When do we cross the line from being called to being covetous? It’s a question I’ve been struggling with lately–a question I should have considered a long time ago–in my life as a writer. I confess that nearly every waking minute of my life, I dream about Having Time to Write. Uninterrupted time alone with my computer and my characters–Ahhh! When people ask me why I am a writer, I tell them it is because if I don’t write, the voices in my head will keep me awake at night. Fictional people literally scream to be let out of me. I remember being four or five years old, desperate to learn how to physically form letters on a page so I could finally start putting stories down on paper. If I am doing my real job, or driving, or cooking, or helping my children tie their shoes, odds are that I am also working through structural problems in a novel or composing dialogue in my head. The inability to escape these mundane tasks to transfer my thoughts onto paper (or microchips) leaves me distracted and on-edge. Writing is my calling, or so I have told myself for as long as I can remember. It’s not that I am writing Great Things that will change the world; but my writing time is a form of prayer, time spent exploring mysteries both human and divine. In recent years, I have also learned to view it as a ministry by which I convey a little of the love God has shown me to whoever reads my words. But if God has given me this calling, this gift, whatever it is, why doesn’t He give me time to fulfill it?
As a seemingly unrelated backdrop to this battle raging in my heart, my four-year-old son recently developed a love of baking. (It is not coincidence that he also has a deep, abiding love of sugar.) In particular, he embarked on a quest to bake banana bread. Insistently, continuously, he begged to make banana bread, even after I let him bake cookies (our house being empty of baking soda to make the bread rise at the time.) “Today, we will make banana bread!” he would declare, day after day, because asking politely is a skill he stubbornly refuses to learn.
Now, banana bread is not a necessary component of life. In a post-apocalyptic world, no one would trek across a bombed-out nuclear wasteland in search of it. Neither was I going to drop everything, put dinner on hold, make a special trip to the store for baking soda, just to indulge my son’s desire to bake it. But banana bread is one of the little joys that add beauty to life, and baking it together as Mom and Four-Year-Old is especially lovely. So, some days later–after we had made our regularly-scheduled trip to the grocery store and a rainy afternoon presented itself–we set about the business of measuring and mixing, teaching and learning and bonding. I let my son take credit for the finished product even though I did the lion’s share of the work.
…And I discovered a new way to think about my writing.
God does not need me to tell stories. He has no need of my little talents any more than I need my four-year-old to help me make banana bread. I could do it perfectly well by myself. So, too, God already understands life’s mysteries, and if He wants to convey any insight about them to the world, He certainly has better tools at His disposal than my poor, gasping words. My stories are not essential nourishment; they are banana bread, a sweet something extra. Yet my Father allows me to create them because writing is time that He and I spend together, time that is cherished and filled with love. Just as I cannot let my son bake banana bread every day–because how would we eat it all? And when would we go to the park, or chase caterpillars in the yard, or pretend to be birds?–I must accept that my Father knows best, and He will give me no more than it is good for me to have. He knows that a little banana bread will cheer me, but too much will sicken my soul. And He has shown me that, no matter how I struggle with my stories, no matter how much of myself I invest in them, I will always be just the four-year-old helper who takes the credit while He does the actual work.
So, I am not going to covet writing time anymore. I will discipline myself the way I have been trying to discipline my son, and remember to ask politely. “God, is it time now, please? No? Okay then.” “Today, God? Please? Thank you, Father.” For I do not live by my own feeble words, but by the ones that come from Him.