Contentment in the challenges? By Liz Carter
It’s such a delight for me to be engaging with Sheila’s questions today. Sheila asked me to share a little about some of the challenges I’ve faced with my long-term lung diseases, especially when it comes to writing, which is my passion.
1. What were your early influences, and when did you decide you wanted to write?
As a young child I couldn’t get enough of reading, and regularly escaped into the worlds of the Magic Faraway Tree and Narnia. As I was a sickly child, often off school, reading was my refuge. I soon began to start writing my own stories – in fact, I wrote my first book when I was eight years old, about a girl called Jane who encountered a gang of goblins who lived under the River Dove. I loved to let my imagination fly. Later on, as a teenager, I became despondent about writing because I missed so much school and my teachers weren’t understanding or helpful. I felt that my writing was something I should hide away because I wasn’t good enough. So for many years I only wrote sporadically, but the passion never went away and I finally started blogging around ten years ago, and everything else has grown from that.
2. How has living with lung disease both impacted your writing and at the same time influenced and inspired it?
Living with a long-term health condition has been woven in with and impacted my writing greatly, in all areas – including my fiction writing. In many ways, my experience of disability in a world that values the strong has shaped my worldview, in terms of how I see myself and others, and so what I write has very much been born in that view. For instance, I’ve written a dystopian thriller about a world where productivity is all that counts, and where sick and disabled people are found wanting and hidden away because they are not able to contribute to the economy. My experience of living in a society where the ill are so often seen as scroungers and skivers has contributed to this narrative greatly. It’s as yet unpublished, but watch this space!
My experience of weakness and pain has also very much shaped my blogging and my first non-fiction book, Catching Contentment (more on that in a minute). I’ve been on a journey of discovery about how God understands the pain and is with us in the pain, and how treasures are to be found in the darkness – and also about how important it is to be honest about our struggles, and not to don masks of pretence that all is well. My writing gets raw and deep at times, especially in those times I am most in pain.
3. Talk about your latest book, Catching Contentment. What is the message and what do you hope to achieve by it?
I used to think that Christians should be happy people, never showing any kind of worry or anxiety or pain or shame, because of some of the teaching I’d heard. I struggled with the idea of contentment, thinking it could only be for those who were fixed, whose lives were wonderful, who were not in pain. Contentment did not seem to be a word that could apply to someone like me, so often housebound, in pain, in hospital. But as I delved deeper into Paul’s words about contentment in the book of Philippians, I caught a glimpse of something more profound. Paul said he’d learned the secret to being content in all circumstances – and I realised that he knew what he was talking about, because he was writing from prison amidst a life of great hardship. As I explored the subject I discovered a wealth of treasure, finding that contentment as Paul talked of it is not based on our wholeness, but purely on who God is and who we are in God – that only God can fill the great void in us, and satisfy our wildest places with a love so great it can lift us even in our agonies. I wanted to communicate something about this holy kind of contentment, and especially to hopefully offer some help and hope to those whose lives don’t look like the perfect Instagram feed.
4. What challenges face you in your writing, particularly when living with long term health issues?
Every writer has many challenges, and I experience the highs and lows in the same way as so many. There are the challenges of comparison, of feeling like I am not good enough, of time and energy, of a very difficult market in all areas, of marketing my work. But my illness does lead to some further challenges, too. One of the main difficulties for me, particularly with my writing for the Christian market, is that I am largely unable to go and share about it. Authors are encouraged all the time to develop a speaker platform, to visit churches and groups and conferences to speak about their books, and sell their books. But I am very limited in what I am actually able to do. I managed a few radio interviews and a couple of speaking events which wore me out too much. So my challenge is to market my work when I cannot market myself, when I cannot be out there very much, because I am too sick. Even when I am ‘well’ this kind of thing proves a huge challenge to me because my energy levels are too low.
This leads me to struggles with my own marketing – I spend far too much time worrying that I am not doing enough. On social media I share and I write articles and I promote my book, but in the end it is still difficult to get things beyond a certain audience, and it does prove frustrating. But people have been incredibly generous to me in their sharing of my work with others and I am very grateful.
I also struggle with the writing process itself due to my illness, because my battery gets worn down very easily, so I cannot work for hours at a stretch, and need at least one nap per day. When I am in an active exacerbation – which is often – I sometimes cannot write at all. Medication dulls my mind, and the pain dulls my senses and my capacity for work, so the writing stays unfinished. Again, this can be frustrating – and I have had to learn much about acceptance in these times, about reaching for the peace of God even when things do not go as I would wish. Contentment can be difficult when I am not achieving what I want to achieve in any given day – but I have learned that contentment is a choice, rather than something that just washes over me.
5. Where do you write?
This is an interesting question which feeds back into the previous one, because where I write varies depending on how I am. I have a lovely office upstairs in my house, painted in my favourite colour with all my favourite pictures on the wall, and my books around me, which is for good days. I love to sit at my desk when I am able. But on bad days my office is my sofa, wrapped up in a blanket, or in my bed – where writing rarely gets done. Sometimes my office is my hospital bed.
6. What are your future aims and goals for your writing?
I am working on another book for the non-fiction Christian market, on identity and use, in terms of how we see ourselves – useful or useless – and how these terms are not particularly… ahem…. useful, in themselves. It’s an exciting project but I have a load of work to do! I’m also working on the fiction book I mentioned which is part of a trilogy, so I have a whole load of writing to do there too. I’ve recently written an accompanying bible study course for Catching Contentment, and would love to write more in this vein too. I have a million ideas but an unwilling body and not enough time…
Liz Carter is an author and blogger who likes to write about life in all its messy, painful, joyous reality. She’s never known life without pain and sickness. She likes Cadbury’s and turquoise, in equal measure, and lives in Shropshire, UK with her husband, a church leader, and two teens.
Liz is the author of Catching Contentment: How to be Holy Satisfied, which was published by IVP in November 2018. This book digs into the lived experience of a life in pain, and what contentment could possibly mean in difficult circumstances. She’s also recently brought out a six week bible study course based around the book.