"How do you know when you are finished with a piece of writing?"—Evie, age 10 Evie, you've asked a stumper. I wish I had a clear, concrete ... Read More
Doubt usually springs on me right after I’ve finished writing. When I sit down to revise, I find myself thinking: You are only thirty-four years old. Who gives a hoot ‘n holler what you think or know about life? Why would anyone want to read your stories of a stay-at-home Mom who’s never published a book, whose life is radically unexceptional? Aren’t you supposed to DO something with your life, or at least live more than half of it, before you can write a memoir? And besides all that, how many days a week do you actually wake up believing everything you just said two paragraphs ago?
Thankfully, and perhaps providentially, I’ve been reading Frederick Buechner’s Telling Secrets. Buechner has a few things to say that have helped me quiet those doubting voices.
“But I talk about my life anyway because if, on the one hand, hardly anything could be less important, hardly anything could be more important. My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are…because it is precisely through these stories…that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally.”
Doubt has many subcategories though, so of course I worry through all of them. After questioning my voice, I begin doubt the validity of my message. Do my experiences line up with Scripture? What would “so and so” have to say in reaction to these thoughts? Am I reducing the gospel somehow by emphasizing my emotional needs, thereby creating just another spiritual self-help manual? Will this truly matter to anyone out there besides me?
When I let the questions get the best of me, productivity in writing comes to a crashing halt. Yet Buechner speaks again:
“It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been in our lives and where we are going. It also makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own, and exchanges like that have a lot to do with what being a family is all about and what being human is all about. Finally, I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell.”
Passages like these remind me of times when other’s words have helped me, and they give me hope that my words may one day do the same for someone else. It’s no wonder we lovers of words, we users of words, and those blessed by words are all plagued by doubt. Words are life, and life is opposed.
A few years ago, I was struggling in a way that felt more supernatural than my usual lack of self-confidence. I had begun to see writing as a gift and though I hated to call myself “gifted,” I believed my ability was given to me by God. Yet, it seemed like the moment I tried to live and write from that reality I was attacked. After some time, I decided to pray about it and one day God spoke to me through a passage in Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message, where it was sectioned off differently than in my usual NIV. The passage was titled: Why Tell Stories?
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.” (Matthew, chapter 13, verses 11-13)
God answered me, right where I was. In letters, words, and paragraph form, God told me part of what I was here for. A passage from his own book, recorded over a thousand years ago and composed before my first sunrise, explains the need for stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight.
In my writing I share bits of real life which (hopefully) plant seeds of hope and light; many of you write fictional stories which share real truth. Others of you sing your stories, and maybe a few of you use color, lines, or even organic life to add beauty in your own corner of God’s world. Whatever form our stories take, there will always be opposition to truth and life, and I have found some of the most devastating opposition sprouting in the exact places my stories come from. But this little post is one way I have taken heart, gone to battle, and determined not give doubt its sway. I hope it encourages you to do the same. I’d love to hear about the different ways you have battled the big “D” word yourself. What are your solutions for conquering doubt once and for all? Can it be done?
Author’s note: The sketch for this post was created by John Haney, a fellow Hutchmoot 2010 attendee whom I met on Facebook. John conquers doubt with humor and has a cute little comic strip you should check out at www.beyondthedromedary.blogspot.com