It is true, Christ came to save souls. But he also came to reverse the fall initiated by Adam and Eve. He came to change our relationships, to change the way we work, and to change the structure of society. The Christian’s calling is to continue what Christ began. This is your vocation as a writer. We get the word “vocation” from the Latin word vocare which means “to call.” Some people see their work as no more than a job that pays the bill, but because Christians serve Jesus, their work is a divine call to something more than just a job–no matter the job. Let me be clear that one’s vocation is not the entirety of one’s life, but an extension of it. Do not get preoccupied with your vocation and neglect your life. Christ attaches a spiritual importance to every task we perform and because writing has a broader cultural impact, the spiritual importance is compounded. For this reason, aim your writing at the bright and luminous. Give your readers a taste of the homeland for which they have longed without knowing. Help them find the place where all the beauty came from–their motherland, the place where they ought to have been born, the longed for home (C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy). Help them hear the voice of the hidden waterfall (T.S. Eliot) singing their name.
Whatever your calling, it should serve the relationships and their accompanying duties that constitute life. This reality is as much true for a teacher or doctor or nanny as it is for a writer. Live life and write along the way. Your writing will suffer if you make it the main thing, but it will remain fresh and meaningful and creative if you let it serve the relationships around you.
If your life aim is communion with God, then your writing will evince a heart seeking God’s manifestations while in the suburbs of heaven. You are not one of those writers who tries to find a message and whose writing is doomed to pedantry or pedestrian expression. Like all the best writers, your heart is a spring in the wilderness that bubbles up all day long because your heart “overflows with a pleasant theme” (Psalm 45:1). I want you to know that this fact gives me great joy and encouragement because many people have been refreshed by you. For this reason, I urge you to keep things simple: focus on your duty to God and to your craft. Then, and only then, will your work weave culture and influence others in a lasting way.
The Christian writer holds a unique position in society and, like any other in a leadership position, her work has the potential for great influence. In the Christian economy, all leadership posts are servant positions, serving God and others faithfully; so is it with the Christian writer. Granted her gifts and ideas by an intentional God, she stewards them for the benefit of others in the name of God. Even children’s book writers must not forget the great influence they leverage as servant leaders who shape the imagination at a tender age, dictating how those little souls see everything down the road. As bends the sapling, so grows the tree. Be gardener. Be arborist.
Find great encouragement in the fact that your Lord was the first wordsmith, the first craftsman, the first artist, who stretched out the heavens and spread out the earth and peopled it with walking and talking parables. He breathed life into his characters and gave them souls for which they are responsible. And he has chosen stuttering and staggering artists to continue his work. You are a brush in his hands, beautifying the world the best you can. Ask him to speak to you in all the seasons of your life. Seek his voice in the morning and in the evening. Listen for him on dark days and on bright days. Hear him in the storm and in the gentle breeze. He has declared the former things past and new things come. Before the new things spring up, he will tell you of them so that you might see them and say them to a waiting world.
Remember that a writer is a writer all of the time because she was made to be a writer and because she feels the apostle’s dictate to do all things to the glory of God, especially when it comes to writing. The world is full of people careening in the dark. Who will give them back their sun? Perhaps you can have a hand in that redemptive work. Only God knows. Your job is to simply hone your skills as a craftsman and anchor your heart and mind in God’s word. Like Jim Eliot, you are called to give what you cannot keep to gain what you cannot lose. Like the disciples, the deepest source of your hope lies not in your power to grasp faith, but in your being grasped by God himself. This fact is liberating, but the work remains difficult. When you feel fatigue, remember the story of Christ in John 4, when the disciples thought he was probably hungry and tired: they tried to get him to rest and eat, but their efforts were rebuffed. Christ told them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to finish his work.” You too will find yourself well-fed spiritually if you do the will of the one who sent you and called you to work in his fields. You will find energy comes when you need it, especially when the work begins to come into focus.
Although it may feel as though you have been on this creative journey for a long time, you have only just begun. Here at the outset of your steep assent, look to the author and finisher of your faith, the dream weaver, the one who tailor-made this burden of dreams to fit your shoulders. Keep silent before him, still and awake. He will take you by the hand and keep you. He will give you the words you need when you need them. He will equip you to open eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon (Isaiah 42:5-9). Imitate your Lord in all his liberating work. He is surgeon. He is judge. He is liberator, the shackle-breaker. He is the balm of Gilead, a soothing and healing medicine. You are an artist called to continue his work, to be a vehicle for that grace to the bewildered and broken. Strike when you should strike. Cut when you should cut. Soothe when you should soothe. But always remember that your words are the vehicles of divine grace when you are attuned to God. The richness of your work will reflect the richness of your spiritual life. Your writing and your relationship with God are inextricable.
No matter what stage of writing you are in right now, may what you write overflow from a wellspring of gladness, not rage; hope, not despair; quiet confidence, not harried energy. Remember that how you measure others and treat others, so will you be measured and treated; what you give to others will be given to you (Matthew 7:2). Let your life pour forth patience and gladness and gratefulness and strength. Be not compelled by fear, but impelled by love, by service, by generosity.
[painting by Henriette Browne]