Interview with Lydia Sohn, Writer and Minister
Recently, I had the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing Lydia Sohn, a writer, minister, and speaker who lives in San Diego, California with her husband and young son. I fell in love with Lydia’s blog last fall, when I discovered her wonderful blog chalked full of wisdom, that I look forward to reading each week. Below, Lydia shares her thoughts on creativity! You can learn more about Lydia here.
KATHERINE CARVER: How did your journey lead you to becoming a minister and writer?
LYDIA SOHN: It all happened very naturally. Neither were careers I considered for myself, even up until my college years. Looking back, of course, it makes complete sense because spirituality and writing were always sources of great joy for me. And then I experienced a lot of resistance towards the ministry once I did have an inkling that might be the path for me. I grew up in a fairly conservative church with only male ministers around me. I didn’t even think women could be ministers for most of my life, much less young women!
Writing as a profession came with less resistance but there was still a lot of self-doubt. I thought one had to be a bookish introvert with certain literary tastes to be a “real writer” but I eventually discovered that to be false as I began to write regularly and for the public. With both of these careers, one step simply followed the next and the outcomes unraveled organically.
KATHERINE CARVER: What artists/writers inspire you?
LYDIA SOHN: Julia Cameron was really the first artist/writer to release the writer within me through her books, The Right to Write and The Artist’s Way. Prior to reading those books, I relied upon a lot of external validation to legitimate my craft. Those books empowered me to write simply because I wanted to and for no other reason than that. She suggests these powerful exercises that help the artist with every person emerge.
Before Julia Cameron though, my writing style had been greatly influenced by Lauren Winner and Anne Lammott because both of them are spiritual authors who activated a latent desire and potential within me to articulate my own spiritual journey.
More recently, I have been so greatly nourished by Elizabeth Gilbert and her ideas about creativity. Much of her ideas about creativity are in her book, Big Magic, but she also riffs on these ideas a lot in her talks, interviews and podcast. She’s similar to Julia Cameron in that she believes that what we long to write about pre-exists so it’s not something we have to think up but rather, listen closely and download. I find this idea to be incredibly liberating because it takes the pressure off of us to produce amazing ideas. We just need to follow our curiosity, observe where it takes us and then document it.
KATHERINE CARVER: Do you have any rituals and/or practice that you implement while writing?
LYDIA SOHN: Yes, I rely greatly on time-blocking to get all of my writing done. I am a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique. I discovered it when I was juggling a lot of different projects and it’s the only thing that has enabled me to keep writing and a full-time job while at the same time, raise a small child.
KATHERINE CARVER: Do you have any favorite, go-to books for inspiration?
LYDIA SOHN: I definitely have a canon of books that have changed my life and return to whenever I want to be re-grounded. Included in this canon are Eckart Tolle’s The Power of Now and Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak. A book that radically helped my marriage is Alison Armstrong’s The Queen’s Code. Another book that was a godsend is Intuitive Eating. I struggled with an eating disorder after I graduated from college and that book put my debilitating struggle to an end. It also transformed my entire worldview and moral philosophy. You have to read the book to know what I’m talking about.
KATHERINE CARVER: How do you not let fear hinder you from beginning a new endeavor?
LYDIA SOHN: I have so much fear and so much doubt when I’m about to begin a new endeavor! What soothes my anxiety is a belief that what will be will be. Another Elizabeth Gilbert idea I love is that we as artists and designers of our own lives must do what we can on our ends but we have to let God (or the universe, whatever metaphysical reality that resonates with you) take care of the rest. The way she puts it is, “our labor is the contribution to the miracle.” In that way, I do my due diligence by being faithful to my responsibilities and then let God take over the rest. If it’s meant to be, it will unravel accordingly. If it’s not meant to be, doors will close fairly quickly. God is so good to me in giving me really helpful signs to guide me and show me which endeavors I’m supposed to pursue and which I’m endeavors I’m supposed to let go of.
KATHERINE CARVER: What inspires you to keep going and what keeps you motivated daily?
LYDIA SOHN: What inspires me to keep going is a sense of deep joy and fulfillment I derive from my work. I do the work I do now—ministry and writing—because it fulfills me so much and I feel that they are the perfect channels for expressing my interests and strengths. There is perfect alignment with my internal desires and my external work so it’s easy to just keep going. My work becomes a grind when there’s misalignment in some way or I’m over-working. Whenever I notice myself avoiding or resenting my work, I take those as clues to look closer to see where I’m misaligned with a certain project or whether I just need some more rest.
KATHERINE CARVER: How has becoming a mom impacted your creativity, writing, and ministering?
LYDIA SOHN: Parenting is the most awe-inspiring and at the same time, challenging experience of my life. This experience then, inevitably provides abundant material for me to reflect, write and preach about. It has been said by many parents that our love for our children gives us a clarifying lens through which to understand God’s love for us a little more. This has most certainly been the case for me. Whereas before parenting, I spent most of my life striving to earn God’s love and favor, I soon realized after I had my son that God’s love and favor have been with me from the very beginning, and is non-negotiable. In that way then, my life is no longer a test with loaded temptations but rather, a generous gift for me to enjoy.
Being a working mom has also helped me to create better boundaries. I am much better at saying “no” to projects or commitments I’m not fully passionate about because if I’m not protective of my time, I will wear myself down and subsequently, hurt my family.
And finally, because I’m a type-A kind of personality who derives a lot of satisfaction from work and productivity, parenting has forced me to slow down and trust in the process of life; to focus less on producing and focus more on being present. I know I only get one chance to parent each phase of my son’s life and I won’t ever be able to rewind time so this reminds me to be here fully.
KATHERINE CARVER: You help people cultivate their authentic selves. What advice do you have for others trying to do this?
LYDIA SOHN: Oh my goodness, I teach an entire workshop series on this so it’s hard for me to encapsulate it here now. In a nutshell, the theme is: march to the beat of your own drum. Stop measuring your value and worth based on others and social expectations. Follow your joy and align with your own values, not others’. And if you don’t know what those are because you’re so disconnected from your true self, observe what lights you up and fulfills you and start doing them. Take small steps and slowly, those small steps will open up an entire path for you. I’m going to release some workbooks that give step-by-step instructions on how to do all of this so subscribe to revlydia.com if you want to be in the know about those workbooks.
KATHERINE CARVER: You have some of the most thoughtful blog posts, which I find to be especially helpful. How do your blog ideas come to you?
LYDIA SOHN: They come to me in exactly the same way that Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Cameron describe. I don’t sit down and think them up. They come to me at the most random and odd times, like when I’m driving or at 5 a.m. in the morning. They are, of course, ideas I’m experiencing in my own life so those ideas are not external to me but the way those ideas coalesce together and show themselves to me feel like a process that’s external to me.
KATHERINE CARVER: One of my favorite blog posts you have written was on the topic of surrender. How has a practice of surrender impacted you personally?
LYDIA SOHN: If I didn’t practice surrendering in my life, my whole life would be a major struggle. I love to control my life and its outcomes. Part of this is a sign of healthy self-confidence because I really do see myself as the agent and artist of my own life, which I believe God has bestowed upon all humans to craft as they wish. At the same time, I have to hold this truth in balance with the other truth that there are some things in life we can’t control. Along with that, God’s ways and perspectives are so much greater than our own so I continually remind myself to trust that my life will unfold according to God’s timing and ways rather than my own. As frustrated as I get, it is ultimately marvelous that there’s something so much bigger than us with a greater wisdom and perspective who always guides us.
KATHERINE CARVER: What is your favorite quote and why is this your favorite quote?
LYDIA SOHN: I just love Marianne Williamson’s famous words, “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” Of course, the entire paragraph from which this sentence comes from is amazing but this little sentence is the one that always stays with me. One’s inner light is a theme in almost all religious traditions, including my own, Christianity, and Jesus says something similar to Marianne when he says, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-16).
The reason why I derive so much comfort from these words is because I struggle a lot with the “who am I” kind of thinking. Who am I to be doing what I love and pursuing my dreams when there are so many people struggling and suffering out there? This kind of thinking probably derives from my conservative Christian background that glamorizes suffering and sacrificing your dreams and comfort for the sake of others. Intellectually, I know that this is all crap and that life doesn’t actually work like that yet of course, it’s a long process to let go of entrenched beliefs one was raised with.
KATHERINE CARVER: What advice do you have for living a creative life?
LYDIA SOHN: Follow your joy. If you don’t consider yourself a creative person or don’t know where to start, I would recommend beginning with small projects so as to not overwhelm or intimidate you. Try the Pomodoro Technique. So if you want to write, just do it 25 minutes a day on a random subject like what your kitchen looks like in the morning. If you want to dance and have stopped, just do it a few minutes each day or once a week. As hard as it may be, try to detach yourself from what others think of your work. It’s natural that we should want to refine our crafts but don’t let others’ perception of your work determine whether or not you pursue it. If it gives you joy, then that’s the whole point, the only point.
All images are courtesy of Lydia Sohn.
You can read more interviews here.