I’ve had this feeling deep down, for the last two or three years. You may know it too – that sneaking suspicion that deep within you there’s something that you just have to do but don’t know how to get it done. I’ve felt it for a while now, that somewhere inside, there’s a stream of words and life demanding to be let loose. It’s grown from a whisper to a shout in my heart, mind and soul as my wife and my friends and my colleagues and even a couple of my bosses have spoken into my life that I have a gift and that those with gifts don’t have the option to keep it to themselves. So in different cadences and tones and with varying levels of impatience but with one voice they’ve all told me to stop talking and start writing.
Despite all the affirmation and encouragement and these friends trying to speak some sort of divine calling into my life, I haven’t been able to move forward. We created a home office with inspirational prints. I named writing as one of my boss-mandated professional goals. And I made a list of things to write about. No matter what I tried or what I did, nothing seemed to be enough to help me get over the hump and become brave enough to begin putting what I was thinking about, dreaming for, and believing in out there.
In the midst of all this, of feeling like a failure and like someone who might always talk about writing but never do it, I received a gift. Some folks at church surprised me with some money that allowed me to attend a writing workshop in Laguna Beach. Tough trip I know, but some one has to do it! So, off to The O.C. I went, with a list of goals I hoped to get out of the experience – a chance to stand in the Pacific Ocean, not turning blond while there and being called L.C., and avoiding being outed as a fraud in a group of real writers. But truthfully what I really wanted, what I needed more than anything else, was something, anything that could help me get out of my own way and help me start creating by liberating my words from the prison of my head and onto the screen.
And I can say it was a gift of a weekend, learning from Cathleen Falsani while hanging out with another faithful writer with beautiful and heart-wrenching stories, spending Sunday morning at a church with a Jeff Lebowski-doppelgänger leading worship, feeling the Cloud of Witnesses cheering us on in the sun at Capistrano, and listening to my life long enough to name and give thanks for themes of grace that have run through it from a largely idyllic childhood through the craziness of family, church and life in the present.
But more than anything, I am thrilled to report that I got what I came for. While basking in the sun and surf of paradise, what I was finally able to name, to say aloud, to my new friends and on paper in my journal was this: the problem isn’t my schedule, it isn’t location and it isn’t even the real fear of hurting people with my words. The biggest obstacle in all of this, the thing that has prevented me from sharing out of the abundance of God’s gift, in my life, has been that I didn’t have everything figured out.
I couldn’t write, I’ve been stuck, because I didn’t know how it was all going to end. I couldn’t project the end, couldn’t name what the final product would look like or even what would be in it. I couldn’t foresee my polished voice. I didn’t have a completed brand or a permanent platform. I didn’t know if I had to write like the people who inspire and who feed me – people like Sarah Bessey or Jonathan Martin or Nick Hornby or even Eugene Peterson – or whether maybe it might be OK, and even necessary, to write like someone new or different or, God forbid, even write with a style and a voice that is as unique as the way God has created me. And because I didn’t have a plan, because I didn’t have the puzzle solved before I opened the box, I walked around gloomy, feeling like a failure with lots of empty pages, plenty of posts that never got written, and the overwhelming sense that I was squandering one of God’s precious gifts.
And so after several paragraphs, here’s the most important thing I learned in Laguna – it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be written. I’ve been getting in my own way because I’ve been getting ahead of myself. Those things I’ve been worried about, those things that have blocked out any room for creativity and made me feel less than who I am created to be – the truth is they aren’t important right now.
What is important right now is to write, to start writing and to keep writing. Because whether I have 500 posts or five, I am a writer and writers write. We might not know what we’re trying to accomplish, we might not know what the finished product is going to be, we just know that for some reason, often unbeknownst to us, we’ve been created this way, to do this, and we just need to put it out there and see if it helps anyone else while it is helping us. And if I write enough, I’ll get the answers to those questions when I need them.
This, of course, isn’t just a truth for writers. This experience of getting stuck and getting blocked and the self-loathing that comes with it is not foreign to people trying to live with faith. We think that we’ve got to have it all figured out and know the answer to every objection or question that someone could possibly ask. So until we do we keep our distance because we can’t bear possibly getting closer. We don’t know how to reconcile our experiences with the way some people quote and seem to demand we understand the Bible. So we pull away. Or there’s the thing, that one thing in our past that haunts us and keeps us up at night that feels so bad, so deep, that we can’t fathom how God could possibly still have room for us. And so we keep believing those promises we hear about at church are too good to be true even though we desperately want it to be so. This prayer thing that people talk about seems so mysterious and so other-worldly and so different than our attempts at wall-staring with God. And so we convince ourselves that we’re not good enough to be with the good people on Sunday mornings. And so we make it so.
It doesn’t have to be this way, it can’t be this way. One of the many truths we experience in the Bible is that we don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t need to know the solution to the puzzle of every objection or question about how God has worked, is working, or will work. When we struggle and when we question and when we feel like a failure and like we’ll never be good enough for the church, much less God, God wants more than anything for us not to give up, but to keep going and to keep trying and to keep following and to keep searching and keep finding. It does’t have to be perfect, it just has to be lived.
That’s because with God it is much more about come and see than prove to me every thing you know to be true. And that’s the truth I need. Whether its as simple as putting our ideas to paper or as terrifying as putting more of our life in God’s hands, I’m reminded of the words of a dear friend when he prayed over my writing and my life a few months ago – “Stop talking. Just Do It! And let us see how good it can be.”