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Friday, July 11, 2014

Bill Murray, Tom Cruise, and You

What do Bill Murray and Tom Cruise have in common? They’ve both starred in movies (Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow) where they must re-live the same day multiple times until they get it right.

Why does that theme resonate so deeply with us?

I think it’s because we want to come through by saying or doing the right thing – but usually misstep in the heat of the moment. We long for a do-over where we know what’s coming...and are ready.

Novelists are used to controlling the element of time in their stories – but it’s much harder in their own lives. And, let’s be honest, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to get everything done most days no matter how many chances we’re given. If only we could slow time. Or had 28 hours a day. If we could somehow get a little smarter or juggle everything a little better, perhaps we really could get it all done. Come through as the lover, the provider, the hero, the best-selling author.

What about your life as a writer? Do you feel you have enough time to spend on your novel? From the phrases most authors use, I’d say the answer is pretty clear. They refer to themselves as:
* buried in work
* fighting a deadline
* drowning in revisions
* running on empty

Buried. A line of death (deadline). Drowning. Empty.

These phrases sound more like death than life. And it’s hard to write words of life when you – as creator – are burnt-out, worn-out, or stressed out.

Taming the To-Do List

In my early professional life, I relentlessly tried to tame my to-do list. It was my main focus. How good my day was depended largely on how much I got done.

But I never got it all done. Never was able to keep my incoming e-mails at zero or cross every item off my list. And any intrusion in my day was seen as an irritant because, well, it just put me further behind.

I was reviewing my new year’s resolutions with my father-in-law recently. It was clearly too aggressive. Each day was filled to the brim. He graciously let me finish going down the items and then said, “Son, I’m not sure you’ve left any room for God to show up in your day.”

His words went deep.

A few days later, I was telling my wife how overwhelmed I felt. She asked, “Do you really think God won’t give you enough time to get done what he’s called you to do?”

That question rocked my world.

If God gives us time to do all he’s called us to and yet I have a list of undone tasks, then I must be filling my day with a lot that isn’t from him.

After all, he doesn’t promise us time to do everything.

Just the things he’s called us to do.

If he’s called you to write stories, he will give you time to write them.

But everything on your list isn’t necessarily from God. What are you filling your days with that God never invited you to take on? What projects have you said “yes” to without ever asking if that was God’s desire? What are you continuing to do out of obligation or for validation or escapism? Rather than asking God for a rescue when you crash and burn from an overfull list, give him free reign over your time. Simply be about the Father’s business and let the rest go.

Authors are used to putting their characters through a non-stop pace of obstacles, adventure, love and loss.  Page turners, by definition, have to keep things moving. Readers want books that are adrenaline-laced rollercoaster rides. But remember, the pace of a good novel isn’t the pace of a good life.

All the Time in the World

When we give God our days and follow his lead, we live in his abundance. To the Creator of time, there’s no such thing as a shortage of time. He never plays catch-up.

That’s why the psalmist says of God, “You’ve got all the time in the world – whether a thousand years or a day, it’s all the same to you.” (The Message, Psalm 90:4).

It’s Satan who is stressed over a lack of time. “He’s wild and raging with anger; he hasn’t much time and he knows it.” (The Message, Revelation 12:12). God is cutting our enemy’s time short. The enemy may try to distract you or waste your time,  but he can’t steal your time. He doesn’t control time.

So don’t buy the lie that you don’t have enough time. You have an abundance of time when you allow God to set your agenda.

Live a Wildly Unbalanced Life

One last thought about time.

The phrase “a balanced life” sounds so appealing. It plays to the illusion that we really can do it all / have it all if we just balance everything in our lives perfectly.

Unfortunately, it’s an illusion.

You can have a deep and satisfying family life.

You can be a workaholic.

You can live a life of simplicity.

You can let social media consume your day.

But you can’t balance the above four items, much less all your life. And why is balance the goal anyway?

Love God. Love others. That’s all that really matters.

So pursue those opportunities above all else.

Give your best to your best.

And just enough time to the other things that must be done.

You do have enough time for everything God calls you to.

But only if you’re willing to live a wildly unbalanced life.

Do that and you’ll never need to re-live your day endlessly like Bill Murray and Tom Cruise.

And don't forget the Oregon Christian Writers Conference 

Allen Arnold loves the epic adventure God has set before him. From the mountains of Colorado, he leads Content & Resources for Ransomed Heart Ministries (led by John Eldredge). Before that, he spent 20 years in Christian Publishing - overseeing  the development of more than 500 novels as founder and Publisher of Thomas Nelson Fiction. He was awarded the ACFW Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. But that doesn't really describe the man. Allen savors time with his family, craves the beach, drinks salsa by the glass, is hooked on the TV series "Once Upon a Time" and is passionate about helping storytellers write from an awakened heart. 


  1. Allen, thank you for this post. The key to time management is God and making sure we're trusting him to provide the time to fulfill all he has called us to do. The line, "if he's called you to write stories, he will give you the time to write them" ministers strongly to me. I need to be working his to-do list, his agenda, not mine.

    1. Henry - I agree. When God invites us into a calling, it always comes with an invitation to do that calling WITH him. It helps me to begin each day with expectancy of what God has planned. And then to try to chase after that with Him rather than slide back into the "get it done" mode on my own. On a spiritual level, it's the difference between an orphan spirit (doing things on my own strength for God) and the spirit of Sonship (doing things God has called me to do WITH him).

  2. Allen, wonderful article and with two books to finish this summer, wise words I need to pay attention to. Didn't realize you were with John Eldredge's ministry. John and Stasi's books have ministered greatly to us in the past.

    Pray you are doing well.

    Blessings to you!

    1. Golden - so good to hear from you. Yes, I've been with Ransomed Heart ministries for over two years and it has been an epic adventure. My personal ministry is now to go after the hearts of writers. I'll be sharing more on this topic at the Oregon Christian Writer's Conference in August and will be at ACFW. Hope our path's cross again at a conference one day!

  3. I needed this message this morning! Thank you so much for the reminder that God will give me all I need to accomplish the work He's set before me. Perfect timing!

    1. Marji - I love how an article on "time" came at the "perfect time" for you. I wish you the best in your writing!

  4. Allen, sage advice. True--God will give us time to do the things to which He's called us. The tough part comes in making the evaluation of what those things are. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Richard - you are so right. We want to hold on tightly to our agenda items when God desires that we hold on loosely to everything but Him. I hope you are doing well, my friend!

  6. I learned about a wildly unbalanced life in my early college writing classes in a book by Brenda Ueland. She called it the theory of planned neglect, and I have stuck by that.

    1. I really like the term "theory of planned neglect". I wish I had heard that advice while in college!


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