One year ago, on New Year’s Day of 2018, God did what I never thought He would have to do.
He told me to be quiet.
For the past ten years or so, His command to me has been to speak – loudly and boldly, in writing and onstage – about the transformative power of His love and how He has worked miracles in my life. Too often I have shied away from these instructions, seeing others as more qualified or gifted than myself and wanting to remain an anonymous wallflower at the back of my church. Instead, though, God gave me a microphone and a dream. I began to WANT to speak. To WANT to write. To build my platform to reach more and more people until I could eventually write a book telling of God’s story at work in my life.
Unfortunately, that dream became my driving force, rather than the One who had given it to me. My writing became strategic rather than purposeful, which seems impossible but is quite the opposite. Strategic, to me, has an element of manipulation, whereas purpose – and purposeful living – is simply single-minded focus.
Rather than writing out of love for God and people, I had begun to write to capture the attention of an audience. I wanted to be heard. I wanted my name to be among those I had previously thought as more qualified.
God gave me the message that I was off track in an unlikely way, which, in my experience, is how He often works. At the end of 2017 a little quiz went around Facebook – an algorithm, of sorts, that would tell users which words they had used most often that year in statuses and comments and photo captions. Curious, I clicked.
And then I gasped, as I literally felt a punch in my gut and the wind knocked out of me. The most used word? PLATFORM. Close behind were BLOG POST, PODCAST, and AUDIENCE. Near the bottom, Scott, Leah, and…..Jesus.
With that simple algorithm, God gave me a simple but clear message: I had become a crashing gong. A clanging symbol. With my words, I was just making noise, and if that was how I was going to approach this dream God had planted in my heart, God told me – in no uncertain terms – that He would rather I not write at all.
I don’t think I have to say it, but I will anyway: it stings when God tells you to shut up.
And so it was that on New Year’s Day, I stepped back from all things “Jessica Bolyard, Writer and Speaker” and stepped into my word for 2018: PRESENCE. I felt in the deepest places of my heart that God was moving me into a season of simply being present – with my family, with my friends, and in every environment He placed me in during the year. Present. Not halfway present, my mind wandering to my next blog post or feeling the urge to check the comments on the last thing I wrote.
Presence, with the purpose of rekindling my love for people.
A love for people that was just for the sake of loving them…not for the sake of blog content.
Presence and love.
My blog, Instagram account, and Facebook page fell silent for a solid year. I don’t know if anyone contacted me there…or, honestly, if anyone even noticed. I felt the urge toward the beginning to simply write a post explaining where I was and how things would be quiet there for awhile, but, knowing my instructions to be quiet had come from God and confident in the season He had brought me into, I remained silent.
A strange thing began to happen as I practiced presence. I lost all desire to write in the way that I had been, and felt convicted and even ashamed of the way I had twisted God’s calling on my life into a filthy pursuit of my own fame. I had a bitter, disgusting taste in my mouth. I knew I had done wrong and, afraid of messing it up again, pleaded with God to help me learn what He needed me to learn. I was uncertain if He would ever allow me to write publicly again, but if He did, I did not want to repeat my mistakes.
Toward the end of the year, though…the desire came back. I began to see the world in metaphors and parables again, a natural gift God has given me but that disturbingly had vanished during my year of silence. I began to scribble ideas for writing and new projects. Most of all, I began to understand that my platform? It extends only to the people with whom I had been present that year. My family. Friends. The teachers and children at my daughter’s school. My church family. Those were the people God wanted me to reach, and with a clearer vision of who I was writing for, my purpose for writing became more and more clear:
Write hope and light for the people I see every day.
The amazing thing (or one of them, as this season has been amazing from start to finish) is that for years, I had begged God to show me who He intended my audience to be. I said over and over that I just wanted to know who He wanted me to write for; that if He wanted me to pursue a huge platform and reach hundreds or thousands of people, I would gladly do the work to make that happen. If He wanted me to simply write for my people – the people around me – I would have been okay with that, as long as I knew that was what He wanted for me. I wept the day that I realized God had answered that prayer.
And so I’m moving into 2019 with new eyes and a new word of the year: MOVE. Why move? Because last year God slammed me to a halt, but this year the light has turned green again. I feel in my spirit that I’m being given the go-ahead to write. To let my voice be heard. To pursue light and hope for the people who need it right here in my own community.
I don’t know what it will look like. I’m considering options for self-publishing and am weighing the options for my Facebook “business” page. I don’t know what this year will hold, but I am certain of the instructions God has given me so far. I will follow them to the best of my ability, and will seek His face and listen for His voice above my own. The last thing I want is for God to tell me to be quiet again.