People come into their callings and spheres of influence through many ways; it’s often not a direct path, and that’s definitely true for screenwriter and social worker Andrea M. Polnaszek. Read this month’s Inner View as she encourages you through the twists and turns, highs and lows.
BIO: Andrea M. Polnaszek has written many books and is the co-creator of multiple films alongside her sister, Alexandra Boylan, as part of The Boylan Sisters Entertainment company. Andrea’s most recent movie, The Greatest Inheritance, with her accompanying book by the same title, is a study of Ecclesiastes. The film wrestles with the theme, “There is a time for everything and a season for everything under Heaven.”
Andrea is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has spent her clinical career helping children and their families communicate their feelings. She earned her bachelor’s degree in social work at Gordon College, a Master’s in Social Work, and a Certificate in Theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Kathleen: As a filmmaker and writer, you come from a unique position as a licensed clinical social worker with an understanding of the human mind and our choices. What has God revealed to you on how we can make better choices that will sustain our careers and lives, especially during the disruptions of a pandemic?
Andrea Polnaszek: I had the opportunity to write a book and devotional about Ecclesiastes and specifically spent much time meditating on Ecclesiastes 3. During an unappreciated time of the global pandemic, I felt like folks around me, including myself, were asking questions like: “Why?” “What do we do?” “I don’t like this new life?” While exploring the idea of what season this is and what God is teaching me in this season…
God brought a surprising insight. I was invited to perform a funeral service for the first time. The woman who had passed had struggled with mental illness for many years before her death. Her family felt they had lost her many years before she died. The process of preparing for the funeral provided an opportunity to remember. Looking through pictures and reminiscing reminded everyone of beautiful memories. This insight caused me to ask: Why do we wait for funerals to share a eulogy? So, I have begun to tell people what I appreciate about them in real time. I have spent some time thinking about happy memories and sharing those with others. The experience has brought me new insight into what the Joy of the Lord looks like. I believe that joy is born in gratitude. And a heart of thanksgiving is a gift from God alone.
Theodore Roosevelt said: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” God has brought me to a place of hard-fought contentment – accepting that there is good and bad in every season and that He is over it all! I would say that when I look at all that the last few years have thrown at me – the joy of the Lord was my strength. God revealed to me the importance of disciplining myself to put Him first.
Kathleen: It’s not the normal screenwriter’s path to come into the film business from a clinical social worker background. Many might struggle with their career goals and identity and lose their way. Yet God seems to carve us uniquely into His plan and purpose. Why is knowing who you are in Him the essential choice?
Andrea: Boylan Sisters Entertainment just finished principal photography on a movie called: Identity Crisis. I have done a lot of thinking, meditating, and studying on this issue. Our culture seems to be telling us that uniqueness needs to be named and that our core identity, or “created in the image of God,” can or should change. I struggle with this conversation because when I talk to people wrestling with gender euphoria and questioning their sexuality, I see genuine concern, discomfort, and a deep sense of longing to feel whole.
I was one of those teenagers and young adults who always wanted to be in a different stage than where I found myself. I wanted to be grown, married, and have children. I was convinced that when I became a wife and mother, those feelings of longing would be fulfilled. My life experience has taught me that every new stage of life comes with new questions and the opportunity to have even more longing. Different is more than OK. God has created us with an array of personalities, gifts, and various appearances.
I struggle with staying at peace with whom God made me. Ten years ago, when I wrote a book about rest and openly wrestled with being disappointed with God, I took the next step toward being at peace in my skin. I don’t always stay at peace, but I do find that if I am disciplined to be vulnerable and stay real with others and myself, I find the peace that passes understanding.
Kathleen: To sustain ourselves in our 24/7 world, we must have boundaries. But often, we don’t draw the right boundary lines. What’s a boundary you struggle with within your work and life?
Andrea: I am a recovering people pleaser. I find that when my boundaries go down, my people-pleasing increases. I am a lifelong student of John Townsend and Henry Cloud’s book: Boundaries. I discovered the book when I was at a very low point as a pastor’s wife. I found myself sad, lonely, and resentful. This book taught me the difference between walling myself off and having a fence with a gate. The key was that I had control of the gate; I could open it or close it. The Boundaries book reviews each of the main areas of your life – family, marriage, kids, work, church, and family of origin. I often use the book as a reference going back to it to read just one chapter on whatever area of my life I am struggling in.
The biggest lesson I have learned is that when I let my guard down and allow what I think other people want to overtake me, I need to pause and adjust my boundaries. In the past, I would think: “If she would just do this, then I could feel this.” Learning how to hold healthy boundaries has freed me from the thought that someone else can make me feel a certain way. It has caused me to focus on what I can control and what I am responsible for.
I am currently watching the TV series, The Chosen for the third time. One of the things that I am struck with by Jesus’ example in that depiction is that He spent time with God and followed what God wanted, not what others wanted. He paused regularly to seek what His Father had for Him. I wish I could say I do this all the time. I don’t. But I’m a work in progress, always striving to notice how I feel and how I am behaving and stopping to invite God to inform me who I am!
Kathleen: God tells us to GO and be an influence in the world. Why is this important?
Seven years ago, I had a wild experience. It was following our movie Catching Faith which featured a Bible Study I had written called The Elijah Project. I’ll never forget the Saturday morning. My husband was making pancakes, our family was all home, and the kitchen was full of life and noise. My phone rang with a number from Florida. I don’t usually answer numbers I don’t know, but this time I did. It was almost like I had lost myself in the excitement of our home and just spontaneously answered. The voice on the other end of the phone spoke to me in broken English. I removed myself from the crazy family breakfast and sat on our landing while the words poured out. Ingrid Duarte had been brought back to spiritual life through the Bible Study I had written. She was asking permission to translate the workbook into Spanish and take it on her next trip to Cuba. Two months later, this woman, who I still had not met, texted me a picture of her luggage with the Elijah Project workbooks stacked inside. That day, I shared the news with my husband, and he said: “They are going to ask you to go to Cuba.” To which I responded: “No, I don’t speak Spanish.” A little later that same week, Ingrid sent me another text message; this one was a video of thirty women holding up their Elijah Project workbooks and saying: “Gracias, Andrea.” When Ingrid returned from her trip, she invited me to go to Cuba. Three months later, I met Ingrid and her husband at Fort Lauderdale airport, and we flew together to the nation of Cuba. A 45-minute flight from the United States, where we were met by true physical poverty and rich spiritual health. I told my story to hundreds of people who literally sat on windowsills and rows deep outside the doors. God has been so faithful, and we now have over 500 Elijah Project mentors teaching the Bible study across the country. This story is one of the times in my life when I said YES and then God said GO, and I can’t describe the blessing that has come from this ministry.
Kathleen: I am excited that the Elijah Project Bible Study will be what we will be studying online in our Influence Women’s INtogether Bible Study. I know it will be life changing for those who participate.
Finally…We all impact others’ lives. What’s the one thing you’ve learned about influence?
Andrea: Influence is a BIG word. With the rise of social media, becoming an “influencer” is sought after. For me, I feel it is a heavy weight. As soon as “people” are watching, whether online or off, I immediately get cocky and say something I don’t really believe. The thing I have learned about influence is that it is very important to be wise. My heart’s desire is to use my influence to give God glory, and I don’t mean that in a cheesy or churchy way. I mean that I struggle with a form of pride that relates to “getting credit” for what I do.
When I find myself caught up in getting what’s due to me, I have taken my eyes completely off of God and how He has intended to honor me and chosen to focus on how I want to be seen. Influence is something that should be guarded and treated with great respect. For me, I must put my eyes on Jesus so that He is influencing me first before I am influencing others.