Skip to main content

Swimming in the fire

A friend of mine lives next door to a professional dog sledder. When my friend goes on vacation, she milks his cow, and when she goes on vacation, his family has to exercise her dogs. I was asking him all about it, and one of the interesting things he told me was the most important rule of being on a dog sled: no matter what, don't let go. The dogs will not stop running until they are exhausted. The sled has a brake designed to make it very hard to continue to pull. If they are on a tear, even if the sled tips, if you let go, the lightness of the unencumbered sled means that when they finally stop, you'll never be able to catch up on foot.

The Lord made clear that when we sign up on his team, we must be all in.[1] There is no stopping.[2] It's onward from one new height to the next. 

And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:62)

As I have walked through a nonstop stream of overwhelming experiences, I have learned to trust the process through trust in the Processor.

As you walk this path, you will find:
  • What used to overwhelm you is now easy.[3]
  • What you used to find the most bitter, you now find the most sweet.
  • The fire that used to burn you now fuels and warms you.
Those last two bullets are very important.

For the last few months (I think--I can never really tell anymore), I have been focusing my ministry time on finishing a book called "Joy on Purpose," which is all about how to orient your whole life toward the greatest possible joy. Finishing that book has been one of the most frustrating experiences of my life for reasons I can't fully explain here.[4] One of the frustrations was that since the Lord radically expanded my understanding of the scope and number of books I would write and showed me why I needed to write them all at the same time, I have spent most of my time in the preliminary work of doing exactly that.

The finish work of each book consists of narrowly focusing my time on getting it from the 250-1000 page very rough set of typed notes into the published version. I have extensive practice with this from prior books. The process for rough-writing 24 books at the same time was not just new to me, but it was the most excruciating work I've ever done. The mental stretching of having all those ideas in my head at the same time as parallel threads was more intense than sprinting, and I did it for hours each early weekday morning before my day job, and for up to 13 hours at a time on weekend days.

To say that it took some getting used to is the understatement of a lifetime. So frequently I would pray and ask God how I could possibly do this. I really struggled to maintain focus for so long in such an intense task composed of never-ending brief fragments of completely different ideas. It was so hard not to think of and discouraged by everything I would have to do later that day, when I faced a seemingly unending sprawl of very difficult intellectual or emotional problems at work (I worked with some extremely difficult people), not to mention all the normal challenges of raising a family. It was so difficult to believe that the books would make a difference. It was very hard to see afar off at the whole project being completed one day, knowing that the value of any single piece would be comparatively minimal. It was nearly impossible to believe that somehow I could learn everything I would need to know in order to fill in the enormous blanks in my understanding on these topics. I could go on, but you get the point.

But it turns out that God knows exactly what he's doing. "But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things." (2 Nephi 2:24)

It turns out that no matter how much your present situation seems like a cross to bear, it is actually a ladder up. It turns out that no matter how hard your life is right now, if you ask God for what you can learn from it, he will teach you.[5] It turns out that no matter where you are, there are things you can change and improve to become more like him.[6]

As all of this happened to me, I found dramatic differences in my experience during the work.

In the beginning, I was so overwhelmed that I could easily spend one or two hours of the three or so I worked each morning staring at the screen trying to crawl out from all the reasons why what I was doing was futile and impossible. Over time, I got to the point where I started typing before I was even fully in my chair, and the ideas came so fast that even typing at my full speed was not fast enough, and I will type without ceasing the entire time I am working.

In the beginning, this type of writing was the most unpleasant thing I had ever done. The sheer magnitude of the project and the difficulty of it was painful to work against, let alone the agonizing work of obtaining the answers and phrasing I needed with each addition. But over time, I found the process intoxicatingly enjoyable. I used to feel like I was sprinting for hours at a time, and now I feel like I am flying.

In the beginning, it was abundantly clear that I was undertaking a project that had a seemingly limitless amount of work to be done in every direction, and I found that terribly discouraging. But over time, I got used to the fact that these notes could absorb any amount of effort I put into them, and I began to deeply appreciate it. Now, I deeply lament getting pulled away from it, because I have noticed at a deeper level how limited everything else in my life is to receive my full effort, and I yearn to be able to go full blast in all I do.

God is the Master Processor. He asks us to bring all we have into his grindhouse, and not question him when he explains what comes next. He will pulverize all who come to him, but he will aggregate into your offering what makes it special and good, and make you into one slick sausage that far exceeds the value of any of its constituent parts. And he intends to do it again and again, as many times as you will let him.

The movie "Chariots of Fire" is a mythicized retelling of the Olympic runner Eric Liddell. In the movie (but not in real life), he says: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” I don't know how I could reduce what I do in the notes portion of this work into a short sentence, but whatever it is, when I do it, I absolutely feel his pleasure. I feel like one of the turtles in Finding Nemo who have grown so accustomed to being carried on the fast currents in the sea that it's all they want to do.

I am confident that 24 or so books are more than enough for God to make me a master at book finishing, even though I'm still pretty bad at it. At first, it was a deeply unpleasant slog to write "Joy on Purpose." It felt like being taken away from playing with your kids to do your taxes. But with every additional increment of pouring my heart and soul into it, I watched as the Lord steered the ideas from the garbage of my best effort so far into something much better than I could have imagined. I watched as chaos was spun into order, and decently innovative ideas augmented into a system that can empower any person to build an exceptional life. God took what I brought and forged it blow by blow into a framework which--as he knew all along--plugs right into many of the threads of books I had been putting together all along, not knowing how they fit together beforehand.[7]

As I finished the draft of "Joy on Purpose" a few days ago, I've been so delighted each morning to jump back in the stream of fire. I wrote up about 550 pages of new notes that came to me while  "focusing" on "Joy on Purpose" that now have to be processed into the other books. Then I'll begin focusing on the next book, which I hope will be finished in just a few months. This morning, I wanted to take the time to write this up as a prayer of gratitude to God who makes it all possible.


25 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?
32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.
33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14)

[3] And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:27)

[4] One of the many frustrations was that I needed to write the book without using a single scripture reference. This is the first book I've written without any appeal to scripture, and rephrasing the ideas (which are all, in fact, from scripture) into text that would be instantly understandable and believable to secular readers was akin to translating it through several layers of language, each less rich than the last, requiring repetitive deep redesign, not just translations of words.

[5] If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5) 

[6] Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:13)

[7] And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. (1 Nephi 4:6)