Right now, I am neck deep in the middle of my Master’s degree in Professional Writing. I am pursuing a dream of mine, and I’m working hard day by day to get there. The problem is that, in the middle of this, I’ve stopped loving writing.
Part of it is a continuous problem of comparison–reading other people’s works and being amazed and swept away with the beauty of their prose and the seemingly effortless way they bring the reader along with them. For me, every word is drawn out of my body like a splinter withdrawn from the skin–in pain and fear.
The other part is from the sheer overwhelming nature of going to school full time while working. The main writing I do now is to meet the requirements of my classes. Write five pages about how you will implement writing strategies in your classroom. Write 15-20 pages about a grammatical concept that is interesting to you (???). The words are demanded, and I reciprocate, but I’m left high and dry when I sit down to write for God. Ultimately, that is my dream and my desire–to talk about Him, to show forth His glory.
Doesn’t the same thing though happen in our relationships with God? We start off doing things to know Him more, to be closer to Him, but, after a while, these things we do become a part of the grinding machine of life, and, suddenly, we forget why we’ve been doing it all along. We may even feel a bit bitter about the drain on our lives and resources.
We’ve forgotten our why.
It’s easy to do. Why doesn’t seem to matter when you are getting up and going to work. Why doesn’t seem to matter when you lay down on your bed, exhausted from the day. But, we know, deep inside that it does matter–not because it affects the process of our days, but because it gives meaning to the process. So, how can we recover our why? By listening for His voice, maybe in places you wouldn’t expect.
This morning I was reading about an eccentric, Italian monk who began a monastery in the middle of the Syrian desert. It’s a place where all are welcome and can stay as long as they want. They practice the spiritual disciplines of silence, contemplation, prayer, and hospitality. This sounds spiritual and appealing, but we cannot always get away from our daily lives to find that quiet place, so Father Paolo also teaches the “theology of the sacred encounter.”
The sacred encounter is the idea that we can encounter God as we meet with other people, read good books, go through the traditions of church and prayer and Bible Study. He states, “Meetings [are] our encounters with Christ himself, who came to us in a body” (“An Impossible Hope”). These can happen at any time and with any person–we can live in holy expectation that the next person we talk to, the next article we read, the next service we attend could be an encounter with the divine.
What if He is waiting for you to see Him?
We can be hopefully expectant, but we must also be observant. His presence is an invitation. Henri Nouwen elaborates by stating, “by presence I mean attentiveness to the blessings that come to you day after day, year after year..They are there, surrounding us on all sides. But we have to be present to them and receive them. They don’t force themselves on us. They are gentle reminders of that beautiful, strong, but hidden, voice of the one who calls us by name” (Life of the Beloved).
God is not just found in “religious things” as though those things could contain Him. We must open our eyes wide to see the bigness of our God. The God of our vast creation. The God of the smallness of our cells. The God who was of broken body and broken spirit, just so we could take that first shuddering breath of new life.
As I write this, I am invigorated to keep going. He is with me now. I can feel His presence; His hand on my shoulders telling me that I am not alone and that He loves me. My writing may not pierce like the staccato rhythm of Hemingway or strip away misconceptions like the distinguished Flannery O’Connor. I have my own voice that I must speak, and so do you.
And it may also be that some of those things you have to do, but are not passionate about, really are keeping you on the path towards your goal. I know God has told me to complete this degree, and even though I am not passionate about the steps of this current journey, I know they are leading me toward my goal of one day being a professional writer in some way. This is true of our spiritual disciplines. We may not enjoy each step of the process of sanctification, but the end result and goal of relationship with God is worth it.
And there is always the hope for those moments of joy that defy explanation, those holy encounters, when God shows up in a transformational way. As long as we are waiting expectantly for Him to show up with our eyes wide open, we can feel confident that though the way is weary, we will be able to press forward towards the goal remembering why (and for Whom) we are doing it.