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I’ve found reprieve in the woods for as long as I can remember. As a child, I hurried home from school to traipse around the woods in the blaze orange hat Mom made me wear. Later, as a high school special education teacher, I found a piece of wooded property behind the school and released my cares among conifers at the end of long days. And now, in this season with little ones and writing and all the other things that make up our days, the open skies still bring the groundedness I crave.
Not long ago, I drove to the swamp because I needed to walk among the bullfrogs and lily pads. I needed to breathe in the scent of the black sulfuric mud and feel what’s real about life. I needed to assess my life and discern what was no longer working. We all need this from time to time.
As I walked past the bullfrogs and the fields of goldenrod, my mind drifted to the words of the well-established literary agent who assessed my work not long ago. She told me my craft and my content were good, but I needed to build my platform and expand my audience.
The perfectionist within me reared her pretty head and got to work. I promoted, guest posted, increased my freelance articles, and became ridiculously active on social media. Maybe a little obsessed.
Walking in the stillness of God’s created world, I was reminded that God’s calling on my life rarely has much to do with how well I can perform. His calling might involve a goal, or in my case, a number, but the goal and the numbers and the performance belong to him. When I make performance my top priority, I miss the highest calling on my life.
This struggle extends far beyond the community of writers. It’s the nurse who loses sight of why she went into medicine all those years ago as she just tries to get through her days. It’s the teacher whose students fail to meet the district standards or pass the state assessments, and she feels defeated. It’s the business owner who can’t seem to get her head above water. It’s the mom who wanted to raise Christ-following world-changers but spends half of her life losing her temper over sibling quarrels and who rubbed their dirty hands all over the couch cushions again.
We begin our journeys with idealistic hopes of making much of God, and a few years down the road, we find ourselves drowning in the ordinariness of routines that are sucking us dry.
We find ourselves making an idol of moving up in our own little worlds – of acquiring Facebook likes and Instagram followers and patrons who will buy our creations on Etsy.
I was nearing that place when God stopped me in my tracks by the swamp. My mind was suddenly filled with images of the faces of fellow writers – women who are trying to make a mark on the world and draw others to God through their writing. And for the first time, I seriously considered this thought: It’s time to stop chasing a better performance and instead aim to build authentic community with these women.
What if we all stopped chasing performance and instead became intentional about loving the people God puts within our spheres of influence? Whether this includes coworkers, clients, patients, competitors, friends, neighbors, or our own children, no one is in your life by accident.
I hurried home from the swamp and immediately asked God which women in my sphere of influence I should start regularly praying for. I didn’t try to pray for every Christian blogger I know. I picked ten women whose names and faces stood out in my mind. I wrote their names on a list and put it where I’d see it daily. I began intentionally lifting these women before the throne of God each morning.
Through this process, something in me shifted. A deep affection for each of these women grew in my heart. There were days when I was compelled to send these women personal messages. I followed them on social media, not so that they might follow me in return, but so that I might bless and encourage them. We began to build real friendships and point one another to Christ. This shift transformed my calling to write in the deepest way.
Regardless of how you spend your days, God has placed specific people within your sphere of influence so that you might love them with his love and help point them to Christ again and again. Here are three simple steps to begin your journey of focusing on people instead of performance:
Make a List
Prayerfully ask for God’s direction, and create a list of people within your sphere of influence for whom you feel led to pray. Don’t overdo it. Divide the list by days of the week and pray for different categories of people on different days (family, friends, coworkers, church leadership, neighbors, etc.), or use one list and pray daily.
Encourage from the Overflow of Your Prayers
As you lift these people before God, keep an open heart. When you sense the nudge to send an encouraging word, act on it. Take ten seconds and send a text or email. Check in. Tell them you’re praying. Aim to encourage, and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit as you do so.
Point to Jesus
We owe people an encounter with Jesus. His presence transforms. Regardless of where your friends are on the journey toward Jesus, represent him by loving them well. Follow his guidance and aim to stay in step with his Spirit as you speak truth and encourage.
These three simple steps radically changed my writing pursuits. My prayer is that they will equip you to walk with the King in your daily life in a way that is intentional, focused, and transformational in your life and in the lives of others.
If you are coming out of a difficult season, or if you’re in the thick of it right now, today’s gift to you is my 20-day devotional, Glimpses of Hope for When Life Lets You Down. This devotional will lead you through a daily reflection, Scripture reading, and questions for thought and reflection. It will help you bring your broken heart to God and process your emotions in the safe place of his presence. It’s yours by clicking here.