sarah anne writes

a confession of sorts

WritingSarah Anne Hayes

Whenever I come back to writing — specifically to this blog — after a bit of a break, I never feel like I quite know what to say or where to start.

It's not for want of having things to say or topics to write about. I currently have 29 posts in draft. And I've been writing in my journal every day for almost two full years, sometimes only a paragraph and sometimes 10+ pages in a night. So clearly, I have a lot of words to say and thoughts in my head and things to share.

On some level, coming back to writing again is a bit like riding a bike. It's a little awkward at first, but when you give it some time, things start to flow just like they always did. But even if that is the case, there's still that awkward period where you're figuring out exactly how the pedals work again and how tall the seat height needs to be and that perfect spot for your hands to go on the handlebars. And there's always a moment, or two or five, where you wonder if you've completely forgotten how to do this thing and you're never going to figure it out again.

I fell out of a groove with my writing...well, I don't exactly know when it was. And I should probably say I fell out of a groove with my public writing because, like I already said, I've written in my journal every single day for almost two full years. Certainly I've published blog posts here and there, but even with those 29 posts in draft, I never quite got back into the routine of it.

In those too rare moments where I'm fully honest with myself, the reason I've stayed away from this space so much over the last couple of years is quite simple: I'm afraid.

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If you're a writer — or a creator of any kind, really — you know that the Lord often uses mediums of creative work to do His transformative, sanctifying work in your own life. Whether it's through music or art or words, He uses the medium of creation — a reflection of an important part of His character — to dig into the heart of the creative and bring him or her face to face with things that are often scary and hard to deal with but also absolutely necessary for growth.

Though I can't speak for anyone else, I know that has certainly been true in my own life. I have been brought face to face with some of my greatest hurts and deepest fears through the medium of writing. And in those honest moments, I know I'm never going to fully be the woman the Lord created me to be if I'm not writing on a regular basis and sharing those words with the world in some way.

If you've ever read a book — fiction or nonfiction — that touched you in some way, I can almost guarantee that it was exceedingly difficult for the author to write those words, to put pen to paper day after day and produce a manuscript that would change someone's life in even the smallest way. 

Ernest Hemingway famously said, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." 

Though the quote itself makes the process of writing sound almost trivial, he's right. Writing the good stuff is some of the hardest work you'll ever have to do, because it requires you to go beyond the happy and easy and fluffy things. It forces you to grapple with hurt and loneliness and heartache and all those thoughts and memories and moments you'd much rather ignore and lock away deep down in your heart.

When I think about it, my favorite writers are the ones whose work feels like sitting down and having a meal with a good friend. Even if you've never met them, you feel like you know them in a deep and special way. The writing itself has an ease and grace to it that feels like being wrapped in a warm hug. Though that welcomed, cozy feeling may be the result, there is no doubt in my mind that the actual process of writing was anything but easy and graceful for that writer whose work you so adore. Some of the best things I've ever written were also the hardest to write and only came through blurry eyes and a tear-stained face because the Lord wrecks me in the best possible way when I surrender the fear and let Him use me to write the things He wants me to share.

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I'm not going to be so bold or prideful as to say my words are going to change the world. Though I would certainly love for it to happen, I know I may never publish a book, I may never speak at conferences or retreats, and I may never share my words with more than a few hundred people, if even that. But I do know all of those things are possible.

For some bizarre reason, completely unbeknownst to me, the Lord could choose to use my words to impact the lives of hundreds or thousands of people I will never meet. He could choose to give me a book deal or the opportunity to share my words and thoughts and lives in front of crowds at conferences or a blog audience larger than I could fathom. Or all three.

But He can't do those things if I don't let Him. He can't do those things if, in my fear and uncertainty, I stubbornly refuse to turn those 29 ideas from drafts into published work filled with the words He's given me to share.

As I sit here typing these words, I admit that I am afraid. A lot of the thoughts rolling around in my head and a lot of those posts in draft have stayed in draft because they're not easy or comfortable things to share. Some of those posts may need to sit for a while longer because some stories can't be shared while you're in the midst of them, but only told in hindsight. But other stories need to be told in the thick. My fear of man is strong and the people pleasing part of me that loves to be liked and loves to make everybody happy is straight up terrified of what could be said of me if I put those things online for the entire world to read. But one of the things I've been learning lately, one of those thoughts that's been rolling around in my head, is that a life defined by fear by default cannot be a life defined by Christ (and yes, you can expect that to be the topic of an upcoming blog post).

As believers, we are called to boldness. Scripture says we have not been given a spirit of fear. It reminds us again and again to not be afraid. It tells us that the Lord is with us, He will fight for us, He will strengthen and uphold us. Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to fear. Nowhere are we commanded to hide from life, to hide from our calling, to hide from the things the Lord has for us because of fear.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells what is known at the Parable of the Talents. A man goes on a journey and gives each of his servants a certain number of talents (a measurement of money), "each according to his ability." While their master is gone, two of the servants use their talents wisely and both double what they were first given. The third servant hid his talent in a hole in the ground. Upon his return, the master commends the first two servants for faithfully using what he had given them, but he calls the third servant "wicked" and "slothful." Why had the third servant hid his talent in the ground? Because he was afraid. 

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This is partially a confession and partially me processing for the sake of processing and partially me saying, "This is a thing that I am going to do." 

Namely, that I am going to stop giving into fear. I am going to write the things the Lord puts on my heart to write, regardless of what I think people might say about them or about me as a result.

When I come to the end of my life, I don't want to look back at a bunch of blog posts in draft and words that I never shared because I was too afraid. I don't want to look back on any part of my life and ask myself, "What if?" I don't want to see moment after moment where I felt the Lord nudging me in a certain direction but I walked the other way or I refused to step out in faith because I was afraid. I want to be able to see how the Lord used me because I let my faith be bigger than my fear.

I strongly believe that words have the power to change lives. I've seen it happen in own life and I've seen it happen in others. And though I won't presume it will happen with my words, it could. But even if my life is the only one changed, even if I am the only one who loves Christ more as a result of wisely using my talents, it will be worth it.


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the weight of your own life

LifeSarah Anne Hayes

From a fairly young age, I was what you might call an overachiever.

Simultaneously blessed and cursed with an interest in and aptitude for a variety of different things, combined with an inclination to please everyone in my life, I threw myself headfirst into, well, everything. I played piano and did sports (yes, plural) and theatre and dance. I was in the choir at church, at youth group on Wednesdays, in Bible study on Thursdays, and AWANA on Sundays, where, of course, I learned all the regular verses, plus the extra ones, and also played on the AWANA Games and Bible Quizzing teams.

It wasn't until high school that someone told me I might have a problem with overcommitment, but even then, I didn't really listen.

I had just gone through a semester long leadership class required for anyone who wanted to be a student leader with the youth group. At this point, I can't tell you if I took it because I really wanted to take it or if I took it because I felt like I was supposed to, but the point is I finished it and the natural course of action was to apply to be a student small group leader.

After spending hours perfecting my application, highlighting all the ways I served in the church and had grown in my faith through that service, I sent it in. And they told me no.

I was shocked and a little devastated. But again, I couldn't tell you if it was because this is something I actually wanted or because I felt like it was expected of me. 

The reason the leadership of our student ministries didn't allow me to be a student small group leader was simple and, looking back on it, incredibly wise: I had too many commitments.

//

You would think by the time I'd graduated high school, I would have learned my lesson in overcommitment, but you'd be wrong. 

The spring semester of my senior year in college was the only semester I didn't pull an all-nighter and it wasn't just because I had a nasty habit of procrastination.

After transferring in as a sophomore, that fall I managed to get a grand total of seven hours of sleep between Tuesday and Friday of the last week of classes. Yes, ladies and gents, I pulled two all-nighters in a row. Fall of junior year, I got one hour of sleep over a 43-hour period and only because a friend refused to drive me to Friday night's hockey game if I didn't sleep while he finished up a paper. Fall of my senior year, I progressively stayed up an hour later every single night during the final week of classes, culminating with a 7am bedtime on the Friday of that week. Spring semesters weren't quite so drastic, as I merely pulled one all-nighter during finals week. Except for senior year. 

In the five years following graduation, my levels of activity ebbed and flowed until this past spring where I hit perhaps the busiest season I'd ever experienced.

Partially due to commitments of my own and partially due to big life events happening for a lot of people I love, I had a two-month period where there was one day that didn't have something on the calendar. And somewhere in the middle of that craziness, I broke down. A couple of times.

Despite constantly reassuring myself that I could handle everything life was throwing my way, I wound up sobbing in the middle of my church's sanctuary after a Saturday morning rehearsal because the stress had just become too much.

As I look back on my life, I'm not entirely sure what it is that made me so prone to overcommitment. Perhaps it was that aptitude for and interest in a numerous amount of things. But I have a feeling the people pleaser in me had a whole lot more to do with it than anything else and that's where I fall a little short — because I don't know where the people pleaser came from.

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If you're anything like me, one of the scariest words on the world for you is "no." 

Not necessarily for you to hear, but for you to say to someone else. Even if you know that saying "yes" to one more thing will almost definitely be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Even if you know you'll have to cut out dinner with a friend or an afternoon with your kids or something else that is wonderful and life giving to fit this new thing in, you still can't bring yourself to say "no" because the thought of disappointing someone absolutely terrifies you.

I understand that kind of fear. It's the kind of fear that pushed me to my breaking point more times than I'd like to admit before I finally asked myself an important question: what, exactly, am I so afraid of?

It's not just disappointing people, though. It's the bigger idea of what disappointing someone means. Whether we realize it or not, our identity can easily become wrapped up in the things we do rather than who we are.

And when your identity is so wrapped up in being the person who does things, the person whom other people can rely on no matter what, it's terrifying to think of not being that person anymore. Because if you're not that person — if you're suddenly the person who says "no" to things instead of saying "yes" to them — who would you be?

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A few months back, I picked up two books back to back that put the finishing touches on a thought process the Lord had begun in my heart months prior. The first was Essentialism by Greg McKeown and the second was Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist.

In Essentialism, Greg asks the question, "If you could only do one thing, what would it be?" He makes the argument that we spend too much time doing good things and not enough time doing great things, which leads us to life lives that never truly make the positive impact we want to make. In Present Over Perfect, Shauna chronicles her journey of doing just that — of learning to say "no," learning to identify the essential things for her own life, and the sometimes painful experience of putting new habits and a new way of living into practice.

If I could describe the two books in relation to each other, I would say Essentialism is the theory and Present Over Perfect is the case study. Essentialism is the questions you need to ask yourself and the "how to," while Present Over Perfect is the example of how it plays out in someone's life.

Reading the books in succession started the wheels turning again and in the course of three days, I said no to requests for three different things.

If you know me at all, you know what a feat that is. But by that point, I'd been spending a couple of weeks asking myself those questions we're often afraid to ask ourselves and wondering what my life would look like if I did the things I wanted to do because I wanted to do them, not because I felt they were expected of me.

In Present Over Perfect, Shauna says something that smacked me in the face: "It can be hard to grasp the idea that we have some say over the size of our own lives—that we have the agency and authority and freedom to make them smaller or larger, heavier or lighter."

I have the freedom to say "no" to things I don't want to do. You have the freedom to say "no" to the things you don't want to do. And we both have the freedom to look at our lives — to look at our time and our talents and our interests and the things God has called us to do and love and be — and say "no" to the things that don't make the most of who God has created us to be.

And certainly, it is terrifying to change trajectory. It is terrifying to put on a full stop and focus on the narrow plot of land the Lord has given you to tend. And it is terrifying to consider that you might disappoint others who have come to count on you for certain things.

But in the grand scheme of things, what is scarier: momentarily disappointing one person who, in all likelihood, will be able to find someone else who can say "yes" to the thing you said "no" to? Or consistently disappointing the people you care about most — and the God who created you — because you're so busy trying to not disappoint everyone else?

//

When was the last time you stopped to think about all the things you do and why you do them?

As we get older, we often wind up on a certain track that seems to have a natural progression — like applying to be a small group leader was the natural thing to do after I finished the student leadership course. But when we start ourselves down these tracks, we often fail to ask ourselves at each step, "Is this where I want to be going?" And then "Is this still where I want to be going?" Or, more importantly, "Is this where God wants me to be going?"

Sometimes He sends us down a path and it's clear that He created us to follow that path to the very end. But sometimes He sends us down a path for a period of time and shifts us in another direction. And sometimes He lets us walk down a path simply to show us it's not the path we were supposed to go down...we were just too stubborn to listen to Him in the first place.

You may not be like me. You may be the kind of person who has always known who you are and the things God has called you to and you've never struggled with saying "yes" to too many good things, which prevents you from being able to fully invest in the great things God has called you to. 

But if you are like me, know that I am still wading through all of this change. After years of being the "yes" girl, I'm walking through a season that's filled with a lot more "no" answers than I sometimes feel comfortable giving, swinging a little bit in the opposite direction of my former "yes" filled ways. But I do that because I'm trying to figure the weight of my own life again and I hardly know where to begin. After years of carrying a weight so heavy it strains and breaks, carrying an exceedingly light load seems to be a good way to start figuring out just how much weight God has intended for my life in this season.

As Shauna says, "...over time, when you rebuild a life that's the right size and dimension and weight, full of the things you're called to, emptied of the rest, then you do get to live some yes again. But for a while, no is what gets you there."

And how beautiful would that be? To live a life built perfectly proportionate to the person God has created you to be and the gifts He has given you? A life filled with beautiful, wonderful things that fill you up and give you life because the Lord has called you to those things and uniquely created you to contribute those great things to the world? 

I'll take that over being the dependable, "yes" girl any day.


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the ministry of sleep deprivation

CommunitySarah Anne Hayes

I'm not particularly good at sleeping.

It's somewhat of a running joke amongst our friend group, to be honest. Once I get to bed, I can easily sleep past noon, but the process of actually getting there is far less consistent. As a night owl, regardless of how big my afternoon slump is, my brain turns back on in the evenings and it's quite common for me to be up past midnight reading, journaling, or doing any number of other activities.

Before my roommate Holly and I moved in together, she joked that neither of us would ever get any sleep. A fellow night owl and one of my best friends, those past-midnight evenings were often filled with conversations with her, over text or Facebook or phone, sometimes in person. Some nights they were ridiculous enough to induce tears of laughter and other nights they were of a serious enough nature that if tears were present, they were also accompanied by hugs and a shoulder for those tears to fall on.

Holly's prediction has come true on many nights since we moved in together. There's been more than one occasion where one of us has walked into the kitchen to get a glass of water or into the basement to put something away and that simple action has turned into a question which turns into a conversation which often turns into hours sitting on the couch or at the table, processing the many parts of life both wonderful and hard. 

And more often than not, we look up at the clock and know it will be a struggle when our alarms go off in the morning.

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Life is full of seasons. Everyone knows this. We use the metaphors of springs and summers and autumns and winters to talk about life when things are wonderful and new and good things are growing or when it feels like everything is crumbling to dust around us.

The events of our lives ebb and flow and the things we see and learn and experience mimic the changes in the seasons. This is something I believe the Lord does intentionally — to remind us that everything on this earth is temporary, the happy and the sad. It helps us savor the good and wonderful moments in our lives, knowing they won't be around forever. And it gives us hope when things are painful and there seems to be no end in sight, for winter will always turn into spring.

I've been in what you might call an extended season of singleness for, well, most of my life.

I'm officially into the latter half of my third decade of life, and, of those 27 years, I've spent a grand total of about nine months attached to another person in some sort of romantic fashion.

Like most things in life, my contentment with my singleness, or lack thereof, has ebbed and flowed, and I would be lying to you if I didn't say I would be quite pleased to be engaged and married in the near future. But the more prominent feeling I've had toward my singleness as of late is contentment — a peace and genuine trust that the Lord knows exactly what He's doing in this season of my life, just as He's known in every season that's come before, and whether He brings my spouse into my life two weeks or five years from now, this season is and will continue to be good. 

Certainly, there are days when I still struggle with my singleness, especially since I never thought I'd be single for this long, but most of the time these days? Well, I actually kind of love it.

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On a recent Monday night, I got together with my mentor. We ate frozen yogurt and talked about all sorts of things happening in her life and mine, one of which is my singleness. I told her that, while I would love to be married soon, I really love the season I currently find myself in because it gives me opportunities for ministry I simply wouldn't have if I went home to my husband every night.

Perhaps one of the most common things single people in the Church are told is their singleness is an opportunity to serve in ways they would be otherwise unable to once married or married with children. It's easy to scoff at that suggestion and think that's easy for someone who's married to say, because they don't have to wrestle with the heartache and pain that often comes along with this supposedly blessed season of singleness and service.

But more and more lately, I'm realizing just how true that statement is.

When my roommates and I moved into our new house a few months back, we talked about what we wanted the house to be and we all agreed we wanted it to be a place of ministry to our community. We wanted our home to be one that was open and welcoming to all the members of our community and friend group, where movie nights and game nights and dinners and laughter and joy and sorrow could all happen. We want to fill the home with memories overflowing with life and love and laughter for however long we live together in it.

There are nights when I don't get enough sleep for silly reasons like getting caught up in a Netflix binge session or (far more often) getting sucked into an excellent book I just have to finish that night. And on some pragmatic level, I know I really should get more sleep than I do, but sometimes it's worth it to only get four or five hours of sleep if it means being a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, the voice of wisdom, or all of the above.

Yes, there are nights I've stayed up until 2:00 a.m. finishing a book and I've sorely regretted it the next morning, but in recent months, the most common reason I've stayed up particularly late is when someone I care about has needed me or I've needed them.

There have been nights sitting around the table with my roommates where I've had to verbally process the joyful and exciting and stressful and sometimes frightening things happening in my life, where I've sobbed and needed to receive comfort and encouragement and words of wisdom and love from the people in my life who know and love me best.

There have been other nights where I've been on the giving end of that equation. Where I've listened to my roommates and friends process the stressful and frightening and joyful and exciting things happening in their own lives, where I've literally been a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear or the voice of encouragement and wisdom.

And on one of those late nights where I sat on the couch with my roommate well past midnight with tears running down both of our faces, I realized something — there is a ministry of sleep deprivation.

I will not always be in a season where I can stay up until 2:00 a.m. with my friends and roommates to help them process life and be the only one to reap the consequences of a stupid early alarm clock. One day I will hopefully have a husband and children and when I am in that season, it will be much harder to drop everything and run to my friend's side when she needs me. We may have to settle for tears shed or joy bursting over the phone and virtual hugs instead of real ones when little ones are sleeping or my husband needs me by his side.

But in this season right now, where I've been blessed (because I am truly learning it is a blessing) with singleness? I can drop everything and rush to my friend's side with ice cream or hugs or words of wisdom or a listening ear or all of the above. I have the freedom to be present in the lives of those I love in ways that just aren't possible when you have a spouse and children and I am so grateful.

//

Friend, if you're sitting here today reading this and feeling like singleness is more of a curse than a blessing, that it's a gift you wish had an easier return policy, I encourage you to look around. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to the ways He's uniquely gifted you to minister in this season not in spite of your singleness but rather because of it. Notice those pockets of time and those talents and passions you have that can be used to build up the Kingdom in ways that will be more limited when you have the wonderful but constraining commitments of marriage and family.

1 Corinthians 7 states plainly that a married person is a divided person. Once joined to another human being in covenantal marriage, your time is not your own. And though your time is never truly your own, for it is always the Lord's first and foremost, there is more freedom in your time as a single person than there is as a married person. So take advantage of it.

Invite your friends over for impromptu dinners and game nights. Take that spontaneous trip to the beach with some of your favorite people. Answer the phone when your friend calls late at night and open your door or show up at theirs with ice cream in hand and hugs at the ready. Go to the midnight premiere of the movie and spend your Saturday wandering through the farmer's market and cooking up food with those you love. Have dance parties and go to amusement parks and play ridiculous games. Lose a little (or a lot of) sleep and make as many memories as you possibly can. Invest every square inch of that great love you can give to a spouse and family one day into the community of people the Lord has gifted you with in this season.

I still deeply desire to be a wife and mother some day soon, and if my husband walked through the doors of my church on Sunday, I certainly wouldn't complain. But this season the Lord has me in right now, this season filled with love and laughter and joy and tears and heartache and far less sleep than is probably healthy? It is my most favorite season yet.