election, we’re in danger of a whole lot more of this kind of judgment. Of course, you can absolutely look for common ground, find people who are like-minded and know you’re not alone in your views. We all do it, and that’s part of how we build relationships and connect to others.

But don’t let the categorization of a person matter more than his (or her) actions. We’re not here on this earth to be on opposing teams. It’s not us vs. them (or at least it shouldn’t be). We’re all in this together. And even if we don’t agree, we can work side by side. I’m not someone who believes it’s my place to change someone—it is my hope that I will model the kind of generosity and kindness that will reflect the love I have for God. It’s God who will do the changing. It’s God who will open hearts and minds. It’s God who will reveal truth.

I hope that I can remember that next time I’m on Facebook. And that I will pay attention to the person—and the way he or she treats others. Because those behaviors (compassion, generosity, kindness) say a whole lot more about a person than any descriptor (Democrat/Republican, Christian/Muslim/Buddhist/Atheist) I might apply. But that’s only my opinion, and there’s a lot to think about.

I love Kelsey’s post, and I can tell you that he is genuine and empathetic, concerned and involved, loving and motivated by his compassion. He feels a great responsibility to treat each person’s story with respect and reverence, and I admire him tremendously for the work he does. (Do yourself a favor and read his article in Relevant Magazine, and you’ll see that for yourself.)

But really, this post isn’t about him. It’s about us. What do you think about these ideas? Do you or don’t you think someone else’s faith is relevant to your opinion of them and what they do? What can we do to notice the person rather than categorically applying a label? Do you think it is good to surround ourselves with like-minded people or can we learn more—and share more of our faith—when we get involved in lives of those who think or live differently than we do? Please comment. It’s a discussion I’d love to have—and I welcome opinions that are different than mine!

Overcoming the obstacles in prayer

If you’re local(ish) and it’s remotely practical, I’d love to sit down and talk with you in person. The reality is that we’re scattered all over the place and it’s not likely to happen. I don’t feel like letting that stop us from having a good conversation, though. I mean, you can fix yourself a cup of ...

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GRAPHIC Guilt isn't productive

If you’re local(ish) and it’s remotely practical, I’d love to sit down and talk with you in person. The reality is that we’re scattered all over the place and it’s not likely to happen. I don’t feel like letting that stop us from having a good conversation, though. I mean, you can fix yourself a cup of your favorite coffee with just the right kind and amount of creamer or sugar or sweetener. And I can do the same here. And we can still talk from the comfort of our own living rooms—whenever it happens to be convenient.

Periodically, I’ll be posting questions here, and I hope you’ll interact with me. Nothing worse than inviting someone to coffee and having them not show up.

Speaking of that… A man at our church preached about this one time and the analogy really stuck with me. Imagine… I got all ready to go to lunch with my best friend. Picked out cute clothes and shoes (he probably didn’t mention that but that’s just where my mind went). Cleared my schedule, made arrangements for my kids (this was back when they were younger), and drove to the restaurant right on time. And then she didn’t show up? He proposed that maybe that’s how God feels when we say we’ll pray, when we say we want to spend time with Him, and we never get around to it.

Ouch.

If you’re like me, you’d stay and eat anyway. Because lunch. And because books make pretty good dining companions, even if they’re not quite as good as people. Well, not always.

But back to prayer. As I’ve promised repeatedly in my writing, this is a guilt-free zone and I don’t think guilt belongs in prayer. I also don’t believe God ever beats us up for our failings. Sure, He wants us there. And He’ll show us when we have done something wrong. But guilt isn’t productive. Love is. So He just tries to help us be better.

So let’s start a new conversation. What are some of the obstacles that keep you from praying or from spending time with God?

I want you to be real. The reason can be large or small. Maybe you can’t find a private spot in your house. Or maybe you don’t know if you believe in God. Maybe you don’t think He answers prayer. Maybe you think you don’t deserve it. Or you don’t know how to talk to someone you can’t see. Or someone has said something to make you feel guilty or unworthy, making you doubt whether you’re actually a Christian in the first place. Maybe you have three kids under the age of 5 and you rarely find a moment of quiet. Or maybe you aren’t sure what to say.

One thing I can promise you: you are not alone. You’re not the only one with your particular doubt or hurdle or issue or fear or crazy schedule. But the only way to find that out? Admit it and start a conversation about it.

I have plenty of my own issues, many of which I’ve already shared in my book. But I won’t ask you to share anything that I’m not willing to discuss. So this is my current struggle. Right now I’m in a season when writing consumes all of my attention and energy, and pure, focused prayer doesn’t get the time or attention it deserves. A friend helped by suggesting that—using my own words against me—our prayer lives change over time and in different seasons, and we need to be open to whatever God has for us. I need to remember that my prayer life may not look like the next person’s, but not to rule it out simply because of that. If I hadn’t shared, I wouldn’t have had my friend gently encourage me. But because I did, she pointed out to me that for this season, my prayer may (mostly) take the form of sitting in front of my computer and writing.

It helped. And it made me more intentional about it.

So what are your prayer struggles? What obstacles keep you from spending time with God? And, let’s turn this around: do you have any suggestions for me?

 

A glimpse into my convoluted thinking

A while back, as part of a blogger review network, I received a movie to review. My family sat down and watched it. And then I wasn’t sure what to do about it. See, it wasn’t bad. As far as Christian movies go, it was actually pretty good. But it stirred up all kinds of ...

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GRAPHIC Christian to mean lesser

A while back, as part of a blogger review network, I received a movie to review. My family sat down and watched it. And then I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

See, it wasn’t bad. As far as Christian movies go, it was actually pretty good.

But it stirred up all kinds of feelings inside of me.

As an author with a book releasing soon, I certainly didn’t want to say anything about it if I couldn’t say something good. But at the same time, I want you to trust me, to believe what I say. To know that I don’t gloss over the things that are less than perfect, that I will say what I feel needs to be said.

And I didn’t love it. So I was conflicted.

But last night, as I thought more about it, I realized why. And I knew that it was OK, that I could tell you about it. I realized we didn’t need to talk about the movie by name in order to have a good discussion.

Here are the things that bothered me. While the acting wasn’t too bad for a Christian film, I hate that we have to give special dispensation for something calling itself Christian. Why can’t it be just as good and just as strong as something that isn’t? And if it’s not as good, why not? Why do we watch it anyway? The same questions apply to books, to music.

I don’t want Christian to mean lesser. And yet in our society, it usually does.

The movie ended with a happy ending. I have friends who love that, who long for the resolution in which every loose end is wrapped up in a big, perfect bow and they live happily ever after. And in Christian movies and books, that often happens. Because of God. Because saying a magical prayer washes away all your worries and suddenly life is good.

And really? Admit it. We all know that’s not true.

We want it to be true. We long for life to be carefree. Along the way, I’ve experienced for myself the truth that life with God—even when facing frightening, tragic or otherwise unsavory situations—is better than going through those things without Him.

But we’re afraid to admit to someone who doesn’t believe that life won’t suddenly be perfect if they take that leap into faith. We live in a Photoshopped world, a place in which appearances matter. So when we tell our non-believing friends about God, we leave out the parts when God gets angry and smites people. We ignore the behaviors of God that we can’t defend or explain. We skim over the hard parts, the places where Jesus says that, although many called on His name, He did not know them. We neglect that whole love-thy-neighbor-as-thyself and the part about selling all our possessions to give to the poor. We don’t try to convert people by reading them the part about how we have to give up everything to follow Him.

Because we don’t know what to do with that. We think it’s our responsibility as Christians to sugar-coat God. To put a colorful, unblemished mask on Him so that people will like Him.

And in a way, it is our responsibility to market Him. To exhibit Him and all that He believes to the world. To live according to His commands. To love extravagantly, to give joyfully, to stop judging. We’re called to let people see Who He is. We have a responsibility to draw close to God, to reach for Him in prayer, to study His Word and His life so that we know Him. So that we can show Him truthfully and accurately.

But it is not our responsibility—or our right—to try to change Him.

It is not our place to pick and choose the “good” parts.

In my spiritual life, I’ve struggled with certain things, some of them pretty foundational to Christianity. For example, I’ve actually spent time questioning why I should have to accept the sacrifice Jesus made. I didn’t ask for it. And I don’t understand why it had to happen. After all, if God is God then shouldn’t He be able to say He’ll take us anyway? Can’t He abolish the need for a sacrifice? Why did something so bloody, so unsavory, so troubling, have to take place? Why didn’t He stop it? Why didn’t He change the rules?

Finally, I came to peace with the idea that there are certain things I will never understand. I don’t know why it had to happen. But if God is the God I believe Him to be, then there must be a reason. If He is holy, maybe it’s like the opposing ends of a magnet, pushing us in our unholy states away from Him. Making it impossible for us to come to Him. Maybe that’s simply the way it has to be. And maybe I’m too full of myself when I begin to think that I need to understand God, or to think that I’m capable of grasping something that is obviously ginormous and critical to my whole belief system.

Because if my God is big enough to take care of my life for all of eternity, then He’s surely big enough to be in control of the facts. To make the right choices. To not be petty. To not require useless sacrifices. I have to be willing to yield—control, yes, but also the chance to be “right”.

I’m willing to share my doubts with believers, and I believe passionately that doubt and faith can exist side by side. But I don’t want to be the reason a non-believer turns away from God. I don’t want my lack of answers to get in the way.

But maybe it’s time we all started talking about it. Because to any outsider looking in, it’s clear that we, as Christians, don’t have it all together. It’s obvious that there are things we don’t know. That we live imperfectly, that our understanding, at times, is flawed. When we pretend otherwise, they can see right through us. And then not only do we look like we don’t know what we’re doing, we also look like hypocrites. Pretenders.

None of this would make anyone want to join this exclusive little club we’re in. To tell the truth, I’m not always convinced I want to be here, either. Not that I doubt God. I always believe in Him. But sometimes I cringe at the impression left by those who profess to follow Him but act nothing like Him.

So how about it? Want to start having some of the hard discussions? Want to develop relationships with people that are strengthened by the shared journeys towards answers we can live with? Want to muddle through this together?

If so, talk to me. About anything. I don’t have words to express how much I love to have these kinds of discussions. So, what’s on your mind?

What if?

I chose “one word” last year—just so I could say I’d done it. It turns out that really, the word chose me. And God proved faithful in my unfaithfulness. Still, though, I saw no reason to choose a word again this year. There’s only one small flaw to this plan. It’s not one word, but ...

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I chose “one word” last year—just so I could say I’d done it. It turns out that really, the word chose me. And God proved faithful in my unfaithfulness. Still, though, I saw no reason to choose a word again this year.

There’s only one small flaw to this plan. It’s not one word, but it’s one phrase, and it keeps rising to the surface, pushing its way to the forefront in everything I write. Whether I asked for it or not.

What if?

What if we challenge the precepts of our faith? Will it wobble and fall or will it be strengthened with new supports?

What if we ask questions? Maybe we’ll discover the questions don’t matter as much as the process of discovering answers.

What if we strive to build a faith that isn’t precariously balanced on “facts” that are too easily disputed by science and reason? Perhaps we’ll discover new dimensions.

What if we pray as though God is going to say yes?

What if we accept that the flaws in the church as a whole are flaws of man, not of God or of faith? Would we then have more tolerance and inclination to come together?

What if we respect the beliefs of those who disagree with us? Could we maybe have a meaningful dialogue, possibly learn something new?

What if we quit acting like one sin is unforgivable and treat same-sex couples with dignity and love?

What if we set aside all of the “thou shall”s—whether they’re written in stone or catchy lines shouted by televangelists—and ask God to show us which ones matter? Allow Him to rebuild our faith in an authentic, new way?

What if we quit hiding our secrets and our doubts and open up to one another?

What if we’re inadvertently limiting the depths of our belief, the intimacy of our relationship with God, or the power and magnitude of who God really is because we’re not giving Him a chance?

This question may not be the driving force of my year. I may not make an official declaration to seek God’s guidance regularly about this phrase. But I feel it, in that place down deep, in the sacred, secret center of my soul, that it’s time for these questions. Whether you explore them with me or not. Whether I find answers or not. Whether it’s simple or messy, clear or confusing.

What if is rife with hope. Possibility. It implies change, the belief that something else might happen. Perhaps we could change things. Maybe He will reveal things. To some of you who have spent a lot of time within the church, it probably makes you nervous. Feels a little disrespectful. Daring, even. It’s not a statement, ending with a period, finality. It’s not an ellipsis, fading into the unknown. It’s not an exclamation point, shouting the news. It’s a question. Which means that, somewhere, there is an answer. A response is required.

And that’s what lights me up inside. The idea of doing something. Or at the very least, refusing to remain stagnant. Of pushing through the unknown to find something I can, at this moment, only imagine. Because what if I’m on to something? What if He’s simply waiting for us to ask?

What questions do you have? What facts, practices or ideas make you nervous? What precepts of your faith feel wobbly, in danger? What words have people used to push you away from church or make you feel unwelcome? What are you missing? If you’re not comfortable commenting publicly, send me an email (kellyostanley@me.com). I’ll explore some of these questions in upcoming posts—and I welcome guest posts, if you have a topic you’d like to explore here.

In case you need permission

So many well-meaning people make broad proclamations, thinking that if they repeat something enough, people will believe it. Maybe that works for some people. But—always a little rebellious at heart, and unwilling to be limited by rules I didn’t believe—I gave myself permission a long time ago to tackle this life of faith my own ...

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So many well-meaning people make broad proclamations, thinking that if they repeat something enough, people will believe it. Maybe that works for some people. But—always a little rebellious at heart, and unwilling to be limited by rules I didn’t believe—I gave myself permission a long time ago to tackle this life of faith my own way. The more people I talk to, the more I realize how many people (and their faith) are hindered by some unwritten rules. So today I’d like to give you permission to do things a new way. Kind of upside down, you might say.

It’s OK to pray for yourself.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I know you aren’t supposed to pray for yourself.” But I don’t think that’s true. We’re to pray about everything. To pray without ceasing. To ask for whatever we need. But sometimes that feels selfish. Please, don’t feel guilty about it. But just try not to pray exclusively for yourself. God gave us lives within a community and told us to love our neighbors. One of the best ways to love someone is to pray for him. So do both. Pray for what you need, and notice what others need. Ask God to be in all of our lives. Just pray—wherever your prayers take you.

It’s OK not to blindly believe everything your pastor says.
Listen with an open mind. Then research, study. Buy a concordance or find one online. Read articles by other spiritual leaders. Discuss concepts with people from another church (or from outside the church). If your goal is to find fault with your pastor’s teachings or to trip him (or her) up, then I do not endorse this approach. But if your goal is to find truth, to fortify your beliefs, to deepen your knowledge or wrestle through questions yourself in an effort to draw closer to God, then by all means, go for it. Do me a favor, though. If your private study leads you to different conclusions than one of your leaders holds, don’t whisper to others or accuse of false teachings. Approach your pastor and ask to discuss it. And keep your mind open. You might learn something—or they might. Which leads perfectly into my next point…

It’s OK to disagree.
What ever happened to people agreeing to disagree? Now, it seems, if two people hold different opinions, the common assumption is that they can no longer be friends. Or that one of them needs to beat the other one over the head until opinions are changed. My husband (of 24 years) and I vote every year, and we support different political parties. We joke that we cancel each other out. We know we don’t agree on so many things, but we respect each other’s right to hold their own opinions. God didn’t make us all alike. We don’t have to like the same candidates or music or styles of worship, we don’t have to be attracted to the same sex for our life-partners, we don’t have to come from identical races or share the same culture—or even the same gods. We don’t have to be identical to find common connections. To share our lives. To show our love. In fact, I think diversity is sometimes better, richer, more stimulating and inspiring. By all means, make friends who have similar beliefs and circumstances. But don’t limit yourself to those.

It’s OK not to read the Bible every day.
I think the Bible is immensely valuable, unfathomably wise. There is great benefit in reading it. But it’s like this: I’ve always said that getting flowers from my husband is nice. But if I tell him, hey, stop by the grocery and buy me a dozen roses, and he does—well, truthfully, it doesn’t mean all that much to me. I want the inspiration to come from him. I want him to do it because he wants to. When we feel forced into reading something, once in a while some of it will sink in, but most of the time it doesn’t move us. It’s hard to take concepts to heart when you’re rushing to finish two chapters today so you can check the box on your Bible reading plan. I think that practicing the discipline of regular reading of God’s word will truly transform your life. I hope you give it a try and that God reveals Himself to you in that way. But don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself. Ask Him to help you love it. Ease into it slowly. Read a single verse or a paragraph at a time. Let it soak deep down into your soul. As insights are revealed to you, you will be more and more eager to go back to it. And you might surprise yourself at how much you enjoy it and how often you do it.

It’s OK to listen to music and read books that are not labeled as “Christian.”
There are very real and valid reasons for limiting what you see and hear. Avoiding temptation. Strengthening your faith. Preferring to focus on what is good and holy and right rather than witness violence and cruelty and hate. Probably only about 10 or 20 percent of the books I read are Christian. I love them—I like filling my mind with Biblical concepts and dwelling on who God is—but I like other books and music, too. I do listen to Christian music probably 90 percent of the time—if I have lyrics running through my mind all day, I want them to be uplifting, not senseless. But what many people seem to forget is that God does not reside only within the words of Christian music and literature. When we fail to recognize that God is everywhere, that He can inhabit and inspire and reveal through other situations, we’re not believing in His fullness. We’re pretending He’s not the omnipotent, omniscient God. Some of the most inspiring messages I’ve found have been in books that did not have an overtly spiritual message. Some mainstream music has given me deep spiritual insights. If we did not impose arbitrary limits for the places and ways in which God will work, I bet we’d see a whole lot more of Him.

Are there other “rules” you feel stifle your faith? Hinder your growth? Create resentment you don’t want to feel? What are they? Let’s work through these things together. Let’s find a way—one that is still Godly, still loving and filled with truth and light, but not one that stifles or binds—together.

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