One morning, I wake up doubting my calling to be a writer in a thousand different ways.
It’s just one of those days during the quiet season after a book release. People are reading it and recommending it and choosing it for their book clubs, but all of that is happening behind the scenes. As an author, the silence makes you feel a little silly, like you turned your heart inside out and maybe it wouldn’t be such a good idea to do that again.
It’s just one of those days, but it also happens to be another kind of day, as well.
It’s one of those days when it feels like God—or the universe, or whatever you want to call it—decides to step in a little farther than usual, speak up a little louder than usual, help out a little more than usual. As if the powers-that-be were sitting around saying, “Hey, we can’t bail him out of his self-doubt every day—we’d have no time to get anything else done—but let’s send him some encouragement today.”
I reach for my phone on the bedside table. The first thing I see is the late Frederick Buechner’s daily email, which begins with a Scripture verse. Short but sweet. “Be still, and know that I am God.” Then it continues with an excerpt from his writing:
“Vocation. It comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work…The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
My soul grows quiet.
I’ve found enough peace to get up and go about my day, but the powers-that-be aren’t done yet. As the doubt threatens to return, my marketing director lets me know The Unhiding of Elijah Campbell made the ECPA Bestseller List for November. Then my wife spontaneously reminds me that I write for gladness not success. Then a friend lets me know he ordered a copy of the novel for everyone at his holiday party. Then author Traci Rhoades posts this review of the book:
“If Mitch Album were a psychiatrist, he’d write a book like this. Full of characters longing to make connection, with one man, Eli, struggling to keep them all connected. What a tender, gripping read.”
Days like this don’t come along very often. Most days we seem to be left alone with that voice of self-doubt, forced to remind ourselves why we do what we do with our lives. So it’s important we don’t miss these days of great encouragement when they happen.
A couple thousand years ago, Christmas was one of those days.
It was the day the powers-that-be said, “We can’t do this every day—in fact, we’re only ever going to do it one day—but today is the day.” So God stepped in a little farther than usual—into a manger. Spoke up a little louder than usual—a newborn hollering into the night. Helped out a little more than usual—sending the unmistakable message that we’re worth being with, and that what we’re doing here matters.
It’s easy to miss this.
It’s easy to get caught up in all the decorating. All the buying. All the partying. All the programming. It’s easy to get caught up in downloading the Turkey Mode update for your smart oven.
I think that’s why the first thing Mary did was “treasure up” what had happened and “pondered it in her heart.” She started by growing still, because if you don’t start with stillness, you can’t end with awareness.
And I think that’s why the first message I received on my day of doubt was, “Be still and know that I am God.” If you aren’t quiet, you can’t notice. That’s probably why the good news of the baby’s birth was first announced to a bunch of shepherds out in the countryside—they were the only ones quiet enough to hear it.
As I’m drifting off to sleep again on my day of doubt, I find myself quiet enough to become aware of one final thing: none of the encouragement I received came directly from the divine. It came through people. Frederick Buechner. My marketing director. My wife. A good friend. Another author. I find myself quiet enough to realize—now we’re the angels announcing the good news to each other:
You are worth being with.
What you’re doing here matters.
This holiday season, may you grow still enough to hear the good news of your belovedness and your meaningfulness, and may you then spread the good news to others. I’m sure there’s a few doubtful authors—and about eight billion other people—who need to hear it.
You can show someone they matter to you this holiday season by gifting them The Unhiding of Elijah Campbell.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.