Working at it…

This post first appeared on ‘More Than Writers’, the blog of the Association of Christian Writers.

A young woman at a laptop bites into a pencil

Take a breath.
Hold it.
Let it out.

Remarkable thing, breathing, isn’t it?

God breathed life into Adam in Genesis 2:7.
On the cross, Jesus breathed a final breath. Something was finished.
But something else was just beginning.

I love how Jesus brings everything together. After his resurrection, Jesus breathed his Spirit over his close followers in John 20:22.

Followers of Jesus have his breath in us…

Breathing 24/7 usually doesn’t require paying much attention. Work, however, involves intention, focus and effort.

I’ve been thinking lately about how to do my best in my work. I blame this on Colossians 3:23:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.

When I write, I aim high. I check and recheck. I research, rewrite, edit and proof. It takes a lot of time. I want to do the best I can, and I want the best I can do to be excellent. Blame Colossians. Or my genes. Or society at large. I am getting rather good at being a failed perfectionist (although I know I’m not quite there yet). To me, this Colossians verse seems to say ‘you can never do a good enough job,’ and ‘give everything you’ve got to everything you do.’ Imagine being tasked with preparing part of the King’s Coronation. You’d do the best you possibly could. You’d work at it with all your heart.

But does the verse say this?

The Greek doesn’t say heart. Work at it with all your psychēs (ψυχῆς) it says. Psychēs is usually translated soul, but originates from a word meaning breath. Ancient Greeks didn’t think of the soul in this way at all, but consider how this might come together.

If I work at anything with all my best efforts, heart and soul, the task consumes me so much that other important things are compromised and my mind plays off peace for anxiety. This anxiety about high expectations on myself has caused me to stall or fail in the past. I was talking with a friend from church about how I need my current manuscript to meet a minimum standard of excellence before I release it to the Scary Next Level, whether that is a friendly publisher, agent, editor, beta reader, writers’ groups or unsuspecting audience.

Zara works in publishing. She edits things.

‘Ah, Lucy,’ she said, looking at me sternly, ‘you realise you are being an idiot?’

Zara is a very caring person and so I was not offended.

‘If you do such an excellent job, you will put us editors out of work,’ she grinned.

I gave this some thought. I don’t want Zara out of a job.

‘Ah, but Colossians 3,’ I mumbled. Or something along those lines. ‘I want to deliver ten out of ten quality. Any less is not good enough for me. What do other writers do?’

And that is when she let me into a secret from the publishing world. Spoiler alert: other writers never deliver ten out of ten. In the large publishing house Zara works at, some deliver less than five out of ten and it is the editors who do much of the hard work themselves. Writers submit manuscripts but a lot happens after that.


I looked at Colossians 3 again more closely. ‘Whatever you do,’ Paul says, and he is talking to slaves but the words can be interpreted for anyone at a task. ‘Whatever you do,’ it intones, raising an eyebrow. ‘Whatever you do’ – and I had to pause.

I looked it up. Not you singular but you plural.

And this took my breath away.

Because God loves us to work in groups. In communities. Families. Teams. Churches.

It is a team effort

Whether we write, run a home, volunteer or do paid work our efforts are rarely done in complete isolation. When are part of a team we make a better job of it. This means doing our bit well and allowing it not to be perfect yet. It means trusting others to do their bit too, supporting each other as we go. And we are not called to give our every heartbeat and every breath to the project – just to do what we can with what we’ve got, in the time we actually can commit. Doing it in the power God gave us when he breathed his Spirit into us.

Self-published authors demonstrate that it is possible to do much of the process alone, but none does every single part. They employ editors, source images, take advice from those who’ve been there before. The wisest self-published authors network and learn and improve all the time.

My current project has required me to step out of my comfort zone and engage with others at every single stage. I am sure God is having lots of fun watching me learn this. I cannot deliver ten out of ten. Zara and I chatted it over. She and I compromised on me stopping at eight and a half. This may still feel sloppy for me, but I get it. That last little bit is time-consuming and sometimes even unnecessary – others are also on the journey and bring skills and experience too. God didn’t just breathe on me. He made me to need others.

Zara went a stage further and kindly planned some wise targets for my writing progress. Incredibly, she has been checking in with me every day to see how it is going, cheering me along as the sections get ticked off.

Now I no longer panic about meeting unrealistic personal expectations but have manageable targets with real accountability. I can start, working hard, knowing the task is doable and finite. I can stop, knowing I kept going, did my bit and can trust God to keep the whole thing moving along. Not every day’s work will be my best work. Some will be re-written over and over. That’s ok. Over time, the work I do does improve, my heart learning to beat in time to God’s, my soul secure knowing he’s got me, and my breathing – essential and quiet and organic and repetitive – a true metaphor for how Jesus is working in me and through me.

Do you set yourself impossibly high standards? Do you have an accountability buddy? Have you committed your tasks – big or small – to God and asked for his breath in you as you work? Do you allow yourself not to have to produce perfection?

In the coming days, I pray you will feel comfortable committing all your work to God and experience God’s Spirit doing wonderful things with it. Breathe freely in your creativity!

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