I am so pleased to be writing to you this week.  Really.  Because for a while there it looked like it might never happen.

I didn’t worry about it Monday.  I had just written a post the Friday before.  There was plenty of time to be inspired.  Tuesday, I chaperoned a school trip.  I spent the day with a lovely class of sixth graders.  Five hours of sixth graders. I didn’t even try to write.

By Wednesday I was starting to worry, but there were so many other things to write: e-mails, a few pages of notes from a meeting, a proposal for work. No problem, because Thursday I had a free morning set aside for writing. I stared at a blank page for a while, then agonized through Facebook over the fate of the world, then threw in the towel and worked on another boring organizing project.  Not even the desire to procrastinate could inspire me.

Friday night I knew I needed to put something on paper.  My husband and son were out; I had the evening to myself. And… I read a novel I’d been dying to get to all week. Straight through. Several hundred pages.  It was glorious. But not a finished blog post.

Earlier in the week, I told my husband about my lack of inspiration.  He suggested that surely with the end of the school year (always a popular topic) and our big Peter Pan performance (I’m in a local theater production with my son), inspiration would surely find me.  But my blank screen said otherwise.

A conversation with a friend this afternoon proved to be the jumpstart I needed. “Why don’t you write about not feeling inspired?” she suggested.  “Everyone will comment on it; we’ve all been there.”

I live five minutes away from the church where we were gathered for a friend’s son’s Eagle Scout ceremony. It was a long five-minute drive.  Because on pondering her words as I got in the hot seat of my car I realized why I had been so uninspired all week.  There was something else I really wanted to do.

I wanted to read that novel.

But I kept putting it off, because I had important things to do.  Boring things, obligations, things I didn’t want to do, but had to do anyway.  I had e-mails to send, and an organizing project looming, and several meetings to write notes for, and lumped into that: write a blog post. Normally writing a blog post is fun, but this week it became just one more thing on the to do list. And the writing muse does not seem to like being an obligation instead of a gift.

Which turned into an a-ha spiritual moment as well. The Divine is not all that happy to be an obligation either.  I often have people come to me in spiritual direction and list all the “shoulds” of their spiritual life.  I should go to church more.  I should read my Bible more. I should take twenty minutes each morning in silent, centering prayer (or more, I might be tempted to say).

When I really listen to the Spirit working in those sessions, I cannot remember ever being called to say, “Yes, you really should do those things.” Instead, I find myself responding with something along the lines of, “What do you really want to do instead?” And often, out of that one question, we find a new way of looking at our whole spiritual journey. Our life with the Divine is more than an obligation, it is a gift.

Which doesn’t mean that I get out of doing the “should” entirely.  For my faith tradition, I really do have to go to church, read the Bible, and spend some time each day in silence with God.  But I can do those all with more joy when I’m also doing what I want to do (within reason) along the way.

To use my uninspired writing week analogy, I wonder how my week might have been different if I didn’t hold the novel out as a reward for getting my obligations done and just started it Monday – or Tuesday after spending the day with my son’s class. While I was writing e-mails, I could have had a part of my brain wondering “what comes next?” A little mystery is inspiring.  While I was mindlessly organizing my files for work, I could have been using my mind to write different ending or think about character and plot development – what did I learn in reading that novel that helps my own writing? My muse could have struck in a hundred different ways.

Instead I came to resent all the other work things I had to do because they kept me from what I wanted to do.  And in fact, nothing was done really well this week because I lost all my inspiration in a ball of bitterness. And I probably was not much fun to be around either.

There are many reasons we might be uninspired, but next time I hope I remember to ask myself, “What do you really want to do?”  I might have a blog post before Saturday afternoon that week!

Have you had days or weeks or even years when you have felt uninspired? When you think about those times, what, if anything, pulled you out of the morass? Did you try switching gears and just trying something different? Or something you really wanted to do instead? If so, how did that make you feel? Did you have to deal then with feelings of guilt, or did the freedom unlock your mind? Do you feel like you have to balance the “should” and the “want tos” in your life, especially in your spiritual life?

Working with another person can help you get unstuck when you’re feeling uninspired.  Doing something new is also a fun motivator.  Think about spiritual direction or a retreat or workshop with Openings: Let the Spirit In to jumpstart your muse.

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