There was a moment in my childhood of great delight. A twirling metal gate led to a grassy place against a cool, bright pond. In that quiet place I played and swatted mosquitoes and afterward ran to the kitchen for lunch, but I had a sense that my experience was unfinished. I felt an ache in my chest that, like the game of Hot or Cold, burned more savagely the closer I came to pen and paper. And only when I had captured it in writing, re-experiencing and in some ways truly experiencing it for the first time, did the ache finally leave me. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates, but I would go one step further and suggest that the unexamined life has not been truly lived.
Perhaps some people have the mental prowess to do this kind of examination in their heads, but I can’t manage it without the help of writing. Only in writing have I found the tools necessary to work over my life like a lump of clay until I’ve found the shape of truth within. As I struggle to find the words to describe my own experience, I also find the meaning being offered in the reflection of pine trees on water, in an old woman’s casual remark, in the inconspicuous way that my future husband arrived on the doorstep of my life. Where were these things in the moment? I did not see them. But when I stand back and observe my own life through writing, the Spirit whispers to me and shows me the traces of his movements in my life, the evidence of His intent. The meaning of it sets within me, internalized and bonded with myself. My life and I become one.
And then sometimes I’m visited with a miracle—an idea! I know the idea comes from my life, from some truth discovered there, but now the idea begs me to let it form apart from me and into something more true. As I slave away at this story or poem or argument, the idea seems to be both of me and yet beyond me. Like Eve, taken from me and yet seemingly formed by another’s hands. I offer myself to the work, until it is fully formed.
To have an idea is one thing, to write it down is another. And then you must wait and let the idea grow, and you must read in order to offer it other, better ideas as nourishment. And you take up the idea again and rewrite and rewrite until it is actually worth reading. The idea itself is precious, worthy to be given not just life on a page, but also beauty and order. This is when writing is most like service. To let the idea become its most true self—indeed, to let it begin to resemble Truth itself—is a labor of love.
It is here—once I’ve made something I’m proud of—that I’m most tempted to quit. But God always blesses in order to be a blessing. As much as I’d like to keep it hidden and safe in a drawer, this thing that I’ve made must be given away. At the very least I must ask myself if it might be able to help someone. A created thing always has a duty of its own.
While this is the riskiest and most frightening stage of writing, it is also the place where it all comes together for me. It’s when writing becomes more than journal entries, more than a craft and my lone artistic expression. For when I see another human being read what I have written and be changed because of it, even if only in a small way, the whole thing materializes in front of me and I see what it is all about. My life, the way God is shaping it, the desire to write and the leading of the Spirit in what to write, all of this has a purpose beyond me and is being used in God’s mysterious and wonderful plan of redeeming all things. This is when writing becomes calling.
And so these are the reasons I write: to examine my life, to create, and to bless the world. In other words, to live.