I love writing. Nothing exhilarates the mind like the unexpected striking of a new idea. New ideas bring a powerful emotional/intellectual adrenalin rush, and I love to feel the eagerness to get a thought down on paper before it slips away, the quick abbreviated words on note cards, the illegible outlines on napkins. Good ideas are shy, and like quickly flitting birds in the thick underbrush, they are easily overlooked, sometimes sensed more than seen, and eager to escape unnoticed altogether. It takes keen perception and quick action to catch sight of them when we suspect their presence. And I love the generative process, the creative exercise of taking loose ideas, unfinished ideas, and little broken pieces of ideas and moving them around on paper, trying to get a tapestry to take shape, waiting and working to see what will appear. I enjoy the times when fingers fly effortlessly across the keyboard, hardly able to keep up with thoughts flowing smoothly and unbidden from who knows where into conscious thought. I even enjoy the ponderous times of pulling, pushing, and pumping to get something to surface from the depths. I like the rewriting, copy editing, correcting, starting over, and cutting out. There’s an unmatched sense of accomplishment that comes with crisp prose, smoothly flowing phrases, and appealing metaphors. Finally, and perhaps most of all, I love the sense of contribution and achievement that comes with the finished work, the positive responses from readers, the nodding heads that indicate understanding, the affirming smiles, and the “aha” moments that people experience and report back to me. Then I know that my writing matters; it was worth it. I love writing.
I hate writing. Nothing so oppresses me as having a deadline for an article or a blog or a chapter, and having absolutely nothing to say. I abhor the convicting quality of a blank computer screen reminding me of my own emptiness, my lack of creativity, my failings at innovation or improvisation. I hate useless and silly ideas that intrude uninvited into my mind when I’ve got practical stuff to do, and I resent the way untamed thoughts distract me from my job and steal away my leisure. These unbidden ideas make me record their presence on messy note cards that I despise having to carry around, and they even push me into scribbling outlines on paper napkins. I hate the task of trying and trying again to organize unrelated thoughts on a page as if attempting to force incompatible people into marriages that can’t possibly work. Then there are the times of “projectile writing,” when stuff just keeps pouring out of me and onto the computer screen, all of it embarrassingly messy. And I detest the times when nothing comes at all, no matter how hard I try. Nothing is so disheartening as facing the hard reality that I can’t write today, that never again will I have a decent idea worth recording. I hate it when my metaphors get totally mixed and the emptiness of the well finally dawns on me and hits me in the head! And nothing pains me more than the awareness that people read my stuff, and they see how lame my ideas are. Even when they say good things, I’m sure they’re just being nice, and I know they are talking behind my back about what they really believe. Then I know that my writing is not worth the trouble, and I should quit forever. I hate writing.
Before you call a doc for me, let me suggest that the two paragraphs above are not the signs of a totally schizophrenic personality. Rather they capture the paradox of most creative undertakings. These paragraphs express the way I feel about many of the most important endeavors, tasks, duties, and joys of my life. I love preparing sermons, and I also find it incredibly difficult at times. I enjoy visiting the sick, working on mission teams, preparing for meetings, presenting new ideas, and I also detect many internal resistances to doing those things. I love working with people, and I also find it draining and hard to do. I adore my children and I also want to strangle them. Nothing refreshes me like a nice long evening run, and yet just the thought seems an oppressive burden.
Paradox means two distinct, opposing ideas that are absurdly contradictory may actually both be true, and our efforts to resolve the inconsistencies may take us down futile paths.
The call of God to us to work for God’s purposes is packed with paradox. Every prompting of the Holy Spirit to make a difference in the lives of people also stimulates internal resistance, doubt, and fear. God asked Moses to return to Egypt to set free a people who were already a part of Moses’ own heart. Moses stuttered out his excuses: “I can’t speak well enough. I’m not worthy. No one will listen to me. Please send someone else.” He both wanted to do it, and hated to do it. His excuses and rejections were rehearsals and preparations for his eventual and inevitable acquiescence to the call. Moses was exhilarated as well as overwhelmed; enlivened by the possibilities as well as defeated by his own sense of inadequacy. Did he want to go, or did he not want to go? Both were true. Paradox. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”
I know physicians who love the complexity, the challenge, the puzzling through and figuring out that leads to healing and relief from suffering. They feel drawn to help others; they love people and yearn to help. They also feel repelled by the deep anguish of suffering, of seeing unbelievable horror at times. One doctor who works on a children’s cancer ward told me she can hardly make herself go to work in the morning, but then she loves what she does so much that she can hardly come home from it at night. She loves it. She hates it. It’s a calling of God.
Ministry is hard work. Whether you are an ordained pastor or a church volunteer, you know that offering ministry is a sweet passion as well as an exhausting duty. Leading youth, singing with a praise band, serving on the Trustees, visiting the elderly, working on a mission team–these give us life and also drive us crazy.
That’s OK. Following Christ involves giving in order to receive, loving those we hate, listening for wisdom from little children, praying for those who persecute us, losing in order to gain, and a whole host of other paradoxes, including dying in order to live.
Give God thanks for the paradoxes, and for the strength and motivation to show up and get to work nevertheless.
Yours in Christ,