The sentiments contained within the humble and understated verse referenced in the title of this post, first entered my life from the pen of a student P.E. teacher, who wrote them in my autograph book for me when she finished her placement and left my school for pastures new (alongside the scrawls of the 1989 Norwich City Football Team, for whom I was a ball girl with green and yellow ribbons in my hair in a perhaps-better-forgotten section of my childhood).
The words are attributed to an Edgar A. Guest, almost 100 years ago, although the poem has appeared, over the years, with a multitude of different names printed at the bottom, or none. Perhaps you are familiar with it. It continues, “…and the road that you’re trudging seems all uphill, when funds are low, and debts are high, and you want to smile, but you have to sigh, when care is pressing you down a bit, rest if you must—but don't you quit.” It’s one of those poems that has stuck in my head (along with an inordinate number of stanzas from Edgar Allen-Poe’s The Raven), with its quirky rhythm and catchy rhyme. It comes back to me in moments when I feel like doing the opposite to what it exhorts. It continues for several verses more, all ending with the same imperative to keep going, however hard it all gets.
This can be a challenge in our Christian lives and in our lives as writers. We find our lives’ journeys or writing journeys winding their way under the shadows of looming mountains and through the deserts of difficult circumstances and it can be so, so hard to keep going and trust, when doubt and discouragement hits. I am at a very early stage on my writing journey. I love writing but time is short. I can’t see how I’ll ever write what I want to write, be who I want to be and some days the doubt and discouragement knocks me to the ground. I have found it helpful to create for myself a ‘spiritual first aid kit’ for such times – things that I know will help, tried and trusted methods I can employ, to ensure that I do keep going, instead of having a huge tantrum and stopping by the roadside with my head in my hands, refusing to continue. I am sure that most of it is not rocket science – but I hope through sharing them, I might remind anyone feeling doubt and discouragement of some of the 'tools' available, to help them get back up and running again, with fresh impetus and determination.
1. Pause, reflect, accept…that your life, situation, character, calling and ministry is unique and different to others you are comparing yourselves to. There is nothing wrong with being inspired by others and aspiring to the good values, habits and characteristics – and writing styles - they model; but accept that you are you, with your own unique set of characteristics, relationships and talents that God needs for His kingdom. God can work with you to help you become a better version of you, not a modified version of someone else – true of our lives and our writing. When David tried to go to battle in someone else’s armour, it all went horribly wrong. As himself, with his own gifts and skills – well you know the rest! Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” He was right.
2. Remember and recall. This is where a journaling habit helps. Look back at bits of written down poems, songs, verses, Christian book extracts that have inspired you in the past, or testimonies of things God has done. God has a purpose for us (Ephesians 2v10, NLT – “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago,”), even on the days we don’t feel it, so it’s helpful to reflect on the days where we were feeling it and know it’s still true today. Have some key verses of scripture to declare when you are not feeling them, and a selection of worship songs that re-affirm the truth of who God is and the truth of who you are in Him…and inject some truth into the lies that swirl.
3. Phone a friend (at the risk of sounding like a well-known game show). Pick up the phone, send a text, be honest about your need for support and prayer. It is biblical to support and uphold one another. Much is said, regularly, on this blog about encouragement. Don’t be afraid to reach out for it and admit you need it. It can make a significant difference.
4. Remind yourself to just keep going, sometimes to just keep standing. Accept that you might not feel different right this second, but trust that God is working things out for good. I love the part in Chariots of Fire where Harold M. Abrahams complains, “If I can't win, I won't run!” The wise Sybil Gordon replies, “If you don't run, you can't win.” How much might we disqualify ourselves from if we throw in the towel when things get hard.
So, let’s keep going – keep running our races and writing our words, believing God has a good purpose for us, a long-term plan for our good and His glory, whatever the bit called today is looking like. And if you have other 'remedies' in your ‘spiritual first aid kit’, please share them below, to help the rest of us get back up and running when things go wrong, as they sometimes – often - will!
Georgie Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive. She is married, with two sons, aged 9 and 7 who keep her exceptionally busy. She feels intimidated by having to provide an author-biography, when her writing only extends, currently, to attempting to blog, writing the ‘Thought for the Week’ for the local paper occasionally, and having a poem published in a book from a National Poetry Competition. She feels a bit more like a real author now the ACW Lent Book is out and she has a piece in it! Her musings about life can be found on her blog: www.somepoemsbygeorgie.blogspot.co.uk