About two decades ago, I was a book editor at Pacific Press Publishing Association in Boise, Idaho. One of the books that came through for my consideration was a manuscript from my friend Clifford Goldstein entitled “Best Seller.” In it, he tells of his desire to become a world-famous novelist and how he struggled for several years on what he considered his magnum opus, a novel of such depth and foresight that it would shake the literary world. In the end, he burned the manuscript, realizing that his life as a Christian would follow a different path.
I bring this up because my Narrative Writing class has been reading the classic book on writing: “The Courage to Write” by Ralph Keyes. The first two chapters keyed (no pun intended) in on overcoming the fear of writing on several levels. The third and fourth chapters talk about the commitment to the art of writing necessary to become the writer you want to become. Specifically, he talks about writing about intimate details of your life and the lives you are close to in order to provide readers with credible depth in your writing. In fact, he goes so far as to say that if a writer is called to choose between being true to the art of writing and the respect of those we love, the wise choice is to choose the art over relationships.
He uses the example of Pat Conroy, the author of “The Great Santini,” “The Prince of Tides,” and many other wonderful books. By committing to the art and writing about those who were close to him, he sacrifices relationships, surrendered a normal life away from writing, and committed to the art of writing above all.
In contrast, church service today was the last day of student week of prayer at Southwestern Adventist University. Student Chaplain Angie Boothby, our preacher today, read from Luke 9:23 and 24: “Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.'”
I consider myself a writer. I also consider myself a Christian. The question that arises is, are the commitments necessary to succeed in both these areas likely to conflict? For me, as committed as I am to writing, it means nothing to me if I have to choose between writing and my relationship with God. And yet, perhaps I won’t have to choose.
The book I started reading yesterday opens with a quote from the Greek General Xenophon: “I have also remarked, fellow-soldiers, that such are as eager in the field to preserve their lives at any rate, for the most part perish wretchedly and ignominiously, while I see that such as reflect that death is to all men common and inevitable, and seek in battle only to fall with honor, more frequently, for whatever cause, arrive at old age, and live, while they live, with greater happiness.”
Going back to the Bible, perhaps the same is said in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” I especially like this verse for two reasons. First, it is saying we shouldn’t do anything halfway, but if we’re going to do it–whether it is writing or being a Christian–we should commit wholeheartedly. Second, we need to keep our priorities straight. Are we writers to bring fame and fortune to ourselves, or because we want to bring glory to God?
I came to a crossroads in my life during this same tenure as a Pacific Press editor. I had committed wholeheartedly to a project, pouring my creative energy, and blood, sweat and tears for two years. And when I least expected it, the project was taken away from me. I prayed for a long time, “Why, God? Why would you let this happen?” And the answer came back to me: “It’s not what you do that’s important; it’s who you are.”
And so I end with my conclusion in all this. Who I am, in the end, is a God-fearing Christian, committed to doing what God wants of me, which at this point is simply to follow Him. What I do, which is less important, is write. That is God’s gift to me, and just like the Parable of the Talents, it’s my gift back to Him.
I’m thankful for the ability to write. But I am more thankful that He has made me who I am.