Category: Podcasts

214 – Why Writers Need Fellowship

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Why Writers Need Fellowship Write from the Deep Podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungWriting is a solitary occupation, and yet God created human beings with a need for fellowship. This is why it’s crucial for writers to seek—and not neglect—community. Don’t miss being blessed—and blessing others—through this God-designed need for relationships.

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Welcome to the deep! In some of our episodes this year, we’ve talked about various spiritual disciplines, by which we mean practices that help us develop a deeper, closer relationship with God. Here are links to our episodes about Rest-211, Prayer 208, Silence-205, and Solitude 199.

The Christian writing life is hard. Knowing God and trusting God is crucial on this journey. Today we want to focus on a practice that we don’t always think of as a discipline, and that we sometimes might even take for granted or feel like it sort of just goes without saying. What is this practice? It’s Christian fellowship.

What is fellowship?

Let’s start with what fellowship is. Among Merriam-Webster’s definitions are:

Companionship, company, the state being comradely.

The BibleProject.com defines fellowship as: “shared participation within a community.”

Dalla Willard in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines writes this about fellowship: “In fellowship we engage in common activities of worship, study, prayer, celebration, and service with other disciples.”

Willard categorizes fellowship as a spiritual discipline of engagement. Whereas things like fasting, silence, and solitude are disciplines of abstinence, where we cease doing certain activities for a time, disciplines of engagement, like fellowship, are where we commit to participation, to involvement in activities we are at times likely to neglect. Bible study and prayer are other examples of disciplines of engagement.

So fellowship is something we do, something we participate in, either in a large group of people or just a few.

Why do we need fellowship?

But why is fellowship important? What is the basis of it?

1. We were made for fellowship.

Justin Whitmel Earley, in his book The Common Rule, has this to say:

“One of the defining marks of the Christian faith is that God is three persons in one triune God. Among the thousands of radical implications of the Trinity, my favorite is that God is a fellowship. This means we are made in the image of fellowship.”

So we’re made for fellowship and in the image of fellowship.

The BibleProject article we mentioned earlier says:

“God enjoys perfect fellowship within himself. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in eternal relationship and always participate in acts of self-giving love toward one another. This fellowship is the essence of heaven.”

Jesus talks about his fellowship with the Father in John 17:5: And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (NIV)

The BibleProject article goes on to say, “[God] created humans in his image so that we could share in his eternal self-giving fellowship and partner with him to share it with all of creation.”

So again, it seems clear that God designed us for fellowship.

Here’s another great quote from the book The Common Rule that talks about the implications of this:

“We came from friendship. Everything in the universe has its roots in friendship. That means the longing to be in right relationship with other people and things is at the heart of every molecule in existence—and most powerfully in our own hearts. We can’t be happy without knowing and being known, because that’s the image of the trinitarian friendship we were made in.”

The bottom line is that fellowship is necessary for human flourishing.

2. We need connections with other believers to help us with our spiritual formation.

The second reason why we need fellowship is that we need connections with other believers to help us with our spiritual formation. We all know how strong the influence of the world around us is. We’re bombarded with messages that undermine the reality and truth God has revealed to us.

Ben Beasley, one of the pastors at my church, was preaching about this a few weeks ago. I loved how he phrased this. He said, “Our spiritual formation must be stronger than our cultural formation.”

We can’t easily achieve that without connection to other believers.

In Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, he talks about how the gifts God gives to the body of Christ are meant to be reciprocal in nature. They’re spread out among the members. Without fellowship, we wouldn’t get the full experience of God’s gifts for his church. We’d only experience a part of what he wants for us.

1 Peter 4:10 (NIV) says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

Because our gifts are to be used for the common good, our responsibility is to be part of the body so we can both give and receive gifts. This is how we grow and develop in our spiritual formation, and help others do the same.

In fellowship, we also help to sustain each other. Willard says, “The members of the body must be in contact if they are to sustain and be sustained by each other. Christian redemption is not devised to be a solitary thing, though each individual, of course, has a unique and direct relationship with God.”

So in fellowship, we help each other cope, endure, and stand against the world that tries to tear us away from God. We help each other “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” like it says in Philippians 2:12.

3. The amplification of God’s presence and power happens within groups.

The third reason why fellowship is important is that there is an amplification of God’s presence and power found within the body of believers.

Dallas Willard says this in The Spirit of the Disciplines:

“Personalities united can contain more of God and sustain the force of his greater presence much better than scattered individuals. The fire of God kindles higher as the brands are heaped together and each is warmed by the other’s flame.”

Jesus makes a point to say in Matthew 18:19-20 (NIV):

Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Of course this doesn’t mean God only listens to prayers from groups, and it doesn’t mean that prayer asked for with impure motives will be granted. The point here is that Jesus does, throughout the whole surrounding passage, emphasize the power and responsibility of the body of believers.

Why is fellowship specifically important for writers?

We’ve talked a lot about why we as Christians need fellowship, but what about the specific reasons why fellowship is important to writers?

First, as writers, we’re a creative, artistic group, often introverted. Fellowship with other believers who aren’t writers, and who may have a more linear, logical bent helps to round out our perspective on life. The same is true of our relationships with people who are more extroverted. The gifts found in believers who aren’t writers are still necessary and vital to our spiritual and artistic formation.

Second, as writers we also need fellowship with other writers. We share common experiences other “normals” don’t have. We think about ways our characters can kill people, or the designs of storyworlds vastly different from our own. We have coffee with our characters because they’re like real people to us. Amongst other writers, we find support, understanding, acceptance, and encouragement for our unique bent and gifts in God’s overall design.

Practical ways to participate in fellowship

Fellowship is important, even vital. But how do we do it? What are some practical ways? Here are some ideas we’ve come up with, and let me say that while we’ll talk about the benefits for you in all these, please remember that what you bring—your gifts and service and participation—is equally vital to others in the opportunities.

Join a prayer group either in person or online where you not only are praying for each other but you get a chance to get to know others, hear their various perspectives and experiences, encourage and support them.

Attend church services to experience a larger group of believers in fellowship as you worship, take communion, pray, and learn from preaching.

Join a worship group, or a worship band. My husband and I moved to Kansas a few years ago, and eventually he started playing in the worship band at church, which has been a wonderful way for him to begin building relationships with people in the church.

Join a Bible study group, again either in person or online. It’s amazing what other people bring to the table in terms of their perspectives and insights. We can’t help but be enriched. And what we have to add matters, too!

Get involved in parachurch organizations like Fellowship of Christian Athletes, InterVaristy Christian Fellowship or The Navigators. When I was in college, my connection to InterVarsity is what led me to Christ and played a huge role in my spiritual formation as a young believer. It also gave me a place to serve, and to grow through my service.

Go on a mission trip. You can not only enjoy fellowship with others in your group, but you’ll also likely have the opportunity to develop cross-cultural relationships and expand your perspective. You’ll also be helping to meet the needs of others.

Participate in celebrations. These might be potlucks, banquets, parties, or all kinds of other possibilities. In our church, there’s a whole special service where they do baptisms. It’s a big day of testimony, encouragement, commitment, and celebration.

Go on a retreat. This might be a marriage retreat, family retreat, writers’ retreat, or a men’s or women’s retreat.

Join an accountability group of some sort. These might be things like Celebrate Recovery, or it might be just a group formed to hold each other accountable for some common spiritual goal. Maybe help with overcoming some specific sin, or maybe encouragement to engage in other spiritual disciplines.

Join a Christian writers’ group either locally or online. For example, check out WordWeavers or American Christian Fiction Writers. My friendships and connections in my local ACFW group have been an incredible blessing. Our group often got together for lunch before our monthly meetings, which was a great way to foster and nurture relationships.

Go to a Christian writing conference. There are always opportunities for fellowship and for engaging with others to begin developing relationships. Many have worship sessions, prayer teams, or group meals you can participate in.

Join (or start) a mastermind group with other Christians. For me, this is one of my favorite forms of fellowship. I’ve been part of a mastermind for quite a few years now. The women in my group are amazing. They all bring their own gifts, perspectives, specialties, knowledge, experiences. We pray for each other, we encourage each other, we help each other. They’ve been a huge blessing.

Invite others to a meal. Maybe you have one meal a week that’s dedicated to fellowship with others. Maybe it’s as simple as inviting folks over for dinner after church. Or meeting at a restaurant. Or hosting visiting missionaries or international students. Maybe you have a regular brunch group or a group from work that does lunch together.

Nurture friendships. We also don’t want to forget fellowship in the form of friendships with others, either one-on-one or friend groups. As Justin Whitmel Earley wrote in his book The Common Rule, we all desire, deep down, to be known. But we also fear it, so it’s not easy.

In true friendship we learn to be vulnerable. We learn to be people who still love each other when all our human messiness is out on the table. We learn to trust, and to be trustworthy, we learn to protect and to protect others. We hold each other accountable. We learn the value of authenticity and the freedom found in it. We tell truth, and we hear truth from others. This is all a vital part of the human experience and God’s design for us, and we need to dedicate ourselves to pursuing it.

Recently my neighborhood was grieving the loss of a man who committed suicide. Neither his friends nor his family had any idea he was in such a desperate state. That makes it twice the tragedy.

It’s important to be intentional in your friendships. Sure, doing fun activities together is great, but it’s also important for conversation to happen. You’ve probably seen people sitting together at a restaurant and everyone is engaged with their phone. That’s not an experience of knowing others and being known. You might even consider “conversation appointments” where you all know the goal is to talk. Maybe you chat at a park while kids are playing, or you meet for coffee, or whatever. The point is that you’re being intentional about conversation and getting to know each other.

Start now!

Whatever paths you take to engage in fellowship, the most important thing is that you DO it. That you intentionally take steps to make this happen in your life. God designed us for fellowship, for relationship with him and with others because he knows that this is how we work better. This is how we flourish even in the midst of a broken world. Our friends, our fellow believers, are anchors for us in the midst of the trials and storms. Don’t miss this spiritual discipline. It will make your life so much better!

Books mentioned in the podcast

The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard

The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard

The Common Rule by Justin Whitmel Earley

The Common Rule by Justin Whitmel Earley

(Just as a reminder, we use affiliate links for the books we mention. Using one of our links, if you choose to purchase a book, is a wonderful way to help us out, because we’ll get a small commission.)

Writing is a solitary occupation, and yet God created human beings with a need for fellowship. Don’t miss being blessed—and blessing others—through our God-designed need for relationships. #amwriting #christianwriter Share on X

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

What are your favorite ways to engage in fellowship?

THANK YOU!

Thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Special thanks to our May sponsor of the month, Priscilla Sharrow! She’s working on her memoir called Bonked! Life, Love, and Laughter with Traumatic Brain Injury, which will release with Redemption Press. Learn more about Priscilla at her website priscillasharrow.com and follow her blog for the TBI/PTSD community.

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.

213 – Holiness and Grief with Guest Karen Stiller

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Holiness with Guest Karen Stiller Write from the Deep Podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungThe Bible tells us to be holy, and that without holiness we won’t see God. But what part does holiness play in the face of utter devastation? And how do we write through it? Guest Karen Stiller shares wisdom and encouragement from her difficult journey through grief and pain.

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: Welcome, listeners. We’re glad that you’re here in the deep with us. Today we’re continuing our conversation with Karen Stiller.

Now, Karen, you did mention grief. Let’s go there, because you had said before, when we were doing some emails, that you had to complete this book during a season of grief. First, how in the world did you do that? How did that affect you and the book? 

Karen Stiller: Yeah, I’ve been thinking so much about that because sometimes I think, over the last year and a bit, I think, I don’t know how I did it either, sometimes. And yet I do.

My husband had a kidney transplant, which should, for most people, be routine. You know, it changes your life, but it’s not a thing that will kill you. But that did happen with my husband.

My husband experienced a very severe and rare side effect of post-transplant lymphoma. He went into the hospital in the end of November, and he was dead by mid-January. He never came home again.

Karen Ball: Oh my gosh.

Karen Stiller: Yeah, it was very unexpected. The way he experienced lymphoma was on his brain, so it was a rocky path. As anybody who has loved anyone into heaven with brain cancer, it’s…well, I guess it’s probably different for lots of people…but it was hard. Very hard.

Karen Ball: Yeah.

Karen Stiller: I had written up till then. When I signed my book contract, I immediately set up a writing schedule. I signed in July, and I was going to do three chapters by the end of July, two by the end of August. One by the end of September, October, November, and December.

The book was due in January and I had built in time for revision. I felt really confident. I’m a big list person. I make lists and I make schedules, and that’s the way I get things done. I love a deadline.

When Brent went into the hospital, I think I was around chapter eight. I just obviously set the book aside. After he died, you know, actually there was a time where I thought, “I’m never gonna write again.”

I just couldn’t imagine…I couldn’t imagine a way forward in many things. But I also thought, “How will I ever find the desire or ability to write again?”

My agent knocked on my door at some point. The timelines are a bit off for me. It’s all a big blur in some ways, but she basically said, “If you can finish the book by a certain date, we can get back on the same timeline. Editing will be shortened. But there’s no pressure.”

My publisher was amazing and said they’d take the book whenever. They were, of course, wonderful during that season. They had sent a bouquet of flowers once, and I remember that theirs was the only one I carried upstairs to my bedroom. I think now that those flowers were like a symbol of hope for me. There is a little dot of light off in the distance if I can keep that alive.

I was off my day job as an editor and podcast stuff and all that for about three months. I just slowly picked up the book again and thought, “Can I?”

I dipped my toes in, and what I found was that writing a few mornings a week gave me a shape to the sort of endless days and weeks I was in.

It kind of woke me up a little bit, and it gave me a sense of purpose, which I had lost, and it changed the book. I would be interested to hear from listeners who maybe made, or would’ve made a different choice, or have thoughts on this, or have gone through this. But my husband was very much part of my writing, obviously in The Minister’s Wife, but again, in Holiness Here.

My husband was very much part of my formation as a follower of Christ. I’d quote him throughout the book, or I’d tell a little story about something that happened in our church that involved him.  All of a sudden he died, and I didn’t know how to handle that as a writer in terms of the actual material.

I talked to a few people and I had in my head—I don’t know if people have heard this writing advice—write from your scars, not your wounds.

Karen Ball: Right.

Karen Stiller: I thought, “Well, I’m bleeding. I am deeply wounded, but yet I can’t not write about this huge thing.”

I felt like it would not have been honest to finish those last chapters without telling some, without sketching out a little bit of what had happened. This has been a big knock for me. I’d love to say that I’ve just been a conqueror in Christ through this, but no. I am pulling apart what it means to trust God and realizing that maybe I did think some things that weren’t true.

I never would’ve thought that, because my husband was a very, “Why me, why not me?” kind of man. He had a very robust, sound theology of suffering, which I thought I believed, too.

Then when he died a very hard death, I just…I just couldn’t believe it.

Karen Ball: Right.

Karen Stiller: I felt like I couldn’t finish this book about holiness honestly without tackling that. I wrote a chapter called “Sorrow,” and I wrote it very carefully because I knew I was writing from my wound.

As a beginning writer who would get an assignment from an editor, I would often write the angle on a post-it note and stick it on my computer wall so that I would stick to my assignment. Now I had a post-it note in my mind where I was like, “Your assignment is holiness. Your assignment is not writing a book about grief. Your assignment is holiness. So where is the holy in this horrible mess?”

I kept my lens tightly in on that, and it was good for me. It was good for me to write that. I offered to show it to all my children. Only my eldest son accepted the invitation. I just wanted their blessing. He thought it was honoring to his dad and to what we had gone through, so that made me feel comfortable, and I trust the editors.

Karen Ball: Mm-Hmm.

Karen Stiller: Where would we be without people telling us hard and wonderful things, right?

Karen Ball: Right.

Karen Stiller: I submitted my work to the process. I also knew that it is a privilege to have a book contract. My husband would’ve kicked my butt if he knew I had let it float away and that I couldn’t finish it.

I knew last year when I was doing this work that this year I would be glad I had done it. There was a discipline there, actually, which we have to have as writers, right? We know that a working writer knows how to work, and that woke me up. That woke me up.

I also thought that if I was a chef, I would be cooking. If I was a painter, I’d be painting. If I was a baker, I’d be baking. I’m a writer, and I’m writing. 

Erin: Wow. Well that was a lot to have to deal with.

Karen Stiller: It was a long answer.

Erin: No, I mean it was a great answer but a lot for you to wade through in trying to deal with that. I think your process was amazing. Just the notion of using holiness as a lens, because writers go through all kinds of things in their lives as they’re trying to write something.

It isn’t always as awful and traumatic as losing a spouse, but if we were able to realize that there is something to be said for just the discipline and the lens and trying to turn this book in even though this, this, and this is happening, because our lives may always be this, this, and this.

It doesn’t mean that we’re not supposed to write, it just means we’re supposed to be learning how to work through that.

Karen Stiller: I think that’s so important.

Erin: I was curious if, after you had been through this experience, when you went back in revisions and in other places in the book, how did your experience through this grief and this theology of suffering, like how did that maybe change other things in the book?

Karen Stiller: Wow, that is a very perceptive question. I did a lot of work. I went back and in every sentence I asked myself, “Do I still believe this, and if I don’t, is this because I’m just in this terrible situation and I will come back to this and I will recover from this?”

I made a lot of phone calls. My husband being a pastor, we had a lot of pastor friends. I probably need to apologize to a bunch of people for all my questions like, “Hi, do you have twenty minutes to talk to me? Okay, tell me why my husband died. Tell me what heaven is like. Tell me what he’s doing right now. Like, what do you think? What do you think? What do you think?”

I did a lot of those kinds of conversations with people to try to sort through my stuff and my pain, and partly so that I could try to understand what was happening, and then have that help me look at the work and say, “Yeah, I can still say this. I can still stand here.”

I think we all have fences in our writing lives, probably, of things that we won’t do, or won’t write about. For me, again, married to a priest, that was very much part of my calling, too. I always had a very simple way kind of guardrail for my life as a pastor’s wife.

It was: Do no harm. Do no harm. I’ll not harm my husband’s work. I will not always say what I want to say. I will do no harm. That probably has seeped into my writing life, too. I would think like if I had just gone full-wound bleeding on the page, it wouldn’t have helped anyone. It certainly wouldn’t have helped the book.

I knew that I was on a journey of hopefully recovery and healing. You know, you always live with grief. I’ve been told that, and I see that that is true. So I just wanted to be really careful, and so I did interrogate the whole book again.

I did make some changes. There are some statements I changed into questions, but that’s the kind of writer I am anyway. I am not an answer giver. I’m a question asker and so I’m pretty comfortable with that. 

Erin: Yeah. What I love is—I know this seems awful—but this was also a gift in terms of how you had to go back and ask yourself those questions.

Karen Stiller: Yeah.

Erin: Not every believer faces that kind of a situation where they’re forced to go back and say, “Do I still believe this? In light of what’s happening in my life, do I still believe this? Do I still believe this?”

I think that is one good thing that came out of that and can come out for other people who are going through these kinds of issues.

Karen Stiller: Yeah. One really big thing I learned…I’d spoken with a spiritual director for writers a couple years ago, and she kind of set me up to think in this way because there was a time, like when I was writing the Minister’s Wife, if I had a little fight with my son in the morning, I’d think, “Oh, there goes my writing day.” Like,”I’m in a bad mood now. I can’t write.”

My spiritual director for writers, she had helped me dig into that a little bit and think about how that kind of compartmentalization cannot help us be writers. Everything does not have to be perfect for me to write. That set me up well for believing, and for the questions we were talking about in the last episode, “Anxiety, what do you have for me? Fear? What are you bringing to the table?”

I had to believe that my grief was then and is now, in there doing something that I will write out of, even if I don’t write about it. I think that’s important for writers.

Karen Ball: It’s a thread. Everything that we’re faced with, everything that we experience, is a thread in the tapestry that God is weaving of our lives. Every single thread adds an element that we may not understand, or see, or appreciate until we see the completed tapestry.

Then we can look at that and say, “Ah. Okay. That’s why that was there, because it needed to be there to compliment this, and to bring this out, and to enhance this, and to clarify things.”

I think when we face these difficult questions, ”Do I still believe this? Is God who he says he is? Is God’s goodness real?” And I’ve heard believers say, “I’m starting to doubt the goodness of God…” I listen to those things, and I think because I don’t have a theological mind, I have a simple mind, a simple faith of trust because I saw such a powerful example of that in both my parents. I was raised with the sure knowledge that God is who he says he is.

But when my husband and I were separated, and I had been emotionally abused and all of those kinds of things, I had to acknowledge that…I’d always thought that when I finally came face to face with God, I would run and leap up into his lap, like a child, just grab him and hug him. One very dark night, I was talking with him and I said, “I don’t think I know you well enough to jump into your lap, and I’m not sure that I trust you well enough to do that, because this was not the cruise I signed on for.”

I’m not at the end of it. Don and I still work through things. We’ve been married for either 45 or 46 years—I’m not a math head. But as I I look at it, I think to myself that I wouldn’t have known God to the depth and the certainty that I know him now, at sixty-six years old, had I not gone through all of that.

All of it, every single thread needed to be there for me to be able to say with absolute certainty that God is who he says he is, and God is good, and all things do work together for our good as followers, because it’s all about him.

It’s not about me. It’s all about him and how I can reflect him. When you’re talking about working toward holiness, that self-examination, that coming to understand ourselves in light of who he is, it’s vital.

Karen Stiller: Yeah. 

Erin: We’re coming to the end of our time here. Do you have any final words of wisdom you want to leave with our listeners?

Karen Stiller: I’m struck, from what you just shared, Karen, about the work of finding meaning and that we can find meaning without getting into causation. For example, I can believe that I will find meaning that will show up in my writing out of what we’ve gone through as a family, and that doesn’t mean that’s why it happened. You know what I mean?

Erin: Right. 

Karen Stiller: The two things do not have to equal, but we will not waste it.

When my husband was dying, and after he died, throughout that time I kept speaking with my children, who are young adults, because Brent could not communicate what he would’ve wanted to communicate. I knew him so well, I knew what he would’ve wanted said, and I said those things.

One of them was that we have to honor what has happened here, this terrible tragedy and pain, by not letting it go to waste. We have to make this mean something, and that hopefully makes us more beautiful people, and more empathetic, and all of those things, and aware of the suffering of the world, and aware that God is with us in that. He is with us.

That is a big faith thing to say.

Karen Ball: Yes.

Karen Stiller: Even that little thing, it sounds so little, but it’s really big. So I guess I would encourage writers, whatever you are going through…you know, we can be like hungry hounds for material, right? Well, you are your greatest material.

It doesn’t mean you have to write about yourself. Of course, we’re not all going to do that. But you can honor what is happening in your life by allowing it to become part of the garden of your writing. I think that’s a beautiful thing that artists do, whatever kind of artists we are.

Writers are artists and makers, which reflects something of God’s creative nature. Don’t build those walls inside yourself. Tear those walls down and see what grows there. I think that can be a beautiful thing. 

Karen Ball: I love the imagery that you mention of it becoming a part of the garden of our lives.

I live in the northern part of Washington state, and right now we’re seeing some blossoms in the garden, but it’s still pretty barren. During the winter with the cold and the snow, it’s easy to believe, to look at it and to think, and I confess, I thought it a few times, “It’ll never be beautiful again.”

A garden has to die in order to come to life. It’s the cycle that God has created. In our own lives, some things have to die before he can bring it to the full, bright, fragrant bloom that he intends for us to be in him. And that he intends us to see him in all that beauty and in all the growth that comes from the death.

Thank you so much for being with us, Karen. You have been a phenomenal blessing, and I pray that God will continue to guide and to touch and be present for you.  

Karen Stiller: Thank you Karen and Erin, and thank you on behalf of writers everywhere who listen to this show and the wonderful guests you bring on and the way you minister. And again, that idea what you said at the beginning that you’re chaplains to writers? Writers need chaplains, so I’m really thankful.

Karen Ball: Thank you.

Guest @karenstiller1 shares wisdom and encouragement from her difficult journey toward holiness through grief and pain. #amwriting #christianwriter Share on X

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

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Have you had to write through grief? What helped you move forward?

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 May sponsor of the month, Priscilla Sharrow! She’s working on her memoir called Bonked! Life, Love, and Laughter with Traumatic Brain Injury, which will release with Redemption Press. Learn more about Priscilla at her website priscillasharrow.com and follow her blog for the TBI/PTSD community.

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.

 

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

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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!

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