Go after it

Mennonite sisters from Maryland go after Hurricane Katrina relief with all sorts of tools. Photo by Marvin Nauman, from the FEMA Photo Library,public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Mennonite sisters from Maryland go after Hurricane Katrina relief with all sorts of tools.
Photo by Marvin Nauman, FEMA Library, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”Jack London

I just love this quote. I think it applies to all sorts of inspiration, not just artistic or literary. If I have learned anything from life, one of the most indelible lessons of experience is that inactive brooding and rumination never solves anything. There’s a place, of course, for contemplation, discussion and reflection. But I suspect that the contemporary world gives far too little attention to disciplined effort and meaningful action. At least, I know I do.

As the venues for talk multiply– TV, radio, online, print, formal and informal meetings– the talk multiplies until it becomes our primary activity, and sometimes deceives us into thinking that merely by talking, we’ve done something to address what is bothering us. No wonder we end up feeling overwhelmed by undone tasks and unfulfilled aspirations.

Going after inspiration with a club does not mean going at it carelessly, or being fueled primarily by anger or frustration. In fact, I believe the sort of violence and mayhem fomented by gratuitously destructive outrage is the result of failure to undertake more meaningful steps. Acting on impulse is not the opposite of forethought; it’s the result of a pronounced lack of it.

Still, though planning is essential, it too often goes nowhere. Sometimes when I’m sorting though old papers I’ll come across goals and plans I wrote years ago and promptly forgot. Usually, they’re quite well thought out, and articulated clearly, with sound purposes that focus on worthy outcomes. But they were set aside, no doubt as a result of urgent demands that may have been more obvious and intrusive, but less important.

For 2017, I invite you to join me in going after inspiration with a club. That club– a metaphor for determination– might take various forms on different days: devising a specific set of goals for de-cluttering or fitness, writing a letter or making a visit we’ve been putting off, scheduling an activity (such as exercise), or anything else that will break the cycle of sitting around waiting to be rescued from our sadness or lethargy.

We can’t wait for inspiration. But that doesn’t mean it’s not out there, waiting for us to find it.


  1. Good morning, Julia! Oh, how I needed to hear this today! I went to a church retreat this past weekend and was distressed by something that the leader said. Now I am fighting for my faith – with the tenacity of one swinging a club – and not let it be shaken.
    More time reading the Bible is certainly in order.

    • Susan, thanks so much for being candid here. I am so sorry you had that experience. Isn’t it odd how often our struggles with faith begin with something said or done by another believer? No wonder James said “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers…” (James 3:1). You have hit the nail on the head in saying that more time reading the Bible is the sure remedy for such disturbances. For me, the Bible is often surprising, always enlightening and ultimately the surest solace and comfort we have. Thanks for inspiring me to do likewise and tap into the “living and active” word!

  2. Chris J. Beam

    Very nice, Julia. Well said! Reminds me of the Nike slogan, “Just do it.” And, as Dr. Laura would say, now go take on the day! 😊

    • Thank you, Chris!

  3. From a FB meme (aka a venue for talk): “Grief is like living two lives. One is where you ‘pretend’ everything is alright, and the other is where your heart silently screams in pain.” Julia, I believe as you take these steps toward meaningful action, most of us are caringly aware of that “other life”.

    • Thank you, Eric. I believe several people could tell you that I hold nothing back in making at least some people aware of the “other life” – my pain is not always so silent. But I have a friend who I will always believe was killed by keeping her pain silent for too long, so I know that silent suffering can be deadly. Thanks for acknowledging that those in deep grief do indeed live double lives. The hope is that one side will eventually win– as in “fake it till you make it.”

      • I wish I knew how to make a “thumb up” emoji in a Defeat Despair comment ❤

        • I wish I could use all those cute pictures Sheila has, but I think I would have to use a cell phone for that. I don’t want them that badly! 🙂

        • Sheila

          👍🏻 I couldn’t resist! 👍🏻

        • Sheila

          👍🏻 Will this help? 👍🏻 There’s one in every crowd! 👍🏻

  4. Raynard

    Julia it’s strange .I have not seen a gym membership rapid income tax refund or renta center furniture junk mail in my mailbox yet and it’s the last day of the month. The Super Bowl is this coming weekend that might take a front seat. I digress.Groundhog day is Thursday.I think either he never got on the Ark .Or he disguised himself as a Woodchuck named Chuck lol. As the crow flies look up to see if he is a homing pigeon .Lol Be blessed ,stay encouraged and have a great day

    • Raynard, it is so good to hear from you here. I really miss your digressions as I have never needed to digress more than I do now, so you are helping me to stay encouraged. Groundhog day is upon us and I am hoping he sees no shadow tomorrow. An early spring would be lovely this year. Thanks for checking in and give Mary a hug for me.

  5. MaryAnn Clontz

    What a lovely photo of doing, rather than “talking”! Many moons ago, I taught a ladies Bible class. My chosen subject was to actual do some of the things that we learn from Scripture. For a while, we focused on reaching out & helping, not just learning & talking about it. It was a good class.
    I think you are reading my “goals” list. 2017’s top goal is de-cluttering. Such an overwhelming, daunting project. Purging files & tossing or shredding eats up TIME! I will get the home office uncluttered! A step at a time, without self-recrimination.
    You inspire me to press on! Top priority to love my God & all else falls into place!
    Much love!

    • Mary Ann, I think people who care deeply and have many energetic interests and plans have the worst time with de-cluttering. Not only do we not have the time for it, but there is so much that we want to do/see/accomplish/remember that we end up saving a ton of papers that represent opportunities, intentions or fond memories. It’s all part of living a very full life. I am learning to acknowledge how much will never be possible for me, but there’s a sort of freedom in that. You said it well – “A step at a time, without self-recrimination.” Not a bad way to approach life, actually. Sending much love to you too, and thanks for keeping me looking up!

  6. I like the idea of going after inspiration with a club.:) That photo warmed my heart. There are so many good people in the world. I’ve written this comment differently 3 times. Think I’ll leave it at this.

    • Marlene, I could easily write three different responses to your comment and delete all three, but I think we are on the same wavelength. 😀 I also think you are wise to leave it where you did. I need to take lessons in that. Just know that I totally agree with what you did say, and most likely with what you didn’t say. Giant telepathic hugs!

  7. Harry Sims

    Sometimes I think I ought to “get a life”.
    Sometimes I question if what I am doing amounts to a whit.
    I sometimes feel I am not getting enough feedback, acknowledgment or encouragement which I deserve.
    Even though lots of times I am lauded to high heaven it just doesn’t seem to be enough.

    So what am I to do about all this?
    The first thing is to understand what is going on and recognize my egocentric self-centeredness which even now after a long while pursuing this spiritual pathway still lingers.

    The answer my friend is not “Blowing in the Wind”!
    The answer my friend is coupling desire and willingness and being closer to the Cosmic Christ as I stare at deaths door.

    • Harry, thanks so much for your honesty. I think many of us have similar thoughts. I believe we hear false and conflicting messages from many directions about what makes a person “worthy” or whether our work “amounts to anything.” But I really believe that what we do lasts, and has ripple effects we usually know nothing about. This applies to both good and bad actions, which is really a somber thought. But for people of conscience who are trying to do the right thing, I believe the good they do, though often unseen and unacknowledged, still makes a difference. Sometimes I wonder what it was like before radio and television created celebrities who are famous for being famous, and generate no end of headlines for behaviors and traits that are neutral at best, and sometimes downright loathsome. It seems like watching all the fawning and attention showered on movie stars or sports stars or whoever just gives people a massive dose of feeling insignificant. I think this fabricated celebrity “reality” contributes to the depression so many of us battle today. It’s all built on setting impossible standards for looks, material wealth, etc. That’s why I try to stay away from hype about things that are unrelated to the lives of 99.9% of the people in this world. Just my two cents. BTW re: staring at death’s door? We all are! Some of us just recognize it more easily than others. 🙂

  8. Mike

    It is not everyday I get to be on the same page with Brother Raynard. Snow last night in Seattle and iti s still on the ground. A very long winter here.
    Am reading Gerald Sittser’s ” A grace disguised,” about his own grief journey after losing his
    daughter- at four, mother and wife in a one terrible car accident. Well -needless to say it is kind of heavy, but very good as far as grief books go and offers no simple solutions for complex ideas. He talks about two deaths the -the death that happens too us and the second death -the death that happens within us- after loss. And sometimes this second death is worse than the first. The death of the spirit. I think that is a great anaology and can help us to look at our grief in a way that makes sense- in part. But I hate to burden you with yet another book to put on your lengthening list.

    • Mike, a book recommendation is NEVER a burden to me. Before he died, Jeff also read a review of a book he wanted me to read, that sounds similar to the one you describe. It was written by a woman who lost both parents and her husband within just a short span of time. Jeff said “this will be you” and he thought it might be consoling to me. I have to go look up that title because I forgot where I put it. But the one you describe sounds good too. The books by people who have been there never over-simplify things. I read C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed in the first few days after Jeff’s death. I read a bit of it each night before going to sleep, and it truly was comforting. BTW speaking of recommendations — I just finished one of your recent ones — All the Light We Cannot See. WOW!!! Super super good. I thought it was brilliant and in its own way, also comforting. Reading about such eras and events really does help to put things in a bigger perspective. It was a lovely story. For some reason, it reminded me of another book I love, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, although the plots were not truly alike, though both set in WWII. But both did feature a young girl who is caught in the chaos of the war, yet manages to navigate obstacles with tenacity and grace.

  9. Mike

    That is such an amazing book -“All the light we cannot see.” It is on my all time top ten list of best books. He also has a book of short stories- ” The sea shell? which I did not enjoy as much. And Anthony Doerr is like 41.
    OK if you insist= Youmight also check out Nouwens-“Memoir” about the death of his mother, which is a short work only 80 pages.
    My son sent me a picture of a purple saucer Magnolia in full bloom which I will try and forward to you. They had a 42 degree temp span yesterday. 36 to 78.

    • WOW, such a young man to write so profound a story. I had not heard of that particular book my Nouwen, and I definitely want to read it. He was friends of two men I greatly admire, Jean Vanier and Fred Rogers. And I have really enjoyed the brief excerpts from his works that I have read.

      I love those saucer magnolias. We had a small one in our yard when I was a child, and it was totally dwarfed by the truly enormous Southern Magnolia towering over it nearby. I only recently heard them called “saucer magnolias” — my mother always called it a “Japanese magnolia” which evidently is the same tree.

  10. Mike

    We are going to Atlanta middle of April. Hope to get some decent weather there. I think it is 70 today. Perhaps we will run in to each other. Staying in Canton area. Wish me luck with job hunting. I don’t need too much. Just enough for rent and flowers.
    So there must be several kinds of Magnolias. Here I have only seen the white flower varieties. But some get quite huge like 30-40 feet. One smaller one I saw was called “Mollie Brown,” or something like that.

    • Mike, good luck with the job hunt. When the right one comes along, it will be worth the wait. I do hope you and Verie are able to move closer to those precious grandchildren. The gardening in Atlanta will be very different from the amazing Pacific coast, but not without its advantages…speaking of which, the Southern Magnolia is truly a magnificent tree. We had an enormous one in our yard that grew and grew during the years we lived there. Here and here are photos of what it looked like in the mid 1960s, long before it reached its largest size, when my brother and I would sometimes crawl under the branches (which had never been trimmed, and thus grew all the way to the ground) where the trunk and foliage created an evergreen tent that would keep you dry even in the rain. I loved the leathery green leaves that had rust-colored fuzz on the back that I could scratch off with my fingernail and “write” on. The funny thing is, I never appreciate the magnificent size of that tree because it was short compared to the pines that towered over it. Other people raked leaves in the fall…we raked pine straw, almost year round, which my mother put around the azalea beds. If you are able to move to Georgia, three of the best things about it will be the azaleas, the azaleas and the azaleas. Not to mention the famous peanuts, peaches and pecans!

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