I live under a constant cloud of the “shoulds and oughts.”
I wonder if other writers are like that. Maybe not. Maybe I just have a larger guilt complex than most. Maybe my family did too good a job of instilling that good ole’ Protestant work ethic into me. Maybe my grandmother caught me reading behind the couch one too many times and fabricated work for me to do to keep me busy. Maybe I compare myself to best-selling authors who chunk out two full length novels a year.
Whatever it is, I confess, I find myself berating myself for not having done enough.
- I should have posted another blog this week.
- I spent too much time on blogs and didn’t get anything accomplished on my novel.
- I should have written for three hours yesterday instead of only two.
- I should have spent that third hour writing instead of talking with friends about . . . wait a minute, wasn’t there some counseling and prayer in there? Didn’t they encourage me in my faith?
As creatives, what is it that God wants us to do? It’s easy focus only on the writing. After all, God gave us the gift of word construction and we need to devote ourselves exclusively to that, right? Then why do I feel pulled in two different directions when it seems He asks me to do something that is not writing related?
I’m realizing God’s gift is more far-reaching and complex than the expectation to hunch over a computer all day and crunch words. There is a recurring theme to His daily calls. I think I can sum it up in one word:
Someone I interviewed for an article nailed the term for me. I lamented to Ryan that I hadn’t done more to support their ministry. I didn’t have money to give. I hadn’t been on one of their short term mission crews. He cut me short. “Those are our gifts,” he told me. “Your job is to tell the story.”
It was a defining moment. All my life, I have loved to tell stories, whether Bible stories to children, humorous stories of my latest escapade as a mom, visually impaired person, or minister’s wife, and positive stories of people paying grace forward as you often see on Grace on Parade. I love it! My guilt eased when I realized that my gift of telling the story falls into one of three categories.
Create the story. That’s my fiction writing. The goal of inspirational fiction is not merely to present a compelling story sans the foul language, explicit sex scenes, and gory crime scenes. A good inspirational story, in my humble opinion, does more than portray how the girl caught the guy or how the good guy caught the bad guy. While those elements exist, inspirational fiction shows how people catch the love of God and model that love and grace to others. We show through living examples how our characters survive and sojourn in a fallen world. We put our Christ following characters into really bad situations and describe the decisions they would make as they confront their own sinfulness and the sinfulness of those around them. We make them struggle, fall, rise again, and get better at this thing called faith. We attempt to do it without ever preaching a sermon.
There are many folks out there who are asking, “How do you make this Christianity thing real? What difference does it make on a day-to-day basis?” Christian fiction shows the reader how it’s done in both modern, historical, and made-up (fantasy) worlds.
It’s fun! I have loved dumping a Christian visually impaired girl in the middle of a shopping mall shooting, a Christian preacher on the Oregon Trail with two single women from a false religion, and the oldest daughter in a family of seven girls trying to do the right thing in the middle of the 1937 Ohio River flood while her next oldest sister steals her boyfriend at the moment another sister is plucked out of raging flood waters. My creativity revs into high gear as I consider the “what-if” possibilities.
Share the story. As much as I have come to love fiction writing, my deepest pleasure has come from those times I share real life stories. Honestly, I get my inspiration and leads for those stories when I step away from my desk and mingle with people. I’ve had the blessing of writing about a woman with gnarled arthritic hands who made dozens of cookies for a campus ministry outreach. There was the deaf African American girl who so desperately wanted to talk to others that she held up signs to patrons at a local library with the words “Would you like to learn sign language?’ Then there was the ongoing story of the ministry that rebuilds home for the destitute after a tornado has ripped away all that they have and they have no resources for starting life over again. I observe a restaurant manager praising his team of servers to customers and restaurant servers going ten extra miles to be kind to a 92 year old man with Alzheimer’s. Sometimes I become vulnerable and share my own struggle over worry like the time my daughter was evacuated from Moscow when carbon monoxide levels from summer heat and surrounding peat fires hit lethal levels.
A lot of good is happening in our world. God is moving among His people. His grace, power, forgiveness, and love is not absent. With a mainline news media drunk on twisted truth and sensational stories—anything to sell a newspaper—our world needs the good stories, the stories that tell how God has not abandoned His people.
Live the story. On those days I’m not writing, I’m still proclaiming. That was my big “Ah ha!” moment. If my goal is to proclaim the goodness and kindness of Jesus Christ, then I can do that by inserting myself into life events. Just like I do with my fictional characters, I let God put me in His what-if scenarios so I can demonstrate how a Christian lives when facing a sin-infested world.
This hit me not so long ago. My eyesight was rapidly improving after retina surgery and I was on high speed, ready to plunge back into my neglected writing. I finally got the coveted prescription for a new lens and took it to my optician. Since I only needed one lens replaced, I didn’t need a new set of glasses. In order to get the lens right, however, the optician needed my current pair of glasses. I resorted to an old pair which set my visual acuity back by several we. The Thursday of that week, I’d had enough sitting around. I jittered around my kitchen like I had ants in my pants. The guilt complex reared its ugly head. IIf i couldn’t write, how was I supposed to spend my day?
Finally I got smart and asked God, “What do you want me to do today?” I should have asked that a long time ago. (Are you counting how many times I’ve use the word “should?”) Three situations quickly unfolded. An elderly couple was facing a tough time. A family had just returned from the hospital with their new baby. Our local Lions’ Club needed workers to serve a fundraising meal at the County Fair. As I changed clothes before delivering meals to the two families and going to the Fair, the concept of “living the story’ hit me.
If I were writing a story, wouldn’t I take extra care to tell the story the best way I could? Wouldn’t I think through my characters’ actions, words, and attitudes? Wouldn’t I present the story in a way that would relate to my audience?
If my job on that hot Thursday evening was to be a proclaimer, to live the story, then I needed to take as much care in presenting my story as I would as if I were sitting at my computer. If I wanted people to see Christ in me, the hope of glory, Friend of sinners, Father of the Fatherless, and Rescuer of the downtrodden, wouldn’t I want to be an ambassador of all those qualities my Lord represents?
“Lord, help me to do more than hand out food today,” I prayed as I left the house. “Let Your Holy Spirit live through me to help me live the story in a way that will best showcase You. Give me moments that will magnify You and your grace even more.”
He did! I had the chance to pray with the elderly couple, play with the new baby’s older brother, and shared with the woman next to me in the serving line how God brought healing to my eyesight.
Really. I should stop fretting about wasting time away from my computer and see it as the third prong of my proclaiming ministry. And I suppose I should get back to work on my novel.
Whoops. Did I just use the word “should” again? Twice? I shouldn’t do that.