Friday, March 18, 2011

Necessary Endings

 by Dina Sleiman

Last week, amidst all the excitement of my first novel sale, one of my closest friends lost her father. A sober reminder that while new things are beginning, other things are passing away. As my husband and I looked over the funeral schedule, we decided that our kids should drop all of their activities and attend the viewing with us, because this was not only the father of our friend, it was the grandfather of theirs.

They hadn’t been to a funeral since my last grandparent died, and our youngest child was still a baby at the time. We thought this was an important opportunity to teach them that the man had lived a long life serving God, and that he was happy in a better place now with his Lord. We could teach them to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. How to be a good friend in the midst of heartache. But most importantly we could teach them that death is a natural and necessary part of life on this fallen earth.

My husband has been learning that lesson lately. He has a tendency to over-commit and become a workaholic. But he’s been reading a book called Necessary Endings about how we must let things go in our lives. In order to start something new or do something well, we need to let things die, be those things unhealthy relationships, bad habits, busyness, or even good things that aren’t God’s best.

In a different book by Brenda Ueland called If You Want to Write, she calls this the “theory of planned neglect.” No one can do everything well. We must focus on our goals and set priorities. And in order to do something truly incredible, like write a novel, we must be willing to intentionally neglect other areas of our lives. I first read this book in an undergrad creative writing class, and I’ve used it in my own teaching ever since.

So it’s not surprising that when I felt the Lord call me to seriously start writing in 2006, I realized I would have to let some things die. Now that might sound easy, just don’t do them anymore, but it was actually one of the hardest and most thankless decisions I’ve ever made. At that point I was homeschooling my children, doing almost full time volunteer church ministry, and had a very active social life. It took nearly two years to slowly, piece by piece, prune away the excess until I could truly focus on my writing ministry the way I desired to. I was met with whining, complaining, guilt, and even some hurt feelings. I hate to hurt people's feelings :( But I continued onward, as gently as I could, carving out a space for my writing.

At times the guilt did get to me, especially when I saw things being neglected at church in areas where I knew I could help. It was hard to explain that by sacrificing ministering to a few people today, I was preparing to minister to thousands of people in the future through my books. Books that weren’t even finished. Books that might or might not ever get published. Finally, I learned to push the guilt aside and listen for the moment by moment leading of the Holy Spirit, doing only the church ministry I felt confident God was asking me to do.

Today I still lead worship for children’s church once a month. I still choreograph and direct a few dances a year. I taught a ladies bible study for several months one winter, and a free writing course last summer. I’m still involved, but at a normal, balanced level.

And it paid off. As I mentioned in the beginning, last week, after five years of writing, I got “the call” (which was actually an email), and all that sacrifice, all that neglect, was finally worthwhile. My books will reach people. I did my best to follow God’s plan for my life through thick and thin. Even when it meant letting go the good to pursue the best. Finally, I can breathe a big sigh of relief.

What have you had to let go of in order to pursue God’s best for your life? What might he be asking you to prune away right now? What are your dreams, and how can you use a theory of planned neglect to achieve them?

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  Dina writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her first novel, Dance of the Dandelion, will release with Whitefire Publishing in 2011. She has recently become an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire as well. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at http://dinasleiman.com/

17 comments:

  1. It is so difficult sometimes to ignore good things in order to do the best. A very challenging tightrope to walk, but I think we're happier and less stressed when we nail it.

    It's just so hard to say no! I really like the concept of "planned neglect" I'm going to use that. (It already applies to housework around here!)

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  2. You might want to check out that Brenda Ueland book, Lisa. It's an oldie but a goody.

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  3. You don't know how this blessed me today. I am struggling with guilt over saying NO to something, because I've become very selfish about my Saturdays. I haven't quite found the balance between my personal calling and the call to serve.

    But I know guilt is not the answer.
    Thanks for the book suggestions, Dina.
    Oh - I did planned neglect of housework during my month of hibernation and I survived the squalor.

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  4. Yes, a perfect house was one of the things I gave up long ago, Deb. Like I said, I think the trick for balancing and avoiding guilt is really specifically asking God and then being still and quiet to receive his answer. Once you do that, you can move forward in confidence and a good attitude whether it is yes or no.

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  5. I had to learn this the hard way. I said "yes" to everything asked of me. At church, at work, at home, I needed to do it all. God laid me flat on my back for three weeks to get my attention. My only options were to pray and think. I try to remember what He taught me during those weeks, but I sometimes find myself needing a reminder.

    Thanks for the post today. I needed it. I took a personal day from work today to sit back and get some perspective. I will look up Brenda's book on writing.

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  6. I think that would be a great book to refill you and bring you back to the joy and purpose of writing, Christine. Another one, if you can handle some pg-13 type language and material, is Bird by Bird, which is by Anne Lamott. And both ladies are Christians. I would call them "writing inspiration books."

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  7. Very nice post Dina
    Because of Facebook I'm back in touch with hundreds of friends, cousins, associates, school mates from as early as first and second grades and many others.
    It is impossible to pick up with each one of them from where we left it.
    Necessary endings give us a closure, peace and then takes us to the next level or stage where God wants us to be.

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  8. This week I resigned from two things I was involved in at my church as I recognized my need to cut back on something.
    My need to slow down came to the forefront at a Christian concert this week. My soul was fed at this concert which caused me to question why I was so "hungry" in spite of being at church every single Sunday, coleading a small group, etc. I realized that because I was involved in so many things on Sunday morning, it was rare to sit through an entire service from start to finish -- between greeting, running the computer, etc., etc. It is time to "be still and know!"
    Thanks for this reinforcement of my decision!
    Elaine K

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  9. Dina, this absolutely hit the spot today! If there's a guilt rut anywhere around, I tend to fall in it... lately it's guilt over not being "social" enough. I'd rather stay home and write.

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  10. I'm going to have to remember that theory of planned neglect next time I don't get the housework done or dinner cooked.

    But I agree, when I try to fit everything in, nothing gets done well.

    Of course, today my writing time fell victim to making a batch of homemade pierogi.

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  11. I'll echo the others and say this is reinforcement for me as well, Dina.

    I've streamlined my church activities to those which I'm most comfortable with and other than the blog and website, and physical support like baking, I'm leaving the rest to others.

    And yes, I could be baking more at home - from scratch - like I always did - but really, who needs all those dessert and snacks, anyway?

    Great post, Dina.

    Anita Mae.

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  12. Add my voice to the choir -- this has reinforced a lot of things going on with me, too.

    As I discerned that the time had come for me to focus more on my writing ministry, I noticed a few areas where God has directly removed ministries/ activities from me. Then there are areas where I need to pray for discernment and learn where to say yes and where to say no.

    Oh, if only I could blame my poor housekeeping skills on my writing. Sigh.

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  13. Dina, this is where I've lived my whole live. Not able to say "no" without feeling so very guilty.

    When I developed the asthma last year, I had to pull back from so many things, and that time where I couldn't do anything that required activity was instrumental in helping reevaluate my commitments when I started feeling better. I don't think God gave me the asthma. But I do believe He used it as an opportunity to help me see that I have to prioritize my life in order to live it in a way that glorifies Him. It's still hard not to feel guilty, though, so I'm working on that one. I'm beginning to fear that it might be a lifelong project. :-)


    Thanks, Dina. And super-duper congratulations on your sale! I can't wait to read the book.

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  14. Hi Everyone,

    I went to Laurie Alice Eakes workshop in Yorktown this morning and the rest of the day took on a life of its own. So sorry I haven't been back.

    Gina's here at my house and we're having a slumber party :)

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  15. Dani, you're right. There can be a real peace in letting things go.

    Elaine, I have soooo been there.

    Niki, just say no to guilt :)

    Barb, if ever there was a reason not to write, it would certainly homemade pierogies. Can you pleeeaaasse send me some?

    True Anita, too many snacks get us in trouble anyway.

    Why not, Susanne? I certainly do.

    Thanks, Suzie. Remember that while God sometimes convicts, guilt most often a trick from the enemy to keep us down. Don't let it win.

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  16. I love Brenda Ueland's book and I am not even a writer. But I definitely subscribe to the theory of planned neglect.

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  17. I'm sure there are a lot of gems in that book for artists in general.

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