Category: Podcasts

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

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

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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!

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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!

STAY CONNECTED

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

211 – The Gift of Rest with Guest Kathleen Denly

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The Gift of Rest with Guest Kathleen Denly on Write from the Deep Podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor Young

One of the most profound, and necessary, gifts we can give ourselves is rest. Not only is it a good idea, but God designed us to rest. Yet too often we just keep going. We don’t want to be lazy, after all. Guest Kathleen Denly shares what happens when our misguided ideas about rest become unhealthy, and how we can ensure this gift is the blessing it’s meant it to be.

About Kathleen Denly

Kathleen Denly writes historical romance to entertain, encourage, and inspire readers toward a better understanding of our amazing God and how he sees us. Award winning author of the Chaparral Hearts series, she also shares history tidbits, thoughts on writing, books reviews and more at KathleenDenly.com.

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

Erin: Welcome, listeners, to the deep. We’re glad that you’re joining us today. We’ve been talking with our guest, Kathleen Denly. If you didn’t catch the first half of this interview, go back and listen, because it’s great. Now we’re going to dive right into part two with Kathleen Denly. 

Kathleen: I am just as valuable in that position and just as loved in that position as I am today. As I was in my mother’s womb. 

Erin: Yeah. 

Kathleen: And that was the biggest thing that pulled me out. 

Erin: Wow. 

Kathleen: That firm belief that God loved me no matter what. 

Erin: I love that. I’m guessing, though, that was a slow journey for you.

Kathleen: Yes.

Erin: With lots of little milestones along the way, things you learned along the way.

What are you doing now? This all happened by you driving yourself, right? You were so driven to do all these things. So how do you let yourself rest now? 

Kathleen: I had to change the way that I view rest. 

Erin: Mmm. 

Kathleen: That came from a couple of things. It came from the physical. The way we were designed, our bodies need rest, and that means more than just sleep. Our brains need rest.

I had been raised with this idea that I need to constantly prove that I wasn’t lazy. And people who rested were lazy. How stupid is that?

But that’s what I believed. Underneath everything, that’s what my actions were saying, that rest was wrong, rest was sinful. But when I actually went back and looked at the scriptures, I realized that even Jesus directed his disciples to rest.

Karen: Right.

Kathleen: God rested on the seventh day. Am I any better than God that I don’t need rest? I mean, come on. It’s just silly.

What I realized is that resting isn’t a symptom of laziness. Instead, it’s just something like eating. You can eat to an extreme. Whether that’s not eating enough or eating too much, you can use that and turn it into sin.

Same thing with rest. If you take it to an extreme, and you’re using it as an excuse to avoid doing things that you’re supposed to be doing, then yeah, it’s probably sinful. But God designed us to need rest.

The truth is that we are the most creative, and we are the most competent, and the most effective when we have taken the time to rest. That’s something that can be really hard to rewire in our brains because our culture rewards busyness.

Erin: Yeah!

Kathleen: I can’t tell you how many times I would have friends be like, “Wow, how do you get all that done? I’m so impressed.”

That’s such a nice thing for them to say, except that in hindsight, they were reinforcing these bad beliefs that I had about myself.

Karen: Yes.

Kathleen: I don’t think I’m the only one who gets that message. 

Karen: No, no. Not by a long shot. 

Erin: Busyness, yeah. Busyness equates to being “productive,” and we then equate productivity with meaning. And it’s not. If we’re busy doing the wrong things, we’re not creating meaning. 

Kathleen: Exactly. 

Karen: That’s why I love the story about Jesus and Mary and Martha so much. Martha’s bustling around and doing everything, and Mary’s just sitting at his feet and soaking in his presence and being with him.

Martha’s like, “Tell Mary to come help me. She’s not working.”

Erin: That would be me saying that, too. I’m sorry!

Karen: And I’d be sitting at his feet!

I love it when Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better way. Like he’s saying, “I will not be here forever. And she has chosen the better way, sitting and resting.”

I think,, too, that a part of the key for dealing with all this is that God created our bodies to give us warnings. The pain and the things that you experienced that you just brushed off and didn’t pay any attention to… We like to think that we are super people.

Erin: Yes.

Karen: That we can keep going and keep doing. But when all that is stripped away, as it was for you, and as it was at a point for me, you sit back and you say, “Sometimes the very best things that I can do are just to go outside and watch the birds.”

There is blessing that comes in that, and there is blessing that comes from that. I can then take what I gained from rest and share it with others, and it gives me the energy to do what God wants me to. 

Erin: I think this just goes back to our problem way back in the Garden of Eden, wanting to be like God. We don’t like to acknowledge our limitations. We don’t like to have them. We want to be superhuman, as you said Karen, and not acknowledge those limitations. I think that’s another reason why God made us rest.

Karen: Yeah.

Erin: He made us need it so that we would have to acknowledge our limitations. When we don’t, bad things happen. Then we have to look at it. Either way, we’d have to look at it. 

Kathleen: The really sneaky thing about the devil is that he will take God’s scripture and try to give it to us with his own spin.

Karen: Twist it.

Kathleen: Yeah. Like, “Oh, I can do anything in God’s strength.”

Weeeeell, but are you supposed to right now? Are you supposed to be doing something in God’s strength? Maybe the thing you’re supposed to be doing in God’s strength is resting. Resting and trusting that he will take care of the things that you’re not working on right now.

Karen: Right! 

Erin: Which makes a very good argument for why we not only need to know our Bible, because Satan does too, but we need to understand it. We need to be meditating on it and thinking about its meaning.

It’s not enough to just know what it says. We have to understand what it means, to the best of our ability. 

Kathleen: Yeah, and some of us are really good about taking spiritual things and using it to justify what we’re doing.

Like, “Oh, well, yeah, it’s the Sabbath, and I know I’m supposed to rest. But I’m gonna do this ministry, and I’m gonna help this person, and these are all spiritual things, so it’s okay to do that on Sunday, right? I don’t actually have to rest because I’m doing all these spiritual things.”

Karen: Yeah. “I’m going to write on Sunday because it’s really my only free day, and God understands that. So it’s okay for me to do that.” 

Kathleen: And, “As a Christian author, my writing is a ministry. So that’s allowed on Sunday.”

There’s a lot of ways that we can trick ourselves into thinking we don’t actually need to rest.

Erin: Yeah. What are some of the ways you’ve incorporated rest, or that you’re working to incorporate rest into your life? 

Kathleen: One of the things that I did was I had to make myself a hard and fast stop to the end of the day. Six o’clock, no matter what.

If I haven’t met my word goal. If the kids were crazy and they interrupted my work time and I didn’t do the things that I wanted to get done today, it doesn’t matter. I stop at six o’clock. Period. End of story.

There’s no negotiation, because if I don’t stop, then what happens is I’m working till eight o’clock, nine o’clock, ten o’clock. I’m supposed to be going to sleep at ten o’clock, so then I’m borrowing energy from the next day, because I’m not getting the sleep that I need.

I’ve found that I have to stop at six in order to give my brain time to shut down and to stop being in work mode. I need the shut down time in order to be able to go to sleep at ten o’clock. If I don’t stop working until eight, that means I’m not really getting to sleep till midnight. 

Erin: Yeah. 

Kathleen: So a hard, hard stop on work is one of the things I’ve needed to incorporate.

Also a hard bedtime, which has been a struggle for me my entire life. My mom said I was nocturnal in the womb. For my entire life, I was the kind of person who wanted to be up till two AM and sleep till noon. My whole life.

I’ve learned that that just is not going to work. I’ve got kids. I’ve got responsibilities. I need to have a more practical sleep schedule, and so I work really hard at making sure that I have all of my screens turned off by nine o’clock, and I am going to sleep by ten. 

Erin: Wow. Good for you!

Kathleen: So those are two things. The other thing is I work really, really, really hard NOT to work on the weekends.

Erin: Mm-Hmm. 

Kathleen: If I have to trade a day, say maybe I spent all day Tuesday running the kids to medical appointments, then I have to talk to my husband and get permission from him.

I ask him, “Can I work on Saturday to make up for that?”

He will help me decide if I’m making a healthy decision, or if I’m letting pressures that are not necessarily healthy push me into making a decision that’s not good. 

Karen: So you’re not making these decisions in a vacuum. You’re getting trusted allies to help you with it.

Kathleen: Exactly.

Karen: That’s very smart. 

Kathleen: Yeah, because as much as I’ve learned all of these truths, I’ve lived forty-plus years with all those lies, and they want to come back. They want to come back all the time.

I’ll be honest, there have still been some days when I’ve been like, “I’ve gotta do this, and I’ve gotta do that, and I can’t do this, and I’m never gonna get all this done!”

My husband’s like, “Breathe. Just breathe. Have you done a grounding exercise? I think you need to do a grounding exercise.”

For those of you who don’t know what this is, one of my favorite grounding exercises is called 5-4-3-2-1. I look around for five things in the room that I can see, four things that I can touch, three things that I can hear, two things I can smell, and one thing I can taste.

What that does is take me out of my brain that is panicking and thinking only about my to-do list. Or when I’m having a flashback that’s trying to take me backwards in time and tell me I’m not actually where I am, this exercise forces me to pay attention to the details of where I am and what’s around me.

There’s something about that that just makes you go, “Yeah. Okay. I can deal with this.”

Erin: Yeah.

Kathleen: Once I’ve done that, then I go, “Okay, time to pray.”

Erin: I actually like that you have a tool before you pray. You have that grounding tool first, and then it helps you focus so your prayer can be more focused. You’re able to hear God, seek God.

Again, it’s this marriage between wisdom from the field of psychology and counseling, which is okay! It’s knowledge that God has given us. But it’s this marriage between that. It’s this marriage between your physical body and what you’re doing, and it’s this spiritual side. It’s all together. I like how it incorporates everything. That makes a lot of sense. 

Kathleen: Yeah. Because without that, my prayers sound a lot like, “God, what am I gonna do? What do I do? God help me. Help me. Help me. Help me. Help me!”

God doesn’t ever get a word in edgewise. Being able to use the grounding techniques helps me to listen better.

Karen: How does it feel now? Now that you have changed the way that you see what you need to do, the way that you see the world, and the way that you see yourself? What’s the difference in how you feel as a person, as a believer, as a writer? 

Kathleen: A big difference. The first thing that came to mind when you said that is I feel more relaxed.

Erin: Mmm. 

Kathleen: I feel more at peace. 

Karen: Yeah. 

Kathleen: I feel more trusting. I thought I was trusting God. I really did. But now I FEEL that.

I feel less worried. I feel less anxious. I feel more comfortable in who I am because I see who I am more clearly through him.

That’s the ironic thing. The theme for all of my novels is helping my characters see themselves as God sees them and not how the world sees them. And I’m sitting over here doing what I was doing!

Now I see myself more clearly. 

Erin: What’s interesting, though, is that this peace…you’re a non-anxious presence now. It helps you be a non-anxious presence in the world. That is beyond valuable. It’s one of the greatest lights that we can have as a Christian in this world because there’s anxiety everywhere—in people. All over the place.

Just the fact that our body, mind, and soul is more relaxed, it’s one of the best ways that we can witness for Christ.

I look at your whole journey. It’s hard that these trials make us look at these things. They force us.

Kathleen: Right.

Erin: We don’t want to go there, and they force us, very much like we force our characters in our stories. But look at what’s happened now. Look at where you are now. It’s just astounding 

Kathleen: It is. And I want to be careful not to give the impression that, “Oh, I’m over it now and I’m fine.”

It’s a daily thing that I use those tools. Like I said, I still have flashbacks. I’m still going to therapy for my PTSD, and it’s something I will struggle with.

But God has been good in showing me a lot and helping me change a lot.

Erin: Yeah. Our time is about up here. Do you have any final words of wisdom or encouragement that you would want to leave with our listeners? 

Kathleen: Yeah, I do want to share something that I think a lot of us are nervous about. If we see somebody who is struggling with mental health issues, there are three things that I have found very helpful, because it can be hard to know how to respond, how to help.

The first thing that I would say is validate their feelings.

A lot of people go, “Oh, I don’t wanna agree with them.”

Because if you hear somebody say, “I’m a terrible person,” and you care about them, the first thing you want to do is say, “No, you’re not a terrible person.” But what you’re actually doing by saying that is arguing with them.

We don’t want to agree because we don’t think they’re a terrible person, but we also don’t want to argue with them. Because even if that lie they’re believing isn’t true, the feelings that they’re getting from it are true. They’re real. They feel them.

A better thing to say in response is, “Wow, it must be really painful to feel like you’re a terrible person.”

It’s a very subtle difference, but it’s something that allows them to hear you. 

Erin: Yeah. 

Kathleen: The second thing that I have found helpful is to gently share the truth with them when they’re ready to hear it. You can’t shove truth in their face. You can’t approach it like an argument, but you can gently say something like, “I want you to know that I don’t think you are a terrible person.”

Erin: Yeah. 

Kathleen: You can even add on to that and say, “I think you are a responsible, caring, loving person, and I’m blessed to have you as my friend.” 

You can say things like that because it’s your opinion. You’re not arguing with them. You’re not telling them their feelings aren’t real, because again, even if the lie is false, the feelings are there.

Erin: Yeah. 

Kathleen: The last thing I would say is don’t underestimate the value of just being present. If you don’t know what to say, just stay. Just sit there and listen. Because one of the tricks the devil likes to play is to convince the suffering person to be silent and alone.

Erin: Yeah.

Kathleen: The devil will tell them, “Nobody cares about your suffering. If they knew what you were thinking, they would think you were a terrible person.”

If all you do is sit there and listen in compassion, then you’ve already broken that lie. 

Erin: I love that.   

Karen: Well, I’ve got tell you, this has been an amazing show, and your story is terrifying and inspiring all at the same time. That we can do these things to ourselves and so damage ourselves without even realizing we’re doing it, with thinking that we’re doing the right thing.

Kathleen: Mm-Hmm.

Karen: God help us. Seriously, God help us all. Give us eyes to see when we are mistreating the child that he created, the child that is us.

I’m so glad that he put the right people in place for you to help you. That he put the right voices to offset and replace the voices of the enemy. I firmly believe that he will do that for anyone who reaches out and asks for help, whether they’re asking for help from him or from anybody else.

Mental illness is not something you deal with by yourself. Follow Kathleen’s wisdom. Have people that you can rely on, have people who will speak truth to you.

Remember, just because the clouds are there, just because you can’t see or hear him, doesn’t mean God’s not there. He is. He has you, and he loves you no matter what. Just because he created you, he loves you. And for that, we could all be grateful.

Kathleen: Absolutely.

Do you think resting is just being lazy? You couldn’t be more wrong! Guest Kathleen Denly shares how this God-given gift has been instrumental in bringing her back to mental health! #christianwriter #amwriting Share on X

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Do you find it easy or difficult to truly rest? Why?

THANK YOU!

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

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.

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.