Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Heart As Loud As Lions: Writing Courageously

by Nola Passmore

The Emeli Sandé song Read All About It (Pt. 3) could have been written about me. 

"You’ve got the words to change a nation but you’re biting your tongue
You’ve spent a lifetime stuck in silence afraid you’ll say something wrong"

If you have a few minutes, watch the film clip of the lyrics while Emeli sings:

Now some people might be surprised to hear that I identify so much with that song.  After all, I’m a writer and I’m always sprouting forth about something. I’ve had plenty of Christian devotions, poems and articles published.  I’m not scared to speak out.  But you’ve only read the things I’m not afraid to say.  At a deeper level, I sometimes feel more like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz than the person with the ‘heart as loud as lions’ that Emeli refers to.

There are four main areas where I feel courage is necessary.

God-directed writing.  In a sense, all of our writing should be God-directed, whether we’re writing specifically for the Christian market or not.  However, I’m talking about the specific occasions when God leads you to write a particular message.  I think I’ve been okay on this one so far.  God often gives me an idea for a devotion or Christian article and I’ve had a number of them published.  However, I’ve also been doing Selwyn Hughes’s study on Jeremiah lately.  The things I’ve written are easy-peasy compared to the messages Jeremiah was asked to speak and write.  His enemies wanted to kill him because they didn’t like his prophecies.  How would I react if God asked me to write something that confronting?

Vulnerability.  All of us have areas of our lives that we don’t readily share with others.  It might be things we’re ashamed of from our past or issues that are too personal to talk about (e.g. a family problem; a health issue).  But what if God wants us to share our personal stories to help others? 

My first published article appeared in a book called The God Factor: 50 Scientists and Academics Explain Why They Believe in God.  I was working as a psychology academic at the time and intended to write a piece on the integration of psychology and Christianity.  However, God led me to write about my experiences as an adoptee.  Eek!  I couldn’t do that.  After I got over the initial shock, I did write on my adoption experiences.  Not only did I receive positive feedback from others who’d been touched by adoption, but that piece paved the way for other writing opportunities. 

I have a few personal issues on the backburner that are too raw for me to write about.  What are they?  Well if I told you, they wouldn’t be on the backburner!  I know God will have me write about them one day, but I don’t feel the time is right just yet.  Or is fear holding me back?

Unpopular beliefs.  As Christians, our beliefs are not always welcomed by the general public.  However, some issues are also contentious among Christians.  You only have to check out recent Facebook messages to see the diversity of opinions about the Israel-Palestine conflict, asylum seekers, and gay marriage, to name a few.  Sometimes I find myself keeping quiet because I’m not confident in my views or because I know others will disagree.  However, all of our opinions are worth hearing.  As Christians, I think we need to create an atmosphere where people feel safe expressing their ideas and where disagreements are discussed in a rational way that values the individual.  That’s what we try to do here at Christian Writers Downunder.  However, there will still be times when we need to speak the truth in love, even if that means getting some flak.

Hurting others.  Of course I’m not suggesting that we should deliberately hurt others, but sometimes that can be a side-effect of writing courageously about the other topics.  This may especially occur when family of friends are intertwined with our own personal stories.  For example, you can’t write about a relationship break-up without mentioning anything about the other person.  How we go about that would be another whole blog post in itself (or maybe a whole series).  Again, speaking the truth in love is important.  If the situation allows, you might be able to discuss it with the other person first.  You could use pseudonyms if necessary.  You also need to think about your motive for writing.  Is it really something that may help others or are you just getting something off your chest for the sake of it?  These are not easy questions to answer, but I know there are times when I baulk at writing something because I’m concerned how another might receive it. 

As you’ve probably gathered by now, this post raises more questions than it answers.  I am a ‘work in progress’ on this issue.  I’m not advocating saying everything to everyone in every forum.  There are some things I would be happy to see in a print publication, but not online.  Wisdom and timing are important.  However, I’d also like to be able to join Emeli Sandé and say ‘put it in all of the papers, I’m not afraid, they can read all about it’.  I’d like to heed God’s words to Joshua: 'Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go' (Josh. 1:9, NIV).

What about you?  Is fear stopping you from writing what God wants you to write about?  I’d be interested in hearing your stories and your strategies for courageous writing.

Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 120 short pieces published in various magazines, journals and anthologies (including poetry, devotions, magazine articles, true stories and short fiction).  She and her husband Tim have just started their own freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish.  She loves writing about what God has done in her life and encouraging others to do the same.  (Some call it ‘nagging’, but she calls it encouragement).


  1. I loved what you wrote about vulnerability. Recently, I've had the impression that the Spirit wants to develop in me the virtue of humility. The internal dialogue going on in my soul sounding a bit like this. "Hey Lord, I thought i already was humble...ok... i see your i need help with some things... confess.things maybe.....oh no...i need to be vulnerable.... NOOOOOOOoooo."
    when people become vulnerable, they share something magical i reckon. They definitely need courage that's for sure. Thanks Nola... I didn't realise there was so much wisdom online. Amazing.

    1. Thanks for that Brian. It does take a lot of courage to be vulnerable, but then that's sometimes what's necessary. In terms of writing, it's often those really honest, raw autobiographies that can have the most impact. Hard when you're the one who has to be vulnerable though. Thanks for your encouragement.

  2. Hi Nola
    Great post - and I agree, it takes courage to speak out and wisdom to know how and when to do it, but most of all love - so that it is done with the right motivation. Speaking the truth in love sounds simple but sometimes it feels like trying to catch a monster wave when one is a beginner surfer.

    I especially liked your point 'As Christians, I think we need to create an atmosphere where people feel safe expressing their ideas and where disagreements are discussed in a rational way that values the individual.'

    A friend recently posted a link that showed how social media can become an echo chamber - where we hear just our own point of views (though I suspect this just reflects who we connect with generally in the first place). At the same time, anyone expressing an alternative point of view can be quickly howled down. I think we need to hear what other people are saying and especially their heart concerns behind their position. Truth is not so flimsy that it disintegrates at the first challenge - and more often than not, the Truth is somewhere in between the different extremes.

    1. Hi Jenny, yes I agree. I think sometimes people can be too quick to judge someone else's position before really listening to them. almost as if we have to convince them our point of view is right or we're somehow compromising our beliefs. We don't have to agree with someone to still value them as a person and respect their right to be heard. Not always easy though. Thanks for your feedback.

  3. Hi Nola,
    Those lyrics and this post speak to me too, that's for sure. I've often thought, 'I'd better keep quiet and not stir that hornet's nest' so thanks for reminding me that sometimes it is our job and responsibility to speak up, or write up. Jeremiah is a wonderful, brave example. You're right, most of us would face a bit of written or verbal flak at the most and nothing like he faced.

    1. Thanks for that Paula. That's a great perspective. I know sometimes the things I worry about are really small in the big scheme of things, but it still seems like a big thing to speak out - even among my 262 closest friends on Facebook. LOL. I wonder how Jeremiah would go with social media today? Would make for an interesting newsfeed. Thanks for your comment.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Only deleted this because it was a duplicate of the other comment :)

  5. Great post, Nola.

    It is when someone is most vulnerable that I connect most deeply.

  6. Thanks Susan. I agree. One of my recent favourites was Sheridan Voysey's book "Resurrection Year". He shared some very personal info, but that's what made it more meaningful. Thanks for your comment.

  7. It is difficult to bear our soul Nola and it takes a lot of courage to finally bite the bullet and do so especially when it is God's prompting that challenges us. This comes from a slightly different perspective but when I wrote my first book, to truthfully portray some of the issues, I needed to expose some details about the unsavoury things that some people did. I'm certain that they would have rather these things remained buried. We were dealing with a nasty criminal element who probably would not have thought twice about coming after me, given the chance. There were dozens of people who covered me with prayer during the whole process and for a long time after the book was released. I hadn't thought much about it at the time until some of my friends who read the manuscript before it was published pointed it out. There wasn't much that wasn't in what's known as the public domain but what was presented in court was either not the full story or disputed facts or evidence that was not admissible or ever raised in the court proceedings. It has turned out okay but a measure of courage was needed to write the story the way I did.

    I do agree with all of the points of view above and I think we should remember that when writing something that may not be accepted by some, if it is done with love it is all that God requires of us. The side effects from courageously writing on difficult topics are sometimes not pleasant but the process can bring healing to those who need to hear or read what we write - and the truth is often more than beneficial to our own situations.

    Enjoyed your post - well done.

  8. Thanks so much Lesley. Wow, that would have taken a lot of courage to write your book. Good on you. And you've raised a very important point that I didn't include - prayer cover. I try to pray about what I write, but it's also important to get prayer cover. I've been reminded a few times this year that we're in a spiritual battle. The enemy wouldn't want us to write about the things of God because of the influence it has.

    I also really like your point that God just requires us to write with love, though that may bring consequences. Thanks for your encouragement Lesley. Really appreciate it. Take care.

  9. Excellent post Nola. Thanks for sharing lots of wise thoughts with us. Yes, writing calls for courage doesn't it? I think different writers are called to write different things. I have to admit I'm glad that so far what I've been called to write hasn't been too difficult on that score. But who knows what God would ask of me next?

    For me the bigger difficulty has been the courage to live out what I write. It happens to me all the time regarding my blog. He leads me to write on a topic - and then after I post it - He sends tough situations my way to ensure I am living it out. Ouch!

    Thanks for the reminder to be bold and vulnerable as we share. Sharing the truth about others involved in our lives is a tricky one isn't it? That has to be done with utmost care I believe. May we all be as bold as lions as we write to change our world! :)


  10. Thanks for that Anusha. I know what you mean about the blogs. There have been a few times when I've written a blog or devotion and then God has put me to the test on that issue. I must admit that after posting this blog, it did cross my mind that God would get me to speak out on something soon. Eek! Hope it's just about what I ate for breakfast.

    And you're so right that sharing about others needs to be done with the utmost care--with the right motives and shared in love. Not easy in some situations.

    I've really enjoyed the way you've shared your heart on your blog Anusha. It really touches people. May God bless you richly for "putting yourself out there" each week. Take care

  11. One of the most thoughtful and honest articles I have read for a while. Thanks for bringing those points to light Nola.

  12. Thanks for your openness in writing this article, Nola. Can definitely relate to the points you've touched on. It can be really challenging to hold our ground on some issues, especially in a respectful way - particularly if being bombarded with less-than-respectful counter opinions. Sometimes it seems easier just to bite out tongues and crawl back into the den, instead of risking vulnerability. Courage - and maturity. Essential character traits!