212 – The Writer’s Path to Holiness with Guest Karen Stiller

Spread the love

The Writer's Path to Holiness with Karen Stiller on Write from the Deep Podcast

Holiness. It’s one of those BIG words for Christians. So how do we, as Christian writers, develop holiness and bring it into play in our writing? Guest Karen Stiller shares her journey toward holiness and how God has blessed and challenged her.

About Karen Stiller

Karen Stiller is an award-winning writer, a senior editor, and host of the Faith Today podcast. She’s written about being a pastor’s wife, and her newest book, Holiness Here, offers practical and inspiring ways to transform your life by helping you see the holiness within your ordinary, everyday life. You can find out more about her at Karenstiller.com. 

Thanks to our sponsors on Patreon, we’re able to offer an edited transcript of the podcast!

Erin Young:  Welcome, listeners! We’re delighted that you are here with us today. We have a guest. Yay!

Karen Ball: Yes, we do! Karen Stiller is the author of The Minister’s Wife, A memoir of Faith, doubt, friendships, loneliness, forgiveness, and More. And the co-author of Craft Cost and Call, how to Build a Life as a Christian Writer. She’s an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Reader’s Digest, the Walrus, Extasis. Christianity Today and many other publications.

She’s a senior editor of the Canadian Magazine, Faith Today, and hosts the Faith Today Podcast, where she has interviewed wonderful thinkers, leaders, and writers like Phillip Yancy and Ann Voskamp.

Karen’s work has taken her to the South Sudan, Uganda, Senegal, Cambodia, and across North America. She’s also moderated the Religion and Society series at the University of Toronto, a debate between leading atheists and theologians. Karen loves to teach writing and coach writers on their journey.

Welcome, Karen Stiller!

Karen Stiller: Thank you so much, and I just love the way you two talk and introduce the show. That lilt in your voices, it just lifts a person’s spirit. So I always enjoy that. 

Karen Ball: Oh, thank you. Our hope is always to encourage and to, in a way, be chaplains to writers. To let writers know that they’re not alone and that God’s got them. 

Karen Stiller: That’s beautiful. Chaplains to writers. Love it. 

Erin Young: So, Karen, what does the deep mean to you? 

Karen Stiller: That is such a deep and challenging question. My answer today is probably different from the answer I gave a couple of years ago when I was on your podcast for the first time.

When I think about the deep right now, I think about the place from which we experience our deepest longing and yearning, pain and hope, and the place of our deepest honesty and transparency. And hopefully, because of all that, the place  we write from. 

Erin Young: Amen. How can we write without transparency? One of the cool things that’s happened recently for Karen Stiller is she has a new book out called Holiness Here: Searching for God in the Ordinary Events of Everyday Life.

This is a quote from the book, “Holiness is a search that marks the life of a Christian.” So, Karen, how might that look specifically our search for holiness as writers?

Karen Stiller: I know and I understand theologically that we are holy because God has made us holy and that our our holiness as believers comes from the fact that God is holy and has said that we are too through our relationship with Jesus Christ.

And we may wonder, what does it mean that I’m holy? I’ve seen this through my years as a minister’s wife. It seems to be common that we actually don’t think we’re holy and we reject that title or that word because it feels awkward. I mean, no one wants to be quote unquote holier than thou.

And also it feels so other from how we know ourselves to be on the inside. So I’ll just preface my answer in that way. As a writer who is perhaps trying to write spiritual things––and not every Christian writer has to be writing Christian fiction or spiritual formation books––we want to make sure that we are writing in honesty, that transparency.

We want to honor God, and be true to ourselves and what we know of God in our lives. For me, it really is about the honesty piece. I feel that my vocation is to write as honestly as possible in the Christian space.

That is very much a part of how we are holy as writers. Of course, there are some individual elements to how we live and what we are called to write about. But yeah. Let’s start there. 

Karen Ball: It’s also important for us to recognize that holiness is not something, in essence, we can attain. Holiness comes to us by Christ’s blood covering us. It’s His holiness that the Father sees, not our holiness as individuals.

We can seek to live “holy lives” as we emulate and follow what Christ has told us to do. And again, it’s His holiness. But trying to attain true holiness on our own can become a distraction that the enemy has put in our hearts and minds because we do feel so inadequate. And so we need to rest in the truth that our holiness is really Christ’s holiness.

We need to embrace that and then follow Him and submit to Him in our writing and in our lives and say, “lead me. Help to hear Your voice and see Your guidance because we too often get confused and distracted by what’s working in the market and how do I do deep point of view, and all of these aspects of being a writer that can d interfere with our primary focus, which should be on Christ.

Karen Stiller: Paying attention and being very mindful of what is happening inside of us as we think about these things is important. So I may say out loud, and mean it at the time, that I’m not gonna chase the market or that I’m really truly cheering on another writer, that I’m not jealous or envious of their success, I know that’s right. 

But then on the inside, my gut may be feeling something a little different. My heart may be feeling something a little different, and as we pay attention to what’s happening on the inside, that does help our sinking into and living out of the holiness God has given us. Because then we can repent. Say we’re sorry.

A big part of my book is that we grow and change. We grow closer to God through the arc of our life of attempts at faithfulness. And through our spiritual disciplines, our attempts to live out of our holiness, which God has told us to do, and asked us to do, and shown us how to do.

I have a chapter on hospitality and I playfully say that Jesus actually gives instructions for a dinner party. You know, who’s to sit where, and who should you invite. So something is required of us. Yes, it is one  hundred percent grace, but in our response we find our sanctification. And that is really important. We are participants of God in our faith journey. 

So in the life of a writer, it has all kinds of implications for our posture toward our writing. I have been thinking lately about how our posture impacts our practice. You can’t talk about holiness without humility. And so humility helps our writing because it means that we are open to showing it to other writers.

We’re open to the editing process. We embrace revision because we know it’s not right the first time. We know other people have good things to say to us about our work and that makes our work better.

You know, there are all kinds of implications for that collaboration with other writers. For example, the ways we pour into the writing community. All of the good ways of doing that could be viewed as acts of holiness and it helps in everything. 

Erin Young: I love that. I to go back to what you said about running across a lot of people who doubt their holiness. For writers, that could make them doubt their qualifications to be a Christian writer. So both of you are correct: it’s Christ’s holiness, and yet we also have a responsibility to take part in the process.

Our works of faith prove that we are followers of Christ, though we’ll never do them perfectly. But if there are writers out there may be doubting themselves or God’s call, realize that that is one of the lies that we writers are so susceptible to. 

Karen Stiller: That reminds me of the scene I have in the book where I had this lovely moment with a younger writer who was going through that phase. At some point, we all go, “Am I a writer? Can I call myself a writer? “

This conversation between us happened in the sanctuary of our church. And I said, “Hannah, I pronounce you writer. You are a writer.” And I could tell because I had been in a bit of a mentor role with her and I was an older sister in Christ, it felt special. And she still refers to that moment as being so important. That she just needed someone bossy to tell her that. To validate. 

And in the book I draw a parallel with our sense of our own holiness, our acceptance of our holiness. Because once you start to say, “I’m a writer,” people actually start to expect some writing from you, right? And if you believe what God says about us––how beloved we are and that He has made us holy––then all three of us in this conversation are holy.

It may feel ridiculous to say, even off-putting and “aaahhh!” But when we view ourselves that way, then we can start to act a little different in light of that holiness. And that can be an adventure!

I’m really trying to shift the thought of holiness away from a big, heavy thing and help people just like consider it a warm invitation from God to a life of adventure and and beauty and love. 

Erin Young: I love that when you said those words to that person, you were speaking truth. As writers, we should be so aware of the power of words.

Words have truth and we pray our words make things happen via God. You know, He’s the One doing these things, but He gives us words to use to take part. So for you guys out there who are wondering if you’re writers? Yes!

Karen Stiller: Yeah, we pronounce you writers.

Erin Young: That’s right. So you can walk and act accordingly. Now, we may have touched on this a little bit, but what do you think then holiness has to do with money and work as it comes to writing? 

Karen Stiller: In the book, when I talk about money, partly I share my own journey with worrying about money and wanting more of it. So in my writing life, I was looking for a job that I could do around the raising of my children. And I was very fortunate, because being a mom helped me become a writer.

My husband was a priest, an Anglo priest, and we were not a high income family. We had just always lived at a certain level from student life into having children. So not being used to two incomes ever, we didn’t have the hard work of shedding things to be able to afford my being at home. And that enabled me to build up my writing life over the years as my kids’ schedules allowed. 

But I was trying to make a living, to bring more money into our household to pay for ballet and hockey. And I was ambitious, right? I had what I used to call a ball of fire in my belly. So I really wanted to have a writing life that paid money. Sometimes that probably was not fueled by the right things, but sometimes it was from a desire to care for my family and contribute.

So honest self-examination is important on the path of holiness. Taking time to think, “What’s going on here? What am I actually thinking and feeling and doing? Where is God in this? And where can God be more in it?”

For me, as for many others, money often is where the rubber hits the road. 

And I remember the publisher saying, “Money?” Because that was one of my proposed chapters. “What does money have to do with Holiness?” And I was like, “Oh, well for me it had a lot to do with holiness. Because I had to wrestle that monster to the ground. 

Erin Young: Yeah. 

Karen Stiller: And I have good friends who don’t have any issues around money at all. So I know it’s not universal, but it’s very common that we need to deal with our thinking about money. 

Karen Ball: Karen, you mentioned self-examination earlier, which helps with this. We need to look into why we worry about money and why we want to make more.

Of course, there are good, solid, and even holy reasons for doing that, but making that too important often stems out of fear. We fear won’t be enough, or that God really doesn’t supply our needs.

So if we don’t do something to build up our bank account and savings––and as I say savings, I’m laughing to myself. Writers with a savings account?––but if we don’t do everything that we can to build that up, then what will happen to us? 

Erin Young: Mm-Hmm. 

Karen Ball: We did a podcast on George Mueller and the power of his praying life. Whenever there was a need, he would go to God and pray for that specific need, and then walk away, trusting that God would provide. And He always did. Sometimes in phenomenal ways, sometimes little things trickling in, but always enough to meet the needs .

Erin Young: One of the interesting things about money for me has come from Jeremiah 2:13, which says, “My people have committed two sins. They have forsaken me the spring of living water and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

So I try to think, well, am I digging my own cistern here? Which parts of this desire for money are just letting God flow, and which part is me just wanting that cistern, that security. It’s always something to wrestle with.

Karen Stiller: It helps to have a good friend to talk with, to share our struggle. It’s hard to be honest about our feelings around money. It can be scary to be the person to confess that you want more of it, or live without enough of it, or whatever the issue is. I agree with everything you’re saying, and yet I work really hard. 

Erin Young: But that’s okay, too. 

Karen Ball: Right. Trusting and resting in God doesn’t mean you don’t work hard. It means you don’t make that your primary goal and you don’t worry about it. Anxiety can be a killer for creativity and for trust in God. When we let anxiety creep into our hearts and our spirit, it’ll do harm. 

Karen Stiller: But here’s what I do…and this has a little bit to do with that deep place answer…and I am definitely in the middle of trying to figure this stuff out….but if I am experiencing anxiety or sorrow or fear, my temptation before would’ve been to feel badly that I feel badly. So now I try to almost welcome it in and say, “What do you have for me? What is the message you have for me, fear? Anxiety, what are you trying to tell me?” 

These feelings add to the experience we’re having in the world. You know, I keep thinking of the word curiosity. Why not be curious about what is happening in our spirit and in our hearts? Not, “I’m disappointed in my disappointment,” or being grieved over our grief. Instead, know it’s all part of being a human and ask what is this teaching me? And how can I write about it? 

Karen Ball: Right. They say nothing is ever wasted in a writer’s economy! And there’s a big difference between having the feelings and dwelling in the feelings. 

What a great conversation, what a great exploration of holiness. In our next podcast will be going on with Karen Stiller, and there we’ll be talking about holiness in the face of utter devastation. So don’t miss it!

How do we develop holiness and bring it into play in our writing? Guest @KarenStiller1 shares her experiences and wisdom. #ChristianWriter #amwriting Share on X

Holiness Here: Searching for God in the Ordinary Events of Everyday Life by Karen Stiller

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Do you struggle with the idea of holiness in your life and writing? What steps can you take today to embrace holiness?

THANK YOU!

Thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible! If you want to add your support, visit patreon.com/writefromthedeep.  We’d sure appreciate it! 

Special thanks to our April sponsor of the month Christy Bass Adams. She’s the author of a devotional titled Learning As I Go: Big Lessons from Little People, and a middle grades novel, The Adventures of Cricket and Kyle: Imagination Checkers. She’s also a speaker and leads women’s conferences and Bible studies, and she’s a monthly contributor to Inspire-a-fire and a newspaper columnist for Greene Publishing. Find out more about Christy at her website christybassadams.com

Many thanks also to the folks at PodcastPS for their fabulous sound editing!

STAY CONNECTED

Want the latest news from Karen and Erin? Click here to join our newsletter and get an exclusive audio download.