Unless it moves the heart

Sometimes as a writer, it’s easy to get into the drill sergeant routine: it doesn’t matter if I feel like writing, I suck it up and do it anyway. This is how I wrote much of the first draft of my first novel. I was postpartum, cranky, sleep-deprived, but dammit, I was gonna crack out 1500 words during my baby’s nap. And I did. The drill sergeant ordered it, and I saluted and said, “Yes, ma’am!”

The problem with this approach is that sometimes I lost sight of why I was writing. A drill sergeant can dictate my external actions (in this case, sitting in a chair and typing) but she cannot dictate my inner self. The love of writing was missing.

Many times the love returned as I wrote. It was still work, hard work—all great writing is—but my enthusiasm returned. I remembered why my voice mattered and why I was willing to forgo sleep to work at the exhausting, exhilarating experience of learning to write.

A few times, the love didn’t return. The words I wrote those days were the ones that most often were cut. My subject matter didn’t move my heart.

It happens with other things, too.

Last night I told my husband that I feel a tad guilty that I don’t do anything at our church. I love our church, but I don’t see any areas where I want to help. I’m not musical, I’m horrified at the idea of teaching anything, and I don’t like hanging out with kids or teens.

But there’s the saying that 10% of people do 90% of the work, and I don’t like the idea of being part of the 90% that do 10%. “I don’t want to be a moocher,” I said.

“Honey, if you aren’t enthusiastic about doing any of things you could do, then you shouldn’t do it,” he said. “Other people love to work with kids, so that’s what they need to do. You’re gifted in writing. That’s where you need to focus your attention and energy, not on things that you couldn’t care less about.”

If it doesn’t move my heart, why am I doing it? Without love, it’s meaningless.

You and I can do fabulous things:

  • Work with the poor and fight for justice for the oppressed.
  • Produce gorgeous music or artwork or writing.
  • Send a shuttle into space and explore the far reaches of the galaxy.

Yet when it becomes merely a duty, a drudgery, a way to grab renown or hit the bestseller list, then our work is meaningless. Or when it’s always been a duty, something I feel guilt-tripped into doing, then it’s meaningless, too. That’s not to say that it won’t make a difference in another person’s life.

But does it make a difference in our own?


Have you ever done things only because you felt obligated to do them? Have you ever lost your love for things that you once loved to do? How did you get that love back?


8 thoughts on “Unless it moves the heart

  1. As a technical writer, I wish I could say I had passion for the things I write for a living. I’m also a musician, but I don’t feel called to participate in our church’s music. I’ve felt a lot of guilt about this, but, the truth is, my job and my toddler require the brunt of my time, and if I spent what little “free time” I had left on volunteering, there would be no time left!

    Donald Miller wrote on something similar recently. Maybe you saw it, and that’s what’s inspired your post, or maybe you haven’t seen it yet. In either case, your post reminded me of his: http://donmilleris.com/2011/04/19/two-words-that-kill-passion/.


    1. I can definitely identify with the little free time thing. I have chronic fatigue syndrome (the doctor calls it that for lack of a better term, though I doubt it’s the correct diagnosis) and by the time I do the things I must do and the things I love to do, there’s no energy left for things that I don’t care about.

      I didn’t read that post of Don’s yet, but I did read today’s post. I read it and was kind of amazed that we’re thinking along the same lines. He’s always got good content on his blog, doesn’t he?


  2. Love it, Laura! For me, when it comes to writing, it’s a must do everyday. Occasionally, the best I can do is sit and stare at the chapter I’m revising or writing, or forcing myself to pound something out. If it stinks, that’s what editing is for, right?

    As far as things like church, I read on Michael Hyatt’s blog to focus on the work you are passionate about. Like your husband said, other people have gifts and skills you don’t. If you do something you don’t have a love for, it won’t be done well, you’ll resent it and the person should be doing it will think they don’t have to. At our old church I had volunteered to be the Christian Ed. coordinator or whatever. It’s a small church so it would not be a lot of work. But I only did it because nobody else was. It as a two year post and at the end of the first year, I quit. I felt very bad about doing it–I’d never just quit something where other people depended on me so much. I left them in a bind, in a sense, other people had to fill in. But where I was in my faith, I wasn’t sure I wanted a part in indoctrinating the future and I was unmotivated and uninspired. I felt bad for a while, but also relieved. I took some Sundays at home alone when my husband went and I enjoyed the solitude. We recently started attending another church and I wonder what I should do. I prefer to be a sponge and just sit there and soak up, but the Lord’s gifted me.

    As far as church work goes, pray about the place you should be. It may not be on a committee, but the Lord uses those who are willing and you are going to love the job.

    PS: I enjoy the thought provoking topics you come up with.


    1. Your story about being a Christian ed. coordinator reminded me of an experience I had several years ago. Our church was holding a marriage conference, and a woman called to ask if my husband and I would meet with a group to pray for the conference. It was a commitment of several months, took place during the Sunday morning late service (we go to early), I had just had a baby and was depressed, sleep-deprived, you name it. Not a good point in my life to commit to this and I didn’t feel any passion for it. But I felt “guilted” into it by the woman (I know it was unintentional on her part) and thought, “what kind of person doesn’t want to pray for a marriage conference?!” So I did it. And was miserable. I couldn’t even go many Sundays. It was a relief when the conference was over with!

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.


  3. Laura,

    Many times, I do things out of a sense of duty (sometimes also a sense of guilt but these are two different things). I do indeed enjoy doing the work of teaching, but I don’t always enjoy the work needed to make things shine. It takes work to prepare well for teaching. Usually though I feel like I’ve communicated something important when I have taught at church or elsewhere.
    I avoid choir and music though, not because I dislike music. I actually love music (and playing around on the piano from time to time)! However, my ego seems to get all out of whack when I do musical stuff because I’m constantly measuring myself as to how well I sound (or play) and worry that I’m not doing it right or in the correct harmony and in the end, I usually feel down after singing in choir. I abandoned choir years ago therefore, although I do sing on my own in church services (although sometimes I prefer to pray).
    Similarly, I quit going to a basketball outing with church peers, because it no longer seemed like fun and after playing for a while, since I’m not a great bball player), I felt worse afterwards than I did before. The competitive spirit (mine! as well as theirs) got to me, and so I quit going.
    I don’t know though. Some things seem like they must be done, even though they are drudge work (for instance, I dislike calling people to set up appointments or do visiting of people for anything– even Sunday School) but I often feel that to do the things one loves, one has to put up with some drudge work. What do you think?



    1. I think you’re right. I have to do a lot of “drudge” work with my writing; I really don’t enjoy researching agents and sending query letters, that sort of thing, and I’m not enthusiastic about marketing and social networking. I do it because I love writing. Same goes with being a mom or home owner; changing diapers isn’t exactly thrilling or moving to the heart. I try to keep the ugh parts to a minimum (not always possible) to spend more time enjoying the ahhh moments.

      But if everything about an optional task seems like drudgery all the time (and not just at moments), then I think something’s wrong and it probably would be best to quit. (Within reason, of course. Quitting going to the gym has never been an option in my mind, even during the years that I hated it; I knew it was good for me and I felt better going.)

      Thanks for reading and commenting on this. I’m glad to know that I’m not alone in my feelings on this!


  4. To answer your question…yes, all the time. Having been through divorce, hard work environments etc., it is easy to loose the love some days and difficult to put it away when it is time to sit down and write. I like to listen to classical music, drift off into it and wait for my mind to calm then write. This way, while I may not feel the love yet, I’ll at least be in “neutral” and it is far easier to find it then, then when we start in tension and stress.
    Sure, it isn’t always possible but then we all have off days.
    Great post, glad to have found your site 🙂


    1. Gene, thanks for commenting. Sometimes when I have a hard time writing and staring at a blank screen terrifies me, I close my eyes and start writing. Listening to music sounds like a much more pleasant way of calming my jitters and getting into writing mode. I wish I could’ve done this this past weekend when I was trying to write longhand.

      I’m sorry I haven’t replied earlier. We were without electricity for 4 days because of the storms in the southeast.


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