Good Lessens

By

When I do the dishes, I use way more water than my wife uses when she does them. This is because I am not as skilled as she is and I think that by an avalanche of water I may drown away my dish washing inadequacies. Of course, she doesn’t complain about the water.

It occurs to me that the same is true in writing and communication in general. If we are unsure of ourselves, unskilled, we pile up the words. We believe we must say everything we think and so overcome any chance that we might have missed something. But so often less is, as they say, more.

This has something to do with the idea of expression vs. communication. Artists sometimes get the high-minded, self-important notion that we’re a special breed of human, superior and sophisticated. We might believe the most important thing is “expressing ourselves.”

But the artist under God understands she is a servant. She works, just like everyone else, to love and serve those who receive her work. She is like the farmer, the plumber, the pastor. She is concerned with communication (and communion), with connection, with service. It’s less important that she “express herself” in all the ways that can be self-indulgent, and more important that her work serve people. Not that it serves whatever they wish (as our market-driven, utilitarian society calls for), but like all true love, serves the person’s best. This is a vocation, not a cult. She is called, not enthroned.

Of course, the beautiful thing is that often our calling is at the crossroads of what we feel burdened to express and the way the world needs to be loved and served.

In fact, an important question to ask oneself when considering any calling, including that of an artist, is “Does the world need this?” Another couple of ways to say this:

“Are people served by this in such a way that they are more fully what they are called to be?”

“Does this work I feel called to contribute to human flourishing?”

If it does, then God is probably really calling you to the work.

(Other questions include “Am I good at it?” and, “Does anyone say I’m good at it besides my mom and people really motivated to please me?” and, “Can I do this while fulfilling the more clear callings in my life?” Such as, if I am a husband, am I fulfilling the clear command to provide for my family?)

The self-indulgent artist, writer, communicator is all about expression and so may not be concerned with brevity, feeling it might limit her expression. The kind of writer I want to be can say less and so say more.

I’m striving for an economy of words. It takes more time and more care to say more while saying less. Have you ever been in a conversation with some one who is just a never-ending Gatling gun of words? This person will wear you out. They have so much to say that, ironically, in the end you can’t remember any words except, “How might I escape?”

I can be like that, at times. But I want to be otherwise. Others-wise. I want to say less. I want to serve with my words. I want to pass them out like a soccer mom passes out snacks at a game.

And feel not a bit superior.


56 Comments

  1. EmmaJ

    All so true, Mr. S.D. Smith. Thanks for the good words.

    As the esteemed Mr. Grice has said, “avoid unnecessary prolixity,” inadvertently coining a gem of irony which does bring a wry smile to the face, does it not?

    Amen to the bit about writing as a calling, especially. Writing for purpose, not just to get published. Speaking to communicate, not just to fill the air.

    That’s what I want my communication to be: words from my heart (i.e., true to what I feel compelled to express) which does that job of “contributing to human flourishing.”

    Thanks for the encouragement and the reminder.

  2. EmmaJ

    And while I’m writing these words from my heart, I’ll try to conform to something like standard English grammar: “words from my heart… which do that job…”

  3. Jaclyn

    Oh my goodness, Providence strikes again!

    I was just imagining a 1st draft of this horrendously self-indulgent treatise on… well, you really don’t want to know. The important thing is that your post broke up my personal pity party and reminded me of the Why and How of who I am: others-wise.

    Writing [living] is so very hard. But, as a dear pastor often shares with me– hard is not bad.

    @Julie– Your comment made me laugh out loud! hehe!

  4. Jaclyn

    Last thing, this is perfect:

    “I want to serve with my words. I want to pass them out like a soccer mom passes out snacks at a game.

    And feel not a bit superior.”

  5. James Witmer

    If you give me an eight-page article and I tell you to cut it to four pages, you’ll howl and say it can’t be done. Then you’ll go home and do it, and it will be much better. After that comes the hard part: cutting it to three.

    — William Zinsser, On Writing Well

    The adolescent, excited at finding the wonderful Self, supposes that life now consists in expressing it for the edification of all others. Most of us are bored. Real work… is not self-expression, but its very opposite. St. John the Baptist’s “I must decrease but he must increase” is embedded in all good work.

    Eugene Peters, The Contemplative Pastor

    We should more often evaluate the callings we feel; the questions you offer would be fantastic tools.

  6. Loren

    Thanks for this practical, wise perspective, S. D. Interestingly, it comes to me a day after our pastor honed in on the hard issue of pride and how “the least are the greatest” and what that means. I can’t make myself least or I’ll be embroiled in false humility, but if I’m truly listening to God’s voice and seeking His calling for my life, I will be able to lose myself in Him. Then it won’t matter whether I’ve written what I thought I should or said what I thought needed to be communicated. Rather it will be what He desires. Good reminder….

  7. Patrick J. Moore

    Good message. I do think a few words should be said in response to the parenthetical “other questions” though:

    “(Other questions include “Am I good at it?” and, “Does anyone say I’m good at it besides my mom and people really motivated to please me?” and, “Can I do this while fulfilling the more clear callings in my life?” Such as, if I am a husband, am I fulfilling the clear command to provide for my family?)”- S.D. Smith

    If God calls you to do something you are not good at- Do it anyway. Let His strength shine in your weakness. Moses flat out told God he wasn’t good at what he was recruited to do! Pretty sure God already knew Moe’s weaknesses… and used them to show Pharaoh it’s not this stuttering man you are up against, but God Himself.

    If God calls you to do something and it doesn’t make any sense; it would seem to put you into debt; it would cause your family to give up their current lifestyle… I am so sorry for you. But I would not suggest ignoring God because you think you know better.

    Better questions would be ones directed at God. Requests for confirmations, clarifications, explanations, provisions. How many times in the Bible did God ever tell people to do things that made logical human sense? I can’t think of a single one.

  8. James Witmer

    Patrick,

    I think you misunderstand SD’s intent. SD asks “is X true” and then follows with:

    If [X is true] then God is probably really calling you to the work.

    If I understand rightly, SD is asking not whether we should obey God, but how to discern God’s calling from the allure of self-expression.

    I (and my poor wife) survived years of difficulty as I struggled to learn the difference. These are insightful, necessary questions more people should have the courage to ask.

    PS: Fernando Ortega’s recent article The Heart of the Matter tells how a few of these questions affected his life.

  9. Patrick J. Moore

    If God were calling someone to something in particular, wouldn’t he tell them? And If God has spoken what are all these questions about? None of those questions are about discerning God’s voice. Each and every one of those questions is about human ability and limitations with no dependence on God. No Faith Required. If God is directing all human limitations can be overcome.

    Maybe I misunderstand.

    I just don’t want anyone to let their logical mind over-ride a clear call from God. If S.D.’s just talking about whims or impressions- delusions of grandeur- without a clear word from God, then I agree with these logical guidelines. And PRAY. If I want to know what someone is thinking I go to the source. Trying to figure out what another is thinking by asking myself logical questions won’t get there. And if you aren’t on speaking terms with God, then I doubt he is giving you any calling at this time.

  10. Julie Silander

    @Patrick – I hear your concern, and agree that our ultimate duty is obedience to whatever we have been called to, and that God often uses those least qualified to carry out his purposes. I’m making the assumption that S.D. isn’t suggesting that human opinion and reason trump prayer or God’s direction. However, there are times (at least in my life) when his direction isn’t crystal clear. I’m grateful that he gives us community as a context in which to work through the “gray”. The questions posed are another dimension of working through the gray when we are trying to discern the Father’s will. There is great comfort in knowing that in the end, his purposes will prevail regardless of me.

    One of my favorite Tim Kellerisms: “Humility isn’t thinking less of myself, it’s thinking of myself less.” If that is the posture from which I create (live, parent, etc.), and my motive is truly to please the Father, I believe that he takes what little I have to offer and uses it for his glory.

  11. Becca

    Thank you, Sam. There is much food for thought here.

    Economy of words is one of the reasons I love poetry so much. A poem’s density transmits messages like these:

    – You will hear me, even if I do not shout.
    – You are wise.
    – You are resonant.
    – You are discerning.
    – You think.
    – You dream.
    – You are invited to be my co-creator as you read.

    I love that sort of trust.

  12. EmmaJ

    @ Becca, I love your thoughts on this.

    Brevity is not just the soul of wit, but also a manifestation of respect and an invitation to create new worlds of imagination. Thanks for helping me think that through.

  13. Profile photo of S. D. Smith

    S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Julie –Thank you. I can totally relate to that! That’s often my response when I read things here at the RR. “I’ll never even try to write another essay again.” Funny. Writers are so pathetic –aren’t we? 🙂

    EmmaJ –Thanks! I LOVE that quote. Brilliant.

    Jaclyn –So much of my writing is over-long and self-indulgent. Thankfully I’ve been called on it a couple of times. I need that. I’m a-workin’ on it. I soooo agree about writing (life). But hey, we’re alive and there are pens everywhere. 🙂 Thank you so much.

    James Witmer –Man, I love those quotations, especially the one by Peterson. That’s getting at what I was getting at. I want to read that book.

    Loren –That’s some wisdom there. Thank you so much. You really get what I’m aiming for.

    Patrick J. Moore –Thanks for writing! Will try to respond, though it’s been a long day and it may be tomorrow. I think James and Julie say it pretty well.

    Becca –That’s lovely. Thank you.

    Blockstache –I’m glad you got the message. It was aimed right at you. Trying to demonstrate my superiority. I never have problems with this. Let us pray…I thank you, that I am not like other men, like Ron Block for instance…

  14. Lauren

    Thank you so much, Sam. This was incredibly refreshing, and it helped me in articulating recent thoughts and struggles over contextualization in art, and the sacrifice of self that comes with seeing it as an act of service and worship.

  15. Profile photo of S. D. Smith

    S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Patrick J. Moore –Thanks for piping up and for being brave and kind enough to challenge something you believe was misleading. I appreciate it. I appreciate what you’re saying and am not sure we’re talking exactly about the same thing.

    I’m not sure I really disagree with what you said, maybe we’re not on the same page. Also, I am totally exhausted after a super-long day, so I am probably the one who is struggling to process things. But like a tipsy gunslinger, I’ll give it a shot. 🙂

    Those comments you are focusing on were an aside, of course. Not the point. A helpful aside, I think, intended to serve in the same way a person might say “Well, if you don’t have arms, maybe you should avoid the arm-wrestling tournament.”

    It’s not an effort to exclude God, or faith in God. Just an effort to encourage people to listen to more than fawning fans and family, to be open to our own actual strengths and weaknesses.

    Maybe we have different views about how God communicates to us most often in this era. If so, that’s cool. But I’m just saying that if you feel warm fuzzies about being a famous, published author, but you really stink and are undisciplined, don’t confuse those warm fuzzies for a calling from God.

    I didn’t mean to eliminate any kind of possible special revelation, but only to encourage us to receive common grace and common sense. Sometimes people get bread from heaven, but usually it’s from farmers and stores. Suggesting people look for good prices, or good quality bread, isn’t really an effort to be independent from God, but just another way of receiving what God has given us.

    I don’t think this nullifies Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians about the things that are not, the foolish, the weak, etc. I am NOT saying God can’t, doesn’t, or won’t use special means to accomplish his plan in our lives and the lives of others and will never use weakness to demonstrate his power. He does! But I think it’s equally wrong to say that he never ever uses “ordinary” means.

    I’m coming to believe more and more that everything ordinary is extraordinary.

    Augustine said it was sad that he gloried in the miracle at Cana, but didn’t glory in the way God always changes water to wine…all the time. But he usually uses “natural”, or “ordinary” means. But it’s no less of him and it’s still astonishing. More so, in many ways.

    He created the world the way it is. He calls strong people to lift heavy things all the time. He gave them strength for that purpose. Mothers have babies, fathers do not. This is good. It isn’t a lack of faith, it’s an act of gratitude.

    Pretentious “artists” should listen more carefully to the call of God. If you feel an overwhelming call to, well, to use one many, many people use, to write a bestseller as popular as Harry Potter, but you are neither gifted as a writer, not disciplined in the work of a writer, maybe you should check your caller I.D.

    I do believe if God actually calls you to something you must always obey. But our emotions are poor substitutes for community. Men are (so often) God’s method. You are called to missions? Because of an emotional alter-call? Maybe you should check with your elders. Are you serving where you are now? Are you effective in ministry, equipped? Why export something that doesn’t work at home? (Having grown up in missions, I have seen this sooooo many times.) Antioch will speak against you.

    All I’m calling for (in that aside, which was not the point of the essay), is to exercise humility. Proud assurance of having the call of God to something every spiritually mature person around you, including authorities like parents and pastors, advises you against, is folly, not faith. It is obstinacy, not obedience.

    This seems to me to be a significant theme today, with so many young Christians feeling called to have cool haircuts, wear skinny jeans, and perform in front of thousands of screaming fans. Is it strange many of us feel that “call” so strongly? That’s the kind of thing I’m cautioning against. Not a genuine call of God to something seemingly-irrational, or hard. Not in the least.

    OK, hope that didn’t come out combative. Funny that I should write a post about brevity and spend all these words commenting on an aside. 🙂

    Hypocrisy, thy name is SD Smithers.

  16. Chris

    “human flourishing”–someone’s been listening to N.T. Wright. By the way, I saw this on my Twitter feed earlier today and noticed the title. I thought immediately, “It’s misspelled!” But I immediately thought after that, “It’s The Rabbit Room. Of course they wouldn’t make a mistake that bad. I should have guessed it was you Sam, smithing away with all your clever wordsmithery.

  17. Patrick J. Moore

    Thanks for the response, SD. We do seem to be in agreement, and not on the same page. Different pages of the same story. Glad we got that straightened out.

    Sorry to have made such a big deal out of such a short aside. The over all message of your post was very good, and maybe I should have commented more about that instead, but it seemed the others had all done a thorough job of that.

    Thanks for your time.

  18. Allison

    Loved the bit about human flourishing. I’m more familiar with that concept from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and virtue ethics (I’m a grad student in philosophy). But does N.T. Wright talk about it too? Do you know where? I’d be really interested in hearing his take on it!

  19. cassie

    well said. i tend to have most respect for and actually hear those who are bright and brief with their words. likewise, it is most respectable to view your less clear life callings in light of the revealed will of god in scripture which is calling you to certain roles in your life.

  20. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    A word on “calling.”

    When I was 11 I began playing guitar. At 12 or 13, banjo.

    By the time I was 15 or 16 I knew I was called to make music my work. I knew this by several factors.

    I loved the thing itself. I didn’t care about playing in front of other people. I played and played in every spare hour, and read books on it when I was supposed to be paying attention in biology class. Obsession is a soft word here. My dad says he gave me a banjo at 13 and I didn’t come out of my room until I was 21.

    When I did begin play in front of others, going to bluegrass festivals and such, I found an ability to move them – to make them feel.

    Getting approval for it and getting self-worth from it became issues later. But I wasn’t initially playing for any reason other than I loved the thing itself. I never even asked the question “Am I good at this?” As they sometimes say in the South, I was “eat up with it.” As I have grown older (much older) I have come to love playing for people, because that is the point, really. The listener closes a circuit and becomes part of the music – like AP’s song Many Roads.

    But – anyway – a love of the thing itself motivated all my “discipline.” I simply loved making music, and still do years later. Problems have been encountered along the way; practice habits ebb and flow, but the desire is always still there. When I have not been able to fulfill that desire for various reasons, it has been easy to feel depressed – like my life purpose is not being fulfilled.

    Now, I could be wrong here, but I would imagine a calling as a missionary, or pastor, or any other thing would be the same, except it would be motivated by love of God and others, and not love of missionarying. It would be the same as Paul, “The love of Christ compels me.” It seems to me it would be a burning passion and not necessarily just a flat “decision” – which could be made based on “what the pastor thinks” or “my two friends just signed up to be missionaries” or any number of ungodly attitudes.

    I had to go through adult disapproval, because in one side of my family the emphasis was on making a good living – go to college, become skilled, make money, buy a house, raise a family, get a boat, an RV, maybe a vacation house. The question “Do I love my job” was never even asked. Of course, many of them were not new creations in Christ. The Christian input I had said, “Do what you love. Do what God puts in your heart to do. Matthew 6 is true; God will take care of your needs.” I didn’t care if I barely got by as long as playing music was the main course. But, again, it was love of the thing itself, and not a desire to be in front of people.

    So – I think “calling” is sometimes more complex. I see it as an intense inner drive to do something, for the sake of loving the thing itself or for love of God and people. I knew I would be miserable doing anything else.

    Sam, this was perfect:
    “Pretentious “artists” should listen more carefully to the call of God. If you feel an overwhelming call to, well, to use one many, many people use, to write a bestseller as popular as Harry Potter, but you are neither gifted as a writer, not disciplined in the work of a writer, maybe you should check your caller I.D.”

    Again I feel impelled to tell the story of a friend of mine, great musician, who was given a cassette by someone who said, “The Lord gave me this song.” He listened in his car later and thought, “Man. God must be a really crappy songwriter.”

  21. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Oh yeah, and brevity is like so really totally important and everything, because to like use too many extra words and stuff and not watch you’re grammer and spelling is to not write good.

  22. Julie Silander

    @Ron – On the pure love of “the thing” vs. a desire to be in front of people (or read by people, or applauded by people)

    Couldn’t help but the think of the following from CS Lewis in “The Great Divorce”:

    “No, You’re forgetting,” said the Spirit. “That was not how you (the artist) began. Light was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light… Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of telling till, down in Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower – become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputation.”

  23. Danielle

    wowsers. this is so appropriate to me right now, not so much as a writer (because i’m not one), but more so in the light of art and creativity. As a fledgling artist, it’s easy to forget the need to self-edit, to forget to ask myself (ourselves?) what i’m trying to show. Too often, I end up trying to obscure the point of the thing with extra frills.

    I find that nothing helps reign me back in so well as a few loving, if ruthless, voices.

    To add to the wonderful discussion on calling, a piece of advice I found just this morning:
    “If you follow your heart, it will lead you to your soul.” I’m pulling out of context here, but I think God likes to work this way. I think Ron’s story is an excellent example.

    Of course, the challenge is to follow my heart, not my pride.

    Thanks for being awesome, Sam, Ron, Rabbit Room.

    (quote from victoria gertenbach, via whipup.net)

  24. Patrick J. Moore

    But I want to say again that God does speak to people. In my experience He uses few words. When in doubt never assume that what God asks of you is for your own glory. That is never the case. Everything He does is for His own.

    Ron, maybe the Lord did give that lady a song. Who knows what those words meant to her when they came to her mind, and seeming as a gift, because it was beautiful to her. God does not care about fame or fortune. God does care deeply for his children and gives us what we need when we need it. More likely it was an inspiration not dictation, and for her own spiritual growth and not to make it big in Nashville. I think sometimes God hands us things just to see what we’ll do with it. What we choose to do with it will determine the lesson we learn from it.

    God placed in me a desire to help people. What a generic, open ended drive to place in a person. I followed that into the field of psychology. I would never say “God called me to be a counselor” yet the particular area of counseling in which I work, most people who know what I do seem to have a strong belief that I must be called to do this. Even those mature Christians. I just love helping these children. This is my want-to in life.

    On the other hand, I’ve liked to play with words since my early teen years (that was quite a while ago), and most people who read anything I’ve written embarrass me with what I consider excessive praise for something I’ve only played with as a hobby. I’ve never had a drive or intense love for writing. Now you can think I’m crazy and try to get me committed to the local mental ward, but God spoke to me one morning about writing a story- a novel it seems- for Him.

    I’m sure I could have just stuck my bottom in the chair to type out all of the story that was in my head, and even fill it out to be a great mass of text. And all the scoffers would say, “God must be a really crappy novelist”. ha ha.

    I’m not a writer. Not seriously. And I know that very well. But I know what God asked of me, so I am reading more fiction than I’ve ever read in my life, and reading the craft books, and practicing what I read… I have no intention to ignore God just because he asked me to do something that I don’t believe I am yet capable of. I believe if He wants me to do something He will make me capable of the task as long as I am faithful to peruse the task to the best of my ability.

    I intend to write worthy of the One who commissioned this work. I know I will fail at that goal because I am human, and I don’t have the history or education expected of one who could come close. But I intend to give it my best shot. I also am not quitting my day job. That is what I love and what supports my family. I don’t know if I’ll one day be published, or if I’ll make a single dime off of this story. I don’t care. That’s not what God asked me to do. He asked me to write.

    Maybe this is just for me and my own personal growth. Maybe he just handed this to me to see what I would do with it. To see if I would trust Him and be faithful to do what has been asked. I have a feeling though, that like Ron’s music, this is eventually going to be for others as well.

    Is this a calling? The inexperienced layman dashing off to Africa? I don’t know. But I know God speaks, and has asked me to do something crazy.

  25. EmmaJ

    @Danielle – I’m so with you. I’ve tried to write lots of things that flopped and disappointed, probably for this reason. What a great boundary/caution to set: “follow my heart, not my pride.”

    I remember one of my college professors using the phrase, “kill your darlings.” At the time, I didn’t get it (in fact, I probably bristled with indignation at the suggestion that my cherished phrases could be anything less than precious and necessary). But I’ve come to see the wisdom in what she said, the not-infrequent necessity of highlighting something you love(d) and hitting the delete key (or cutting it out and saving it for some later work in which it truly fits).

    Last year at Hutchmoot we talked a lot about the concept of “serving the story,” which seems really relevant here, in the sense of pruning out things that may be gaudy baubles of prideful self-indulgence, or even some which are genuinely lovely in their own way but which do not serve this particular piece.

    So glad that Sam started this discussion.

  26. Chris C

    I so totally agree. Sometimes, you hear a preacher who wants to fill up time, so they say the same thing over and over again and half way through the message, you’re hoping it will end because you’re bored and falling asleep. And then you think, “Am I awful? Why am I wanting this message to end?”. And the reason is that the verbosity is unnecessary and tiring. And then if we hear a teacher/preacher who uses brevity and just the right words and gives the message that was meant to be given, we can feel encouraged, strengthened, motivated, etc. So, those of us who are Christians, want to hear a good message. We want to be strengthened. But we don’t want unnecessary, superfluous, pretentious words. And, God is the same way, right? Jesus said that we shouldn’t think we’ll be heard because of our many words.

    Good post!

  27. Becca

    Here is the catch for me:

    It seems self-contradictory when someone uses the statement, “God called me to X,” as an attempted buoy for work that would otherwise sink. If God has really called you to a task, what human is there to convince? If God has called you to it, let Him complete what He has begun. There is no need to volley for people of influence.

    I think it’s fine to talk about our callings. However, what catches in my heart when I hear this is an issue of trust. In whom are we trusting to birth what has been conceived? Must flesh complete what Spirit has begun?

    I write this as someone who has made this mistake a hundred billion times. Maybe a hundred billion and two. I have lived as Uzzah, attempting to keep the ark from falling. As if flesh hands could sustain the infinite.

  28. EmmaJ

    @Patrick…
    I know it’s dangerous to speak for others, but it seems to me that you are exactly in concert with what Sam and Ron have said. If God provides someone with the inspiration to create something for their own edification, even if they have no particular talent, that’s fine. And it sounds like you’re taking an adventurous step into the unknown, stepping out in faith that this is God’s call, hoping that something good will come of writing your novel, and if it blesses others, so much the better. At least, that’s what it sounds like to me.

    I think that what Sam and Ron have said doesn’t exclude the possibility of people creating edifying things even without talent that other people recognize, but rather the idea of pursuing for a vocation things that relate to the ways in which someone is gifted. Everyone has good gifts to give, whether it be writing novels or keeping automobile engines tuned up. I’ve come to believe that very often the call of God is found in cultivating those gifts. Indeed, being that gift to the Body of Christ and to the world.

    So, by way of illustration, let’s say that God has crafted (is crafting) a person in such a way that he/she has special mechanical aptitude that could really bless a lot of people (like a super cool, really smart and cheerful mechanic that I know). This person also has a voice like a sickly amphibian. He/she may receive great edification through song, even share that joy with some close friends, but it would seem prudent for him/her to seriously consider (i.e., pray and seek wise counsel) whether a sense of calling to leave behind the work of skillful hands for a career on the stage is really the best way to go (i.e., really, truly the calling of God). I could be wrong, but I think this is in line with what Sam and Ron have said.

    God works through wholeness and through brokenness. I won’t say that he never calls people to do things that they don’t feel gifted for. But in general, I think it is wise and perfectly biblical to consider how God has made us when we’re thinking about which career choices to pursue. And sometimes we choose and God redirects. I can see now that I always wanted to be a writer, even though I didn’t consciously consider that a real possibility. But God has brought me (sometimes stumbling, sometimes being dragged by my hair) into working as a writer, a job that in many ways feels like a pretty good fit.

  29. Becca

    @Ron Block:

    Missionarying? You flagrantly gerunded a noun, which Hezekiah 4:22 clearly forbids. More vile than a sentence fragment. More vile than verbing a the noun “gerund.” As punishment, I think you should have to write the RR Halloween article this year.

  30. EmmaJ

    @Chris C…
    Yes! It’s a good thing you were not sitting across from me in any number of church services over the years in which well-intentioned persons rambled past the point of meaningful content. If you had been, I’m afraid we would have made eye contact and our guilty perplexity, thus shared, could have erupted in inappropriate snickers.

    “Precise, concise and memorable” is a phrase that a hermeneutics prof tried to drum into the thick heads of us aspiring biblical scholars back in the day. I’m working on a project right now that has nothing to do with exegesis, but remembered that standard a few days ago and found that it really helps when attempting to communicate anything that’s really important.

    And now I have said much more than enough on the subject of not talking too much 🙂

    But it’s been fun to think through these things and I appreciate the thoughtful thoughts that prompted the thinking.

  31. Chris C

    Oh, and the bit about the calling, that’s good stuff. We should never confuse our “calling” with how we provide for our family (or ourselves, if single). Can I bring up a commercial that really sums it up for me? I think it’s a Chevrolet commercial. Some guy asks another guy, “what do you do?” (implying, what job do you work at). And the guy who’s asked that question thinks about time with his family, with his wife, vacations, time with friends, etc. and is left somewhat speechless as if to say, “how can I answer that?”. Do you know what commercial I’m talking about?

    I am glad for those who can do art full time. The more time is spent on it, the better it can be crafted. Though, for some of us, I think God uses those seemingly mundane tasks of work to craft inside of us something more beautiful. He knows each one of us so much better than we know ourselves.

    We are “called” to love God and love others and to put our faith in Jesus. And our love should be with all our strength, soul and mind. Our music and writing and art should just be one of the vehicles for that. If we focus on ourselves and our art (whatever that may be), we are becoming short-sighted and miss the point. God is the point. People are the point. Alas I have missed the point too many times. 🙂

  32. David

    Good thoughts, Sam. And (this has been hinted at in the comments, especially the Eugene Peterson and C.S.L. quotes) good writing serves others by illumining the thing written about. In order to do this well the author must die to himself — he must be out of the way, so the reader can see the author’s subject. As James Denney said to preachers: No one can at once give the impression that he is clever and Christ is mighty to save.

  33. Patrick J. Moore

    @ EmmaJ, Sounds like you get what I’m saying. Thank you for your illustration and pulling this together for me. I think I only said anything about the “calling” side statements SD made because they bristled against my own experience. Seems I just needed to zoom out a bit for a bigger picture. Thanks.

    @SD, I know I continued this rabbit trail after we already seemed to have resolved that we were not in disagreement with one another. I had apologized for that, but I’m not sorry anymore. This has been edifying and I’m glad we went there together. It’s Ron’s fault anyway, his story stirred me up again. 😉

    @ James, Julie, SD, Ron, Danielle, Becca, Chris, & EmmaJ- thank you all for following me on that rabbit trail away from the topic of the post. I’ve been wrestling with that idea of “calling” myself, and I’m glad to get some more thoughts and perspectives on this. Like I said to EmmaJ, I think I have a bigger picture now. All of your input is appreciated. Thank you!

  34. Osage11

    Once again, I am humbled, challenged, uplifted, confused, encouraged and thankful all at the same time. I so appreciate the honesty here in this place. As I enter the mid-life crisis years of my life, I have often wondered if I missed my calling altogether. I love to write and have been told by many others (not just my mother) that I do it well. Actually, I don’t think my mother has ever read anything I’ve ever written. Hmmm. Anyway, I feel the pull to write, to make pictures with words, to craft thoughts and ideas in a meaningful way for others. I just haven’t done it yet. I make excuses instead: life, work, other commitments. Not only that, but I don’t have a clear picture of where to start or which direction to go. I think I just found my next prayer.

    @Patrick, I commend you. My fear of criticism keeps me from diving into the ocean of novels, stories and children’s books. I dip my toes into the lapping waves along the shore but have yet to commit to the plunge. For now, I’ll take it one day at a time and be content to work at being the best husband and father I can be. My time will come and something tells me your novel won’t be crappy.

    @Sam, thank you brother. Another brilliant post and timely, as usual.

  35. EmmaJ

    Okay, well, one more thing from me. Thinking all these thoughts about calling put into my head something that… well, at first I wasn’t sure exactly how it was related, but somehow it was. I got in my car and felt compelled to pop in Don Chaffer’s album, “You Were at the Time for Love” just to hear (and sing along, very loud and badly) track 9, “Eden Again.”

    I’m so glad for people of vision who guide me into understanding life and calling as a dance with God (not the pursuit of one dot on a target or even worse, a joyless death-march). This is a dance in which our (my) frail feet are prone to stumble, and our hearts prone to wander, susceptible to the wooing of false suitors and other liars. But the Lead is a partner both strong and gracious.

    What we’re called to do with our life and our time is part of a much bigger picture, this life of macro/microcosm in which we’re born again into being a new creation for once and for all and then born over and over again as layers of old are stripped away and new put on, as we stumble and fall and are lured away and are called back and renewed.

    Life was like a dream, and everything was clean, and I was free…

    But I chose to eat my fruit, and I chose to go my way, and I chose to throw my innocence away. And I’ve learned my lessons hard, and I’ve learned my lessons well, and I have tasted all I care to taste of hell.

    I think I’m ready to return, to let the fires I started burn, I think I’m ready to be born again…

    This time round instead of trying to stand I’ve decided to lean, let you wash me in your blood, and make me clean.

    Living out your dream, everything is clean, and I’ve become free…

  36. Chris C

    Haha, @EmmaJ! (Referring to your earlier comment.) I’m glad someone agreed with me and that I wasn’t ceremoniously escorted out of the Rabbit Room!

    @Patrick – you were not off topic or on a rabbit trail. And besides, where else would you find a rabbit trail but in the Rabbit Room? (I’m sure that’s been said before.) When Sam talked about our “calling”, I think that resonates on some frequency with everyone. Those two subjects caught my eye from Sam’s post right away, “less can be more” and “understanding our calling”. I know, I distilled the subjects down, but that’s how I read it anyway. Our “calling” is definitely a subject that is easy to jump into.

    @Osage11 – I appreciate your attitude. It’s always refreshing to hear words like that. Those are my top two prayers – to be a better husband and a better father. If we pursue art at the expense of what is really important, we will totally miss the real depth, the real love, the real thing that we want to express through art.

    @Becca – I like how you describe the futility of trying to prop up some human ambition with the attitude of “God called me to it”.

  37. Profile photo of S. D. Smith

    S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    I feel lead at the end of a pencil.

    Thank you all, again. I love the Rabbit Room because of how the comments aren’t an endless argument, or fawning, or manipulative. You guys are encouraging, humble, teachable, bold to share insights, happy to report happiness, slow to anger, abounding in love, eager to be clear, and generally interested in the good of those who read.

    I have enjoyed reading all of your words. It seems my concept of calling needs some evolving, I’m receiving some of that from ya’ll. Thanks.

  38. Loren

    Is it too late to add another comment? I hopped on because I’ve been reading all the great comments from today and was moved to expound some more on this–ahem!–concise topic of calling. But instead I’m stumped by your idiom, S. D.–What does “I feel lead at the end of the pencil” mean?

    So I think I’ll skip off the trail again and go onto that question instead of pursuing my initial thoughts.

  39. Profile photo of S. D. Smith

    S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Sorry, Loren. Don’t hold back. Be not perplexed and paused by my incoherent, superfluous ramblings. Say on, McDuff, and damned be he who first cried “Hold, enough! Beest thou not like-unto Ron!”<-----Exactly as Shakespeare intended. The "I feel lead..." line was just a jokey sort of nonsense. Where I grew up (and live) it is very common to describe feeling lead for everything. It jives with feeling called. Same sort of deal. "I really felt lead to kiss that girl." Yeah. No doubt. So, as a teenager, I wrote a song called "Caller I.D." and the first line was "I feel lead at the end of a pencil." It was largely forgettable (I hope), but did include the memorable line "Many are thawed, but a few are frozen." I say it again, speak away.

  40. Jen

    Jumping in late too…. great post and discussion! So much to think about. I keep hearing Andrew Peterson in one of the Hutchmoot sessions saying “half as long… half as long…”

    What stood out to me was the difference between expression and communication. I’ve come across writing — prose, poetry, or songs — that just feels pretentious, but I wasn’t sure what makes it so. Now I get it! Consumption with self-expression, writing that’s different just to be different, but doesn’t say much. It can be fun for a while, but without resonance or communication, it just falls flat.

    But do you think there’s also room for the self-indulgent, expressive kind though? Like Patrick was saying about feeling compelled to write a novel “maybe for personal growth,” I wonder if that kind of creating might be useful, but the wisdom is knowing the difference between what you’re doing for your own growth and what you’re creating to serve others.

    I learned yesterday that the poet Emily Dickinson was really into baking. Even though she was reclusive and rarely left home, she baked all the time and sent treats to the people in her town. But she also wrote 2000 poems and never shared them. One was art that served others; the other was art for self-expression. (that we get the benefit of today!)

    Not to introduce another rabbit trail…. 😉

    Thanks everybody. Loving this conversation!

  41. Profile photo of S. D. Smith

    S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Jen –Great point. Thank you.

    I love the Dickinson story. Such a beautiful thing. She believed she could share in one way, but ended up sharing with others for hundreds of years after her bread was eaten, without even trying. But all beautiful gifts.

    Note to non-writers, non-musicians, non-painters. Bake on. (Or whatever.)

    I DO think there’s room for extravagant language and efforts to simply say something beautiful, or beautifully. For joy, or other reasons.

    I am NOT arguing (or I don’t mean to argue) for utilitarianism, or minimalism. I am against those things in almost every way.

    This post (a million miles above us now) came to me while I was washing the dishes, as I said, and I didn’t give it a lot of thought. It just sort of came to me and after I was done, I asked Gina if I could have the computer for a minute and then wrote it out pretty fast.

    It’s amazing, though it shouldn’t be, to me the ways in which it is inadequate to say everything that needs to be said. Which is why another post that came to me last week and was scheduled for my blog today (last week) is so interesting to me.

    http://www.sdsmith.net/2011/10/25/the-box-ticker-and-the-poet-argue-about-qualifying-everything/

    So, anyway, yeah. I totally think there’s room for it, Jen. Though I imagine it as being necessarily sort of rare for healthy people. Maybe I’m wrong there.

    The novel I’m writing now is sort of that way. It’s supposed to be kind of funny and so I feel like it’s kind of self-indulgent. But I also know I’m served by that sort of thing in many ways. Particularly that I need and love to laugh.

    I’ll sometimes listen to PG Wodehouse novels in my car (especially read by the amazing Martin Jarvis –dude’s the best). I’ll laugh out loud at some hilarious wordsmithery and sort of simultaneously, without thinking much, just say ” Thank you, God.” It’s like I can’t believe he has made such a thing as humorous sentences and plots and I’m praising him for the world he’s made and how much joy it brings.

    Some of that writing could be described as self-indulgent, but it’s sort of Doxological to me.

    Does that make sense?

  42. Loren

    Well, I was going to head to bed, but since I’ve been invited to speak up, and now fully grasp the depth of “lead at the end of a pencil” and feel more sorry for Ron “McDuff” every moment (or maybe I’m just feeling sorry for Shakespeare…. Who, come to think of it, is one of those authors who has changed the world and yet has himself remained a mystery….)

    Anyway! This whole calling subject is one I’m still grappling with. I think the only thing that has become vitally clear is that if I am where I’m supposed to be, doing what God wants me to be doing, that is my calling.

    My husband and I are both missionary kids who fully intended to head overseas when we married sixteen years ago; our lives took a huge detour when our first child was born with special needs. Suddenly we found ourselves placed in a world completely new to either of us, and we were blessed and able to bless others in ways we could never have planned. It was totally God. And it was completely God when almost three years ago, He called our Keren-girl to her heaven-home, leaving us in many ways at a new crossroad. Was our calling still the same? Were we to go back to our original calling? We have three other young children now, and a whole life built here. My husband’s work which has been decent, but dull, is suddenly opening new venues, but he has also just found out about an organization that places Christian teachers in universities around the world, something he longed for but couldn’t find years ago. Meanwhile, I’m the coordinator for our mom’s group at church, a role I know God called me into, though it doesn’t seem to fit my creative longings (but if you go by the Meyer-Briggs test I took last week for fun, apparently coordinating is one of my strengths–who knew!) . We’re heavily involved in our church and prayerfully helping it along a current rough road.

    Okay, calling overload….

    I guess to sum up, the biggest thing I recently realized I had to do was to submit to my husband, and more importantly submit to God in complete trust and say, “I will do what you want us to do, and go where you want us to go.” Gulp! I have no idea how this is going to pan out. I’m terrified and thrilled all at the same time.

    So there’s my epic on callings.

  43. Laura Peterson

    @Jen – no way! I will never read Emily Dickinson the same way again. Love that story. And how great would it be to mysteriously discover her recipe box in some crowded New England yard sale?

  44. Jen

    Thanks, Sam. That definitely makes sense. I’m glad your post doesn’t try to say everything, because it leaves room for more conversation. It’s another good side effect of keeping things simple… and running with the dish-washing inspiration! Good lesson for me, because I tend to over-think and self edit to death. 🙂 (Hope my comment didn’t sound argumentative, because I pretty much agree with the whole post.)

    Laura: Isn’t that great? She was the first poet I remember really connecting with, and I like her even more now. Here’s the article I found… including her coconut cake recipe! (modified for the 21st century) http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2011/10/20/141554113/a-coconut-cake-from-emily-dickinson-reclusive-poet-passionate-baker

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