I only wrote a few essays for Mr. Palm, even though he assigned one a week for the entire school year. Somewhere in that first month or so I reached the pinnacle of sixth grade writing which, curiously enough, meant I wasn’t asked to do it anymore. He handed me his blue grade book and my classmates’ work instead, a stack of lined pages with the tattered edges torn from a spiral notebook.
It wouldn’t be the last time I started, and stopped, writing.
A few weeks ago, a handful of writers sat in a circle on deep leather sofas in a deeper canyon and shared their writing journeys so far and hopes far beyond. This introduction to a workshop became the workshop itself as we probed and mined with one another from those same depths. When the conversation reached my seat, I dug into my own subterranean grotto, attempting to put a pretty face on self-sabotage.
As a journalism major in the university, I crafted my plans on paper and, I thought, in stone. That goal which was most visible, and about which I blathered on most endlessly, was a syndicated column by age 40. A book on the NY Times list would have been a sweet companion.
But alas, the best laid plans.
In the middle of those four-plus years of college I experienced my second rebirth on the muddy banks of the Rio de la Plata, and suddenly all that mattered was finding back that majority portion of my heart that had been spirited away into the barrios of a Latino landscape, a place that seemed as much like home as home.
I had to get back. There was a really big thing to do.
Back on campus, a fear of losing the dream consumed me. I was immersed in a campus ministry whose stated goal was the fulfillment of the Great Commission in our generation. With this burden bound up on our shoulders along with our book bags, there could be no luxury of small things.
We puffed out our chests, reminding ourselves that we marched on pace to change the world. Over dinner in a noisy cafeteria I still hear the voice of one dismissing another’s hesitation over what seemed our monomaniacal demeanor.
Perhaps it was my own voice. I don’t remember.
We’re movers and shakers. If you’re uncomfortable, well, there’s always InterVarsity down the hall.
We listened to gloomy post-graduation statistics and swore oaths to ourselves it would never happen to us. We would not be counted amongst those who settled out and left the work to another generation. The unspoken — perhaps unintended — but inescapable message: vocational ministry or abandon the cause.
An anxiety scraped inside my belly that once I joined the ranks of the “real world” I’d fail to live out my faith and worse, grow complacent in middle-American suburbia, content to live a quiet life and just to get the kids to Sunday School. I feared I’d never return to my second home. I would do nothing of consequence.
As my junior year began, I marched to the administrar’s office and declared a new major, deliberately assuming a course of study that guaranteed a solid liberal arts education but no marketable skills. I fell on the sword of my own writing dreams.
There was only one way to effectively serve God, only one thing to which He had called me.
A career that satisfied me could only get in the way.
For all practical purposes, I stopped writing that day. Oh, I’d finish the book I started, yes. It would fall into the hands of a select few, only the half dozen copies I could afford to bind at Kinkos.
And then, I would be done.
It was as though I sat at Mr. Palm’s desk again, reading the work of others from a safe distance.
I’m lounging now on the sofa of my comfortable home in middle-America where, admittedly, I don’t always get my kids to Sunday School. My careful safeguards surely did not work.
And I write again.
But I don’t know why.
I mean, I know how it started. But I don’t know why. I have no writing goals or passion that spur me on. I have no grand design. I’d be lying if I said that I only write to honor God, though I imagine He’d like it better if I did. And I don’t think I can look you in the eye and say it’s something I do just to minister to someone else.
I’m just not that pure and righteous.
I write because I write. I don’t know how not to.
It’s restorative. To me.
It’s not the big thing it was supposed to be.
Small things. I’m not sure they’re the luxury I once thought.
Must every goal be audacious? Does Kingdom living require pushing the limits of possibility every single time? Is it maybe possible He didn’t ask us all to do a big thing? Maybe He asks some of us to get out of bed and be faithful today?
I’m not going to change the world.
Moving and shaking, they make me tired. And a little nauseated.
Is standing still really going backwards?
Once upon a time, I’d call this kind of thinking crazy talk.
You know what? I want to wind up each day loving Jesus a little more than I did the day before.
Call that settling if you need to. But, at least today, I’m convinced it’s small things that do a better job getting me there.
Photo: view from the road last week Related: The Big Thing