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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 Click To Tweet

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


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


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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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 Click To Tweet


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


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.

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210 – Do Christians Suffer from Mental Illness? with Guest Kathleen Denly

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Do Christians Suffer from Mental Illness with Guest Kathleen Denly on Write from the Deep Podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungWe don’t like to talk about it. We’re afraid to admit to it. But the fact is that being a firm believer doesn’t keep mental illness from striking. How do we, as believers and writers, deal with the reality of mental illness? Guest Kathleen Denly joins us to share how God met her in her own struggle and continues to guide her to soundness of body and mind.

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!

Karen: Hi guys, and welcome to the deep. We are delighted you are here because we have an outstanding guest to share her experiences, knowledge, and wisdom with you. 

Erin: We do. Her name is Kathleen Denley, and I get to introduce her. Karen and I both got to know Kathleen through her writing. We both edited her work and it’s been great. 

Welcome, Kathleen Denly

Kathleen is the award-winning author of the Chaparral Hearts series. She writes historical romance to entertain, encourage, and inspire readers toward a better understanding of our amazing God and how He sees us. Kathleen enjoys finding the lesser known pockets of history and bringing them to life through the joys and struggles of her characters.

California, a favorite setting to her stories, is also her home, and she lives there with her loving husband, four young children, two dogs, and yes everybody, 10 cats. As the member of the adoption and foster community, children in need are a cause dear to her heart, and she finds they make frequent appearances in her stories.

So Kathleen, welcome. We’re glad to have you here. 

Kathleen: Thank you so much. I’m glad to be here. 

Take Courage in God’s Strength

Erin: Let’s just jump right in. Kathleen, we love to ask people, what does the deep mean to you? 

Kathleen: I’ve been listening to your podcast for so long. I thought about this for quite a while, and I feel like it changes depending on the season of life I’m in. Writing from the deep is about taking courage in God’s strength and wisdom, being able to go into those raw, dark, honest places that make you nervous. But again, leaning on God’s courage and strength to share the lessons he’s taught you from those dark and hard places with others.

Erin: I love that because we do, we have to go to the places where we’re nervous. That’s where it gets real. 

A Scary Truth

Today we wanted to talk about something more real than Christians sometimes want to admit, but we need to admit it. We need to talk about it, and it’s mental illness. We asked Kathleen to share her story with us. But first, Kathleen, why do you think that Christians sometimes struggle to admit the reality of mental illness? 

Kathleen: Well, first, I think it’s scary. We don’t want to think about the fact that this could happen to us. We wanna think, “Well, no. I’m a good Christian. I do all the right things, therefore I am impervious to this.” But that’s not actually what Scripture plays out. 

Karen: Right.

Kathleen: Several people in the Bible struggled with mental illness. If you look for the signs, you can see them easily. And there are even people who showed signs, and expressed the words, of suicidal thoughts, where they were despairing of life and they thought God had abandoned them. They had real struggles just like we do today.

Mental Illness Taboo in the church?

Kathleen: But our culture has made it somewhat taboo. There is a history in the church of misunderstanding back in the 1700s, 1800s, and even farther back, of what mental illness actually was. They thought it was strictly a spiritual thing, or it was a sign of moral depravity or immaturity. And so a lot of taboo and stigma developed. It’s not as scary if we can say, “Oh, well, not me. I don’t struggle with that.” I don’t think people intentionally think, “Oh, I’m better than them, because they have that.” I think it’s more of a fear-based reaction. 

Erin: And some Christians seem to think, “Hey, we have God so nothing can be wrong with our minds. We’ll just pray it away.” You know, as if you could pray away a broken leg. 

Karen: It’s like they’re trying to cover God’s backside. “Oh, he would never let you go into that. That can’t affect you because you have Jesus.”

It’s A Brain Problem

Erin: But there are very real struggles with the way our brains function. A friend of mine knows that I battle chronic fatigue and she just sent me an article about a recent study where they took MRIs and there’s a real dysfunction that they can see in the brain. It’s not like, “Oh, you’re lazy. Oh, you’re tired for no reason.” It’s a brain problem. 

Karen: And people don’t  recognize that about mental illness. There is often a physiological component to it.

Kathleen: I heard a quote on another show that I was watching and they said science is finally catching up with the Bible. The Bible has shown us that these things are real and they have not just a spiritual component, but also a physical component. I’m so grateful that we are at the point now where science is starting to help us understand that physical part of it.

Erin: Yeah, exactly. 

Situational Components

Karen: There’s also a situational component that comes into play. My father-in-law’s alcoholism, and the abuse that stemmed from that, resulted, for Don and his siblings, in some issues. The defenses they developed as children against what was happening to them tend to carry over into adulthood.

At one point Don and I were in a counseling session, because our marriage almost didn’t survive what had happened to him, and the counselor said to Don, “The defense mechanisms that kept you alive as a kid are destroying you as an adult.” So often we need to learn how to live without defenses we no longer need and, as believers, to know that we’re safe because God’s got us. 

Erin: So, Kathleen, you’ve had your own journey with this situation. How did you first know something wasn’t right?

Not Myself

Kathleen: Basically I started acting very not myself. I had experienced postpartum depression after delivering one of my children several years ago. I mean, he’s 13 now. But when I started struggling this time my thoughts were going to places that were darker than normal for me.

I even had, in the beginning, fleeting thoughts of, “I don’t wanna be alive anymore.” As soon as I had that thought go through my head, I went, “Wait, what? No, that’s not me. That’s not okay. That’s not normal.” I learned later that what I was going through was a side-effect of some pain medication that the doctor put me on.

I had incurred––and it sounds so silly to say it this way––a repetitive strain injury. That just sounds so simple, so much less than what it actually was for me. There came a point at which I was in so much pain that I started screaming and I couldn’t stop. 

Karen: Wow. 

Losing My Grip on Reality

Kathleen: It became so bad that, as my husband was trying to get me to medical care, I was beginning to lose my grip on reality. I was so consumed with pain that all of my other senses just shut off. I wasn’t seeing anything. I  wasn’t hearing anything. It was almost like I was out of my body  and the only thing that existed was pain.

I would float in and out of being able to see what was going on around me, just completely consumed by pain. The whole time I was screaming and screaming and screaming. I was convinced I was going to die. I thought, “There’s no way I can live through this. This is beyond anything. If I don’t die, I’m gonna lose my mind. I’m gonna go insane from just the sheer level of pain.” 

Erin: Wow. 

Kathleen: Finally I got medical help and they were able to help me grab onto reality long enough to tell them what was going on, as much as I could understand, because we were still waiting for all these tests and to see specialists.

“I did it to myself”

Kathleen: Finally the doctors gave me pain medication that brought me back into reality permanently. But that particular day, when it was so bad, is something I still have flashbacks to. And now I have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. And the really, really frustrating thing is that I did it to myself.

I didn’t know I was doing it to myself, but I did. I worked myself into that injury. I had pain off and on every time I wrote a first draft because I would do marathon writing sessions. The first time I did this, I started getting pain in my shoulder and my arm and my elbow and my wrist. But I just took an ibuprofen and keep working.

Then, when the ibuprofen wasn’t enough, I would take a day off. And by “a day off” I mean I would type with my left hand instead of my right hand. 

Erin: Wow. 

Kathleen: And then, when taking a day off wasn’t enough, I would take a week off. By my third book, it got to the point where nothing helped. The pain just kept getting worse and I wasn’t able to type at all. The pain interferied with my ability to even think about my stories, let alone type them out.

So I finally went and saw a doctor. Because it was interfering with my work. It had nothing to do with the pain other than I needed it to go away so I could get my work done. 

Listen to the Warning Bells!

Erin: Well, that’s a warning bell right there. 

Kathleen: Yeah, but I didn’t think about it that way at the time. I thought, “This is what good responsible people do. They get stuff done and they don’t let pain get in the way.” This is how I was raised.

In hindsight, I learned that what I had going on underneath was fear of what other people would think about me if I didn’t get stuff done––if I missed a deadline, if I wasn’t as successful as I could be on social media, if I didn’t have enough subscribers to my newsletter, if I didn’t have my platform strong enough, if I didn’t write enough guest posts…

I was even planning my to start my own podcast at the time. But I thought I was just doing all the things that you were supposed to do. 

Karen: You could have started the Scream podcast: “Okay. Scream with me folks.” I bet there are a lot of people who would join you.

Kathleen: Actually, I bet there are days when people would log on.

You Can’t Do It All!

Kathleen: Basically, I took all the advice from writer’s conferences, but I didn’t take it as suggestions or guidelines or things to think about. I made it all my life. Because I assumed––and again, this was not a conscious thought, this is something I figured out in retrospect––I assumed, “Well, my husband knows who I am. My kids know who I am. My mom, my friends, they all know who I am. They don’t need me to prove to them that I’m a good person.”

But all these other people––my new publisher, the other writers that I don’t know, the readers––they’re just getting to know me and need to have a good impression of me. And if I’m gonna give them a good impression, I need to do all these things and do them right now. And I need to do them perfectly. 

Karen: Man!

Kathleen: ‘Cause I can’t give a bad impression and I can’t offend anybody and I can’t disappoint anybody. 

Do You Hear Yourself?

Erin: Wait, just stop there for one second. Listeners, did you hear that? Do you hear yourself in there? Just a little bit? I think almost every beginning writer or intermediate writer, even experienced writer, sometimes hears that.

So then what? What happened from there, Kathleen? 

Kathleen: The sad result is that my family took second place to my work. Everything took second place to my work. Even my Bible study started taking second place. And I started thinking, “Oh, I’ve spent an hour and a half on Bible study this morning. I should have been writing. I should cut that down to 20 minutes. And how backwards is that? That’s totally backwards. 

Writers Need Bible Study Time!

Karen: That’s insane, is what that is.

Kathleen: Right? I’ve since learned that I need my Bible study to do good work. I need my Bible study to guide me in making the right decisions.

Instead, I got focused on being perfect. I got focused on getting everything done and I became a workaholic. And worked myself into injury. 

Erin: Which, for a lot of people, is not an unusual story. And there might be people out there who are heading that direction right now. If so, this is a cautionary tale for you. 

Kathleen: I hope so. 

Erin: What happened then? 

The Body Always Knows

Kathleen: Well, one thing I want to share is that before all this, I had done everything to make sure my setup was ergonomic. I had a chair that was completely customized. I had my screen elevated, my keyboard at the right level…everything was exactly how it should be. So I actually thought I’d protected myself from this kind of an injury.

Except nobody told me that you can’t just keep working. You have to take breaks. Your muscles wear out even if you’re doing everything the right way. After the injury, my physical therapist taught me to set an alarm every hour. To get up, move around, do stretches, move my body so that it’s doing something different than sitting and writing.

And I learned how vital it is to eat healthy and drink well to stay hydrated. To take care of your body because if you don’t, it doesn’t matter what your mind’s doing…

Karen: Yeah. 

Kathleen: …the body will eventually overrule you. 

Erin: The body always knows. I had a conversation with a counseling psychologist and she said the body always tells the story. So this injury forced you to stop trying to do it all, perfect or otherwise.But then you were on painkillers and they were messing with your mind.

The Process of Healing

Kathleen: Yes. I focused on healing physically, but eventually my brain started going, “Okay, now that we’re not in physical survival mode, here’s all this stuff I’ve been holding back on you.”

That’s when the PTSD symptoms started kicking in––the panic attacks and the anxiety and the flashbacks. I didn’t have a flashback until almost a year after the injury. When I say flashback, for me it’s audible, visual, physical––the whole thing.

It’s like somebody places a film over my eyes and I’m seeing where I was then laid over the faded image of where I actually am. And I feel the pain that I felt that day, and hear the sounds that I heard that day. It can be triggered by a noise, a smell, a specific environment. Anything.

I had to change my bedroom around because I spent six weeks stuck in bed, unable to do anything. I needed help to shower, to eat––with everything. So once I was better, we had to rearrange my bedroom so it wouldn’t remind me of when I was stuck there.

Erin: Wow. Okay. That’s hard. 

Coming Back from the Dark

Kathleen: I needed therapy and a researching of the scriptures to get myself back from the dark place I had fallen into. One day I looked at my author bio, because I was trying to get work done, and every single thing in that bio––the one that you read at the beginning of this podcast––I wasn’t any of that anymore.

I couldn’t hike. I couldn’t craft, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t mother, I couldn’t wife, I couldn’t do anything. I still lived in California and I was still married. Those were about the only things that still applied 

It felt like my entire identity had been stripped away from me, and my world had been turned upside down and I didn’t understand anything. So I clung to who God was. I knew His character and I clung to that like I was holding on with my fingernails to a rock ledge over a thousand-foot drop. 

Why Me, God?

Kathleen: I didn’t know why He was letting me go through this. I didn’t know where this was gonna take me. All I knew was God. God is good. God is unchanging. God loves me. God has a good purpose for my suffering. That was what I clung to. I had nothing else in the darkest of times. 

But the thing is, God knew there were so many lies being poured into my head at that time. Things like, I was worthless. I was helpless. I was a burden. I wasn’t helping anybody and they were all having to help me.

I didn’t realize I had this underlying belief that I was only as valuable as my accomplishments. I was only as valuable as much as I could help somebody else. And I didn’t know that until that was taken away from me.

Karen: Mm. 

A Deep, Dark Place

Kathleen: When I found myself in that dark, dark place, I had legitimate thoughts of ending my life. But God knew I would get to this dark place, and He prepared in advance the things that I would need. He gave me a husband who would not give up on me, who would not leave me alone, who would get me to the help that I needed.

And God also prepared the therapist and the psychiatrist that I would need to diagnose me, to treat me, and to provide me with the medication that I needed, all of which helped my brain work in a way that allowed me to battle the lies Satan was pouring into my head.

A Three-Tiered Approach

Erin: Wow. So you had a three-tiered approach there. 

Kathleen: Yeah. I really needed mental help, physical help, and spiritual help. God is so good and in His infinite wisdom, He gave me the shovels I needed to dig my way out from under that mountain of lies.

And He never left me. That was the one thing I knew, even when I was thinking about ending my life. It wasn’t because I thought God had abandoned me. It was because, in that moment, in that few minutes where I went that dark and that deep, I lost sight of the light.

He was there. I just wasn’t looking at Him. But He was there. 

The Light is Still There

Karen: The enemy makes a concerted effort to pull the curtains so that you can’t look at God. To make it feel as though you can’t see Him. I think anybody who’s been in that place, whether it’s mental illness or whether it’s just a place of despair, and is considering suicide––which, I’ve been there––we need help to find the light again.

I went to the Psalms and found them comforting because David was so immersed in, “How long, O Lord, will you forget me?” And yet in the next Psalm it’s, “Praise the Lord! He is faithful and glorious! And He is the only one worthy to be praised.” That  reminded me that yes, we go into those dark places, but the Light is still there. 

Look Past the Fog

When I was a kid, we used to go up into the mountains to get Christmas trees and the first time we were going up, there was fog that coated the valley. We eventually climbed higher than the fog, and there was sunshine there and blue skies! It had never registered with my brain that just because there’s fog or clouds doesn’t mean the sun is gone and that the skies aren’t blue.

They’re just being veiled. 

And that’s often what depression and mental illness can do to us, even when we’re not aware of it. 

God Loves You No Matter What!

Kathleen: The Scripture that had the biggest impact on me was about God knitting us together in our mother’s womb and loving us before we were born. It struck me so much harder than it ever had in my life. He loved me before I was born.

What does that mean? That means I hadn’t done a stinking thing to deserve to be loved, to be cared for, to have any kind of value of my own.

I just was existing, and even that only because of Him. So why did He love me? Because He created me! Period. End of story. I did nothing. I can do nothing to earn or deserve His love. So if tomorrow I have a terrible accident and the only thing I can do was lay in bed while somebody else feeds me and clothes me, I am just as valuable and just as loved as I am today. As I was in my mother’s womb.

And that was the biggest thing that pulled me out. That firm belief God loved me no matter what. 

Karen: Amen.

Erin: Amen.

Do Christians Suffer from Mental Illness with guest Kathleen Denly #amwriting #Christianwriter Click To Tweet

Have you or someone you’ve known suffered from mental illness? How did God help you through it?


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

Thanks so much to our March sponsor of the month, Tammy Partlow! She’s a speaker at women’s retreats, and her debut novel Blood Beneath the Pines, a suspense set in the deep South, is now available. She’s hard at work on the next book in the series!

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


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