I was feeling guilty, sitting on my couch, still wearing my fuzzy pink robe, indulging myself in a bit of light reading. John was out shooting artsy photos. Ben and Lucky were sleeping, Sam and Laney were at school. But I was in the middle of an action sequence. A few pages later, my main characters find respite and I consider answering the call to do something more productive.
I get up, stretch, and walk back to my bedroom. I need a shower but wonder if it it's truly the best use of my time. Shouldn't I be writing something, I ask myself. Then I look at the clock. I'd spent too much time reading and Benjamin would be up soon; I didn't want to have to stop mid-sentence. Of course, that was an all too handy excuse. One of many I'd kept in my pocket the past couple of weeks.
I look at my night stand and see the little book they gave us at the Women's Retreat last weekend. Just some cheesy thirty page booklet, various verses and one paragraph meditations on different names of God. Who writes these things, I wonder. I open it, looking for the verse I'd read during quiet hour at the retreat. Isaiah 26:4, still there, Rock of Ages. Yes, I remember. A good thing for me to keep in mind these days. Recalling how little time I spend actually reading my BIBLE, I pick up The Message from the top of a stack of books.
I sit down, lie back on my bed, close my eyes and try to pray. Waves of sleepiness assault me. Happens to this busy Mom quite a bit. Maybe just a short nap, I think. My eyes pop open to check the clock again, then wander to the book shelves by the closet. CS Lewis, Lewis Nordan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Anne Lammott, Toni Morrison, and Annie Dillard. The letters in their names call out to me.
A million thoughts jumble into my brain: Why do you want to write . . . Aren't you just looking for your own name on a spine . . Man, that would feel so great! But that feeling doesn't last. . . No words last forever, but God's. . . My own great grand children won't remember my name, unless it's in some book. . . These things should not be my motivation. . . Did Lewis only write for publication's sake? Great writing doesn't come from that place.
Heavy lids still the thinking and I drift off to sleep.
Twenty minutes later, I stir. Still quiet in the house. I scoot The Message toward me, finger the pages for my bookmark and open it up. I had started reading from the sermon on the mount a couple of months ago, wanting to hear it in a fresh voice, (just another one of those preacher's kid handicaps.) My place is marked at chapter 13. Around verse 10 there's a break in the action. I stare at the section title in disbelief. Why Tell Stories? it says.
I imagine coming across a section title like this would be exciting for most writing believers, but what you don’t know is how much I’d been struggling lately. The day before I’d e-mailed a writer friend saying my writing had suffered lately, and in my own journal, I had written a prayer:
Why is my gift so attacked? I have zero confidence in my writing and no time to practice it, to get better.
I’m sure we all struggle with our “gifts.” I hate even saying it that way, afraid it sounds haughty and proud. But what is a gift, if it is not given? I believe all gifts come from God -- especially the good ones -- and being able to sort out my thoughts and feelings through words is my best one. Not because I’m so cool, but because God made me that way. And I know it, deep down in the soft muscle of my heart, where He whispers truth. So, of course the devil horned men come chasing after me. They stab their knives in the beating pump, peel back the layers of tissue and try to steal my precious present. Thankfully, their blind eyes can not see it; their red little fingers can not grab it. And in their anger, they start the screaming and cackling: What gift do you have? No one ever gave you anything. This place is empty and forgotten. There was never anything here to begin with.
The demons nearly had me convinced. I had been listening to them for days. I was almost ready to put down my pen and throw away my paper. Why does anyone care what I have to say?
He (Jesus) replied, "You've been given insight into God's kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn't been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That's why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they're blue in the face and not get it. (verses 11-13)
God answers me, right where I am. In letters, words and paragraph form, God tells me what I’m here for. A passage from his own book, recorded over a thousand years ago and written before first sunrise explains the need for stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight.
And what do I do? What is my first response? But I share my own true stories . . . I explore my thoughts . . . I don’t tell parables . . . This can’t be the same thing. . . Not even two seconds pass and already I doubt.
Then, (I swear) I hear God chuckle.
Oh, Janna, he says, what more can I say? You can’t even believe words your own eyes see. I’m answering the questions I alone know you ask. Can’t you just take my word for it, just this once?
So I begin to think about it. I reread the passage, chewing slowly on each of the words. I pick up a few more things to read. I recall the two stories I shared with my roommates at that women’s retreat. The looks on their faces, did they actually believe me? Not sure. But I know they’re true and real for me. Maybe I will write one of those stories next.