I used to think writers wrote to tell people something. That somehow we all had something perfect we’d learned, and now it was our job to share it with the world.
Talk about pressure.
And if you’re anything like me, you don’t do well with pressure. I’m generally a pretty laid-back person, but once I get it in my head that I’m not being as ‘good’ (aka intentional, skillful, efficient, etc.) as I should be, things can get wild in a hurry. I believe the ugly word for that is ‘perfectionism’.
Wiser people than I have written many wise words on perfectionism already. I just want to say a few words about the mentality of needing to have all the answers.
When I write with the single-minded assumption that I’m teaching a lesson, writing becomes a burden. Trying to wrestle all the different threads of the story into straight lines that all lead up to the one point I want to make and provide all the answers is like tackling a greased pig. It leaves me hot, frustrated, and ultimately unsuccessful.
Several grand crashes after I first tried writing specifically to make a statement, I decided it was time to re-evaluate.
Three simple but invaluable lessons came from that re-evaluation.
#1: Don’t Answer— Ask
There are only two fields I know of whose strength is their logical clarity and ability to convince with facts: sermon writing and law writing.
Why not fiction-writing? It’s simply this: Christian excellence is different for a story than it is for a sermon. The purpose of a sermon is to instruct and convict. The purpose of a story is to touch and convict.
Both sermons and stories can provide answers to difficult questions. But instruction is the highest calling of a sermon, while the highest calling of a story is to touch someone’s heart and leave it open to the truth. A story does this by asking more than it answers. We care about stories more than we care about sermons, which means we will take the trouble to find the answers for the sake of the story we love.
Of course, the best stories do teach some profound lessons. But that isn’t their primary purpose. Good news folks. We don’t all have to be as wise as pastors to excel at our calling. Even a timid girl of nineteen who doesn’t have a ton of experience with much of anything (me) can write an excellent story.
No matter our youth and foolishness, we all have one enormous asset: we’re fallible humans writing to other fallible humans. The same questions that intrigue us, convict us, and make us think will do the same to them.
We have an excellent example of this in Christ. He used both sermons (Matthew 5) and stories (Matthew 13) as he taught. Study the stories. They ask a lot more than they answer.
#2: Writing is Worship
Before we go running off into the blue declaring we now know all the answers about what writing should be, we need to take a step back from it all and ask ourselves one thing: what is writing first and foremost?
Sure, it’s a lot of things in a lot of ways. Ministry, a mission, a passion, a dream. We all have our goals and reasons. But writing, before any of these other completely worthy things, should always be first and foremost about our Creator.
Because of that, the focus is never how deeply you convict through your work, even though that’s important. The focus is how entirely your work is a devoted adoration and worship of the Creator who gave you the gift. Just between you and Him.
We’re not the preachers, remember? We don’t pound out sermons from the inspired pulpit of God’s eternal wisdom. We are the poets, blindly and humbly recording as honestly as we can, and content to know that God has the answers to the questions we keep asking.
When the biggest focus isn’t on having the answers but on adoring the God who does, the answers come a whole lot easier.
#3: We Are Only the Signpost
Much as I’d like to believe I’ll one day be as wise as God is and have all the answers, the simple fact of life is that I’m a human and so I won’t.
The thing is, our favorite stories are the ones that teach and inspire us, and as new writers yearning after depth and excellence we all want to write that kind of story. I made the mistake of assuming that meant becoming as wise as all the wisdom those books imparted to me, then learning how to lay it all out precisely and beautifully. Not only is that humanly impossible, but since none of the wisdom is mine in the first place, it’s also more than a little arrogant.
What does it mean to be a signpost? We stand on the doorstep of the King’s palace and call to the people as they pass, using our stories to paint word-pictures of the glories within. When they stop and ask us for answers, all we have to do is step aside and open the door. ‘By the grace of my King I know a little. If you want better answers, ask Him yourself.’
The pride that fuels our calling should not come from our skill, or our wisdom, but rather from gratitude to Christ that we have been thought worthy to be signposts for Him.
Your Wisdom Doesn’t Matter
Your knowledge is a thimbleful of dust in the vast desert of God’s eternal wisdom. You cannot help Him— only serve Him. One humble and devoted signpost is of more use to Him than the wisest philosopher who leans only on his own strength.
Ultimately, none of it is in our hands, and for that we should be infinitely glad.
Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!