I’ve been a Richard Foster fan for years. I’ve got the first editions of Celebration of Discipline (named by Christianity Today as one of the top 10 most influential books of the 20th century) and Freedom of Simplicity. Way back when, I led a Sunday School group through FOS—which probably amounted to simply reading aloud every line I underlined.
Which amounted to practically the whole book.
So I was excited to see he was speaking at this year’s Festival of Faith and Writing.
I’ve craved simplicity and stillness and the ability to operate from the Center for a long time–to flee from much doing to more being. To silence the noise so I can hear God’s whispers. To escape the external clutter that clots my creativity and zip my lip to too many yeses.
(Foster’s son, Nathan (author of Wisdom Chaser), interviewed him during one of the sessions. I forget what Nathan said or asked, but everyone in the auditorium jumped when Foster suddenly shouted, “It is legitimate to say NO! You don’t have to say yes.”)
In FOS, Foster describes a moment in an airport while waiting for a flight, a moment that changed his life:
For the first time in my life I opened Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion. Immediately he caught my attention by describing perfectly my condition and the condition of so many I knew. ” We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and try to fulfill them all. And we are unhappy, uneasy, strained, oppressed, and fearful we shall be shallow.” Yes, I had to confess I was in those words. To all who saw me I was confident and in command, but inwardly I was tired and scattered . . . I was so serious, so concerned to do what was right, that I felt compelled to respond to every call to service . . .
Then came the sentence that was to prompt an inner revolution: “We have seen and known some people who seem to have found this deep Center of living, where the fretful calls of life are integrated, where No as well as Yes can be said with confidence.” . . . I could say Yes easily, but I did not have the ability to say No. What would people think of me if I refused?
Alone, I sat in the airport watching the rain splatter against the window. Tears fell on my coat. It was a holy place, an altar, the chair where I sat. I was never to be the same . . .
Later in the book, Foster talks about how he learned he functions best when he alternates periods of intense activity with periods comparative solitude. That he burns out inwardly long before he does outwardly. And that he’s learned to order his days to he doesn’t “become a frantic bundle of hollow energy, busy among people but devoid of life.”
And I thought, “Oh, that’s me! And it’s okay!” I can be Martha. And then I can be Mary and not feel guilty about it. Because I can’t do Martha things well without operating from a Mary center.
Foster does not advocate external simplicity unless it flows from the inner core. But I’ve found that external clutter is noisy and clots my creative flow. No matter how hard I squeeze, it’s harder to bleed.
Nathan asked his dad about his writing process. Foster didn’t want to answer at first because everyone’s path is different. But then he shared this basic routine when he’s in the middle of a project.
He tries to write when he first wakes up.
He spends about 20 minutes stretching.
He lies flat on his back, cross-like, and repeats Galations 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
He thinks about what faces him that day, thinks about his writing tasks. And then just lies there still for several moments.
About 11 a.m., he hikes into the canyon near where he lives.
He stops at a Mexican restaurant and rewrites there.
In the afternoon, he handles emails and other tasks.
And in the evening, he relaxes. Maybe he’ll watch a MASH rerun.
And I think, “Yeah, you have a wife.” Which might be one of the reasons he hesitated to share. But it encourages me to order my days and develop a disciplined process that works for me. One that incorporates a good amount of silence. Because as Foster says…
“The first thing we should consider [as writers] is not to write or to read. It is to listen. To be still and observe God’s voice in His wondrous, terrible silence . . . not just listening for information or words . . . but to get into rhythm with . . . God. What needs to be said will come in its time. And then you draw a vein.”
And he reminds us, “you only help people when you write in blood.”
A question for you: How do you order your days to include silence? Or do you?
In the stillness,
REMINDER: If you plan to join our Making Manifest study group,
it starts May 1 – this Thursday!
Do you have your book?
Also I’ve set up a closed Facebook group where we can discuss what we’re learning.
Request to join.