Waiting On Bread and A Whisper
lessons on discipline, rest, and the creative seesaw
I stopped setting an alarm a month ago.
Even now, I feel a slight sense of shame admitting this to you. Me, the girl who regularly sings the praises of the 5am wakeup. Me, the girl who considers discipline to be an essential part of any creative practice. Me, the girl who’s barely cobbled together a fraction of childcare this summer—thus knowing that to forfeit the 5am alarm is willingly forfeiting an hour of writing time.
Me, the girl who just wrote that book on creating anyway.
A writer I follow on Substack recently finished her yearly writing challenge called 1,000 Words of Summer. The premise is exactly as it sounds: you kick off summer by writing 1,000 words a day for two weeks straight.
The first time I heard of this writing challenge, I remember thinking, “Dang, I wish I had thought of that.”
This summer though, when the post popped up in my Substack feed, my only thought was: hard pass.
I just returned from a week-long family vacation. Like any good creative, I dutifully packed a yellow legal pad for catching ideas and cranking out crappy first drafts by the pool. I placed it in my backpack alongside my mirrorless camera, fully charged with a brand new memory card tucked inside.
At the end of the trip, after seven full days of swimming and hiking and floating in the ocean, I realized I never even took the notebook or camera out of my backpack. They simply traveled with me across the Pacific, twice. I took photos with my phone and didn’t write a single word, arriving home with a completely blank notepad and an equally blank memory card.
We jokingly call Presley the very hungry caterpillar because she can eat and eat and eat, clear every crumb from her plate, and then get up from the kitchen table and say, “But I’m still hungry.”
I offer her a few options: grapes, carrots, string cheese.
She shakes her head.
“I’m not hungry for dat.”
The first time she says these words, I howl with laughter. The phrase lodges itself in my mind, such an honest, accurate statement: to admit you are hungry, but not hungry for dat.
Book launch season came and went, and—in a surprise to even me—I kept my chill. I suppose it helped that I forecasted for the worst and planned accordingly, warning my husband every chance I could: a tornado is coming, prepare the bunker! Over and over, I rang the siren. I scheduled coaching calls and spiritual direction. I started going to yoga three or four times a week. I steeped myself in John 14:27. I pulled back, delegated and outsourced. Anything I could possibly get off my plate, I took off my plate. I kept every commitment with friends—dinners, book club, walks—knowing friendship keeps me grounded in times of stress. I voxed my mastermind group every single day, spilling my guts, crying when necessary, asking for prayer dozens of times.
In what I can only attribute to answered prayer, I did not round the last lap of book launch in the fetal position.
“You sound really good, Ash,” my friends told me more than once.
“You seem really calm,” the event director remarked 20 minutes before my book launch party began.
All of this makes my current mental and emotional state that much more baffling. On paper, I am fine. Better than fine. I am hashtag blessed. I survived the hustle and bustle of a very demanding, high-pressure, anxiety-inducing season. For the most part, the chaos is behind me.
It seems weird to fall apart now.
Okay, okay, “falling apart” is a bit dramatic.
Maybe I should simply say: something’s been a little off with me.
I know something’s been off with me because when things are off with me, I abruptly stop sleeping. I wake up every night at 2:45am thinking about a million things, like moving to Sweden (?), changing careers, trading my very public online work for a seemingly romantic homestead life where I anonymously raise chickens and finally learn how to bake sourdough.
Maybe I should simply say: I don’t quite feel like myself.
Which makes sense, of course, because I haven’t been writing.
And writing is what makes me feel most like myself.
The word burnout does not appear in Scripture, but that is the exact word my pastor recently used to describe the state of Elijah in 1 Kings 19.
After obeying the Lord’s commands to prophecy and destroy a group of Baal worshippers, Elijah still finds himself in danger, fleeing for his life after a woman named Jezebel promises to murder him within 24 hours.
He runs for an entire day, somewhere between 80-100 miles according to most scholars, before finally collapsing in the shade. He then asks God to take his life, curls up on the ground, and falls asleep under a broom tree.
Two things happen after this. First, an angel of the Lord appears with bread and water, enough to fuel Elijah for 40 days and 40 nights. Then, God speaks to Elijah and offers him a re-commissioning.
No burning bush. No megaphone. God delivers the assignment through a whisper.
I haven’t written anything in weeks. It’s almost scary how good it feels to not write. I know this probably feels akin to heresy coming from me, a self-proclaimed creative doula of sorts. But what kind of doula would I be if I didn’t tell you the truth?
The truth is: the process of bringing anything into the world is beautiful, but it’s rarely easy.
Sometimes I think about what it would be like to wake up, take a shower, schlep the kids to the library and then pick up groceries at Costco without trying to find metaphors in the cereal aisle.
The longer I stay away from the blank page, the harder it is to come back.
Sometimes writing is like riding a bike. You get on the seat and grip the handlebars and your legs fly into motion like they’ve done thousands of times before. Muscle memory carries you down the street with the wind.
Other times, writing is like running. If you try to run after a long break (especially if you’re over a certain age), you can undoubtedly count on throbbing in your knees. Your whole body will be sore the next day.
Ask me how I know. I haven’t run in over a year.
One of the truest things I know about the creative process is that inspiration and discipline go hand in hand.
If you want to write, you have to put your butt in the chair. You have to show up even when you don’t feel like it (especially when you don’t feel like it). You have to get crappy sentences on the page. Revise, revise, and then revise some more.
If you want to write, you have to let your mind wander—in the shower, in the car, strolling through the neighborhood. You have to turn off your phone. Soak up a good book. Get outside and listen to the birds.
In other words: You need to put your butt in the chair, but you also need to chase butterflies around the yard.
Good writers know how to do both, and when to pivot between the two acts.
I have spent the past three years so dedicated to discipline, I’ve been in the best writing shape of my life. You could have paired the Rocky theme song with early morning footage of me typing away at my desk for an inspirational Create Anyway montage. I became hungry for the regimen itself. Getting up early and getting words on a page: the breakfast of champions.
Plus, who needs to run when you can get endorphins from a word count?
Sometimes my daughter asks me to do the seesaw with her at the park. I weigh roughly three times as much as she does, which means every time my body goes down, hers hits the sky. There’s a clear, uneven weight distribution.
My heart has felt restless lately. Uninspired. Jaded. Exhausted. I am not running for my life like Elijah, but I am most definitely running on fumes.
Post book launch, this is to be expected.
But maybe it’s more than that?
For the past three years, discipline has kept my butt glued to a chair, to one specific side of the seesaw: waking up at 5am through a global pandemic, through school closures, through fifty rounds of canceled childcare, through a miscarriage. There I was, doing my reps, no matter what. Writing in my car. Writing at my desk. Writing at the kitchen table. Writing everywhere, writing all the time, watching the word count go up, up, up.
I sat in the disciplined seat getting stronger and stronger, landing again and again with a thud against the ground, catapulting inspiration and all sense of wonder and joy further and further into the sky.
Nourished by the bread and water God provided, Elijah travels 40 days and 40 nights to Horeb, where he goes into a cave and tells God he did everything he was supposed to do. Enough is enough. He’s exhausted. He can’t do this anymore. He doesn’t have any fight left.
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.1
What I love about this passage is that God could have easily spoken through the wind, through the earthquake, or through the fire, but He didn’t. He could have used this opportunity to showcase His power, to make a grand entrance. Instead, God approaches Elijah in his fragile state in the most fragile way.
When God whispers to Elijah, he gives him a new assignment, complete with specific directions on who would succeed him as prophet.
And isn’t that just like our lavish, gracious, wildly generous God, to meet us in a state of burnout with multiple layers of abundant provision?
A safe place to rest.
A new purpose.
The gift of an end date.
I hadn’t seen a ladybug in a while but have seen three in the past couple of weeks, including one at the top of Yosemite who appeared to be waiting for me.
I’ve held each one in my hands. Okay God, I’m listening. I am depleted, but hopeful—confident that God will show up right on time, just like He always does, with my new assignment.
Until then, the 5am alarm is off. My eyes are peeled for ladybugs. This is a summer for listening, staying quiet, figuring out what I’m hungry for. This is a summer for ignoring Instagram, and Threads, and whatever other shiny new app might come along threatening to put more noise in my head.
This is the summer I’m waiting on bread, a whisper, and a re-commissioning.
My book, Create Anyway, is officially available wherever books are sold. Grab it at Amazon, Target, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, or directly through Baker Book House. Thank you so much for supporting my writing ❤️
1 Kings 19:11-12