Lately I’ve been struggling to write. There are several reasons I’m sure. It’s always harder for me to find quiet uninterrupted time when the kids are home from school. The rhythm in the house slows. A laid back lovely laziness seeps over this place. The kids sleep longer and later. There’s more television watched, more games played, more art created, more books read. I manage the absolute necessary: the laundry gets done, the place gets cleaned. Obligations connected to my job are usually completed but with less energy and enthusiasm. Things still get checked off my to do list, but the creative juices fueling my drive seem to seasonally run dry. It’s nearly impossible for me to write during the summers.
As I was exploring this yesterday with Lowell, he asked me why I write. What motivates me to keep working at it? I was surprised he had to ask–obviously, I have things to say. (Insert smiley face emoticon here!) There are passions in me that need voice, truths that need to be elaborated on, soapboxes I want to stand on. I write also to process what’s at work in me. When I don’t understand things writing seems to help me clarify them. When I’m confused writing often mysteriously brings clarity to my cloudiness.
I’ve developed relationships through writing. I have come to humbly love and appreciate my readers. I suppose on one level I must assume people read, but when I actually meet someone who admits to reading I’m astounded that people really read what I write. I feel a connection to those readers. Readers are a part of my community, my sense of belonging, my place. I take you seriously. I feel responsible to you, and in some cases, for you.
Deeper underneath those things there lurks another more ignoble reason. I think, if I’m completely honest, that I write to remain seen. I’m afraid that if I stop writing, I’ll somehow disappear.
All my life I’ve longed for a broader scope. I’ve ached to have a global impact. I’ve wanted to make a difference to the world. I suppose that’s what happens when, as a little girl, you watch your parents cross the seas to enter their vocation. The international collection of colleagues they worked with must have further cemented this in my mind. People leave their various countries to make a difference in the world. They came from far away corners of the earth and went into all the world. That must have rubbed off on me. It’s what I’ve dreamed of for years.
I remember, rather sheepishly now, telling Father Albert at Conception Abbey in St Joe, Missouri, several years ago, in a spiritual direction session, that I wanted to be famous. His hands escaped his dark cassock, slapped on his knees, and he threw back his head and guffawed. He guessed he’d never really heard anyone admit that before. But it wasn’t fame I wanted; it was that big stage with a big audience, a big impact on a big world.
My life has shrunk. We used to live loudly in India along the banks of the Ganges River. Now we live quietly in Kansas, in the middle of a large country. We used to travel by airplane, with layovers in large bustling airports. Now we use the car and we stop at gas stations and rest stops. We used to need suitcases and carry-on bags, tickets, passports and visas. All we need now is my purse and an overnight bag thrown in the back of the car. We used to host countless people for meals and overnight stays. We were a destination stop and people came to see us. Now we rarely have guests for more than the occasional meal. We used to speak two languages regularly. Now we speak one. We used to have three kids living under this roof. Now one is preparing to move away to his own life experiences and adventures. Soon we’ll be down to two.
My life is shrinking. Deep inside, in a core, hidden corner, I constantly battle the dread that I’m slowly disappearing. My life is getting smaller and smaller and I fear that I am too.
Shrinking isn’t necessarily bad. Alice in Alice in Wonderland, had to get smaller and before she would ever meet the Mad Hatter, the white rabbit, and the Queen of Hearts. The children in the movie, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, came to truly know their father loved them only after he accidentally shrunk them. Hagar, in the Old Testament story, had a personal encounter with the God Who Sees, only after her world had forcibly squeezed her into smaller spaces.
John the Baptist knew that if Jesus was the Bridegroom then he was simply the Groom’s attendant. Understanding that John said, “He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:30). He must become bigger, I must become smaller. John the Baptist seemed to understand that Christ expanding mandated his own shrinking. He didn’t resent the size exchange. It wasn’t forced on him. He chose it with sincere joy. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:29-30).
I’m feeling the squeeze. I feel hard pressed on every side. I fear myself shrinking. I know in my head that writing is powerless to stop the process. I’m trying to give myself over to this as a spiritual discipline, a holy refining process. Intentionally I want to choose small. The Apostle Paul seemed to understand this. He could volitionally choose to be shrunk and stripped away. He could choose a smaller size for a larger purpose. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things…. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:7-11).
I think I’ll struggle on in my writing. I’ll push through this season of summer sludge. Perhaps, in alignment with the lessons I seem to be learning, I’ll choose a smaller font.