I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.
I’m thinking of when you have something important to do, to say, but become paralysed by your uncertainty about your ability — or your right — to do it, to even begin! What if what I have to say is not actually so important, if it is, in fact, foolishness?
This seems to be something writers experience a lot. Other jobs I have had — well, they let me continue on in a haze when I’m feeling uncertain. I’ve done banking through break-ups, pruned grapevines in the depth of winter and depression, scanned grocery item after grocery item and mouthed words of welcome even as I wondered, who am I, really? What value is there in my life? But with the job of writing –unless I am writing about the actual feelings of pain, uncertainty, doubt — I cannot just keep going through the difficult feelings. These things can grow so large as to become overwhelming cruel ‘voices’ that absorb all my attention, and writing is, at heart, a task of focused attention — even ‘foolish’ first drafts of writing.
This week I had guidance on this problem from two sources. One was a prolific writer of theology from the second century — Augustine of Hippo. Augustine writes to his childhood friend Nebridius with joy:
I’m delighted to have you thank me when I don’t hide anything that comes into my mind from you. I am delighted I can please you in this way. Whom can I more freely share my foolishness with than someone I can’t displease?
I immediately shared this quote with my good friend, also writing a book. I was thinking, to be honest, that my friend could think of me as a reader while writing, because I could not be displeased, I’m already ‘all in’ for this important project. The cruel voices that taunt the writer as he or she writes are indeed formidable, and they tell us we have nothing to say and are not worthy to write and no one will read us anyway. But these voices fade in to nothing if there is even just one reader who wants to hear what we have to say, however ‘foolish’ it appears. Augustine found this person in Nebridius. I have experienced this with some of my dear colleagues and friends as I have finished difficult pieces. As friends and readers, we can say for each other ‘be gone cruel voices, we don’t need you here’.
Of course, these voices are not just present for writers. Many people experience cruel voices telling them they are worthless. What I was reminded of through my friend this week is that we do not only have to rely on our friends and ‘readers’ to help us say ‘be gone!’ to those cruel voices.
I recieved the prose, you see, and it was utterly beautiful and compelling. I couldn’t help but comment — is this the same person? Choked up, my friend confessed the secret of this clarity of voice and purpose. The voices were quieted, this time — by the power of prayer. Prayer before writing might bring to mind The Reader, The Faithful Reader, more faithful than Nebridius or I. This was the second lesson for me.
The faithful audience and reader of all our lives is the One who gave life to all, gave up life on the cross, and breathes life in and through us. This One is delighted to hear what we have to say, to see our task through to completion, because this is The One who gave us that task in the first place — whether this task is writing, teaching, parenting, serving, ministering, caring, public speaking, or any other task in which we have to face fear and doubt.
I was reminded this week of what our lives might be like when the cruel voices fade into insignificance in the light of One whom we cannot displease with our efforts at speaking and living the truth given to us: Compelling, beautiful, clear in voice and purpose.
What do you have that is difficult to do at this time? What might the result of your task be if your only audience is God, a God of love and compassion who takes joy in your ‘foolishness’? This week, dear readers, think of your Dear Reader, your Audience of One, the One who looks on your ‘foolishness’ only with the greatest delight. Those cruel voices may indeed be gone, or at least, be not as overwhelming.
This post was originally published on The Daily Marinade: Contemplation for Progressive Christians.