Sunday, February 20, 2011

Give Me Something to Learn


by C.J. Chase

When I first tried my hand at writing novels, I targeted my books to the general (secular) market. I experienced some success (a couple major contest wins, an agent), but a book contract remained elusive.

After a writing sabbatical and a bit of introspection, I decided to change my focus and write "Christian" fiction. But how intimidating! I'm not a Super Christian. In fact, I'm so far from Super Christian status, I don't even know who designs the cool uniforms for the Super Christian community. Did I really have anything meaningful to contribute? "Lord, if you want me to write, give me something to say" became my prayer as I began each new book. But recently, I realized my prayer is incomplete.

A few weeks ago, an unpublished writer friend mentioned her fear that she might never publish a book. What, she asked, if she spent all that time writing the book and no one ever read it? She would have been wasting her time. I'm familiar with that fear, having lived with it for years.

As I thought back over my stash of unsold manuscripts, I had an epiphany. Each of those books has characters who wrestled with difficult questions about God and faith. Each of those books required prayer and Bible study from me to answer those questions in a meaningful way. And each of those books changed me long before I attempted to send them out into the world.

Jesus spent three years preparing the disciples before he gave them the Great Commission to go-and-tell. Joseph spent years as a slave and prisoner before God put him in a position of authority. And then there's Moses. Moses spent forty years as a prince where he had access to the best education of his day. And then he spent another forty as a desert shepherd. What did God assign him to do at the age of eighty? Use the skills he developed during those two disparate times of his life to lead hundreds of thousands through a desert.

Peter instructs us to be prepared to give answers to those who question why we believe (I Peter 3:15). My characters -- and by extension, me -- have struggled with weighty issues universal to all humans. How do I deal with people who hurt me and refuse to express regret? If God is loving, why does He allow evil? Such questions don't allow for glib answers. Not in fiction and especially not in real life.

Maybe God will have me speak to a stranger, to a person who lives far away and whom I will never meet, through a book. Or maybe the person who needs my answer will be as close as my own family, in a quiet moment with a troubled teenager.

I have a long way to go to earn my Super Christian cape, but these days, I've amended my prayer. I still ask the Lord to give me something to say -- but I also ask him to give me something to learn. Because even if I never sell another book, I won't have been wasting my time if I spend it learning about God.

Being prepared isn't just for Boy Scouts. It's to be a way of life for all Christians. We cannot share what we do not know.




16 comments:

  1. Amen! Wonderful post, CJ.

    I keep saying I'm writing for Him, but I never thought of it actually being for me. And yet it makes perfect sense. There's great clarity in your words. Thank you for expressing them today.

    Anita Mae.

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  2. What a great idea, CJ. i know when I'm preparing to teach I always learn more than my class. But I hadn't really applied it to writing. There's always purpose in the process with God. I love that about Him!

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  3. Yes, so true. In my first novel the question I asked was "what is the meaning of love." I wasn't at all sure of the answer when I first had the idea, but by the end (six years later) I felt God had truly spoken to me on this issue.

    With my second novel, I knew what I wanted to say through the book as a whole, but didn't realize that one of the three main characters would become a journey of discovery for me.

    By the way, I'm not at all sure I ever want to read a book by a cape-carrying super Christian. Very funny how you tied that in.

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  4. I'd read a book by a cape-carrying Super Christian. :-) The question is "Do I wear my Wonder Woman t-shirt or borrow my oldest daughter's Batgirl or Supergirl one?"

    Good post, C.J. You made me ponder. I like your line: "Because even if I never sell another book, I won't have been wasting my time if I spend it learning about God."

    amen

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  5. Wow. (I just realized where my granddaughter gets that from. She says wow all the time)

    anyway, Wow is the best way for me to describe how spot on this post is. I never thought of it this way. I so agree with Lisa on preparation. I do it for historical accuracy and never think about how I'm re-discovering spiritual truths when I'm writing 'for' my characters.

    A light bulb moment CJ. Thank you!

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  6. I love this post! I agree. I learn so much about the Lord through the writing process. I have come to believe that it's what I gain i spritual growth from the journey of writing, editing, publishing etc., that is more important than the actual book. Thanks for sharing. :)

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  7. Great post, CJ. Isn't it interesting how God uses this writing gig to teach us about Him? (Just like being a mom, in my case. I've learned a LOT about God's love.)

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  8. Anita, I don't know that I'd thought about it much until the one person mentioned she worried about wasting her time. And as I thought about it, I realized how much writing had given me because it forced me to really think through faith issues.

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  9. Lisa, teaching is exactly what occurred to me as I was writing the blog. You can't teach a subject without knowing it very well. You have to study and research things that will never get covered in class -- kind of like researching things that will never be included in the book.

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  10. "What is the meaning of love." Hahaha, Dina. So you pick easy subjects to explore in books too, huh? When I was doing the one about the loving-God-allowing-evil, I kept thinking, "You've got to be crazy."

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  11. Gina, with all those kids and a second career as a writer, you should definitely wear the Wonder Woman outfit. I'm in awe.

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  12. Thanks for the wow, Deb. I think I got my first inkling of what was happening when I found myself having to check out research books about faith, not just historical time periods. But then that comment clarified for me just how much I had gained from that research.

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  13. amanderings, I wonder if a lot of it comes from the fact that writing forces us to "be still." There's so much noise in our lives -- running here and there. And when we're home, we're barraged with media (she says as she types on the Internet).

    We all need those quiet moments when we are away from noise and people to meditate. For writers, it often comes through writing. For others, it may come through art or gardening or a walk in the woods.

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  14. Susanne, oh, yeah, I learned more about myself after I became a mom than in all the years prior. Kids are like a mirror and a tape recorder sometimes where you see and all your mistakes and foibles -- yikes.

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  15. Wow, CJ. What a great concept. I totally love it. I always try to say I'm writing for God, but deep down, there's a part of me that knows that yes, I'm writing for God, but I'm also writing for me. And I feel selfish as I'm admitting that to myself. But you've put it all in context for me. Because I am truly learning more about Him and growing in my faith, and that is never time wasted.

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  16. Great post, CJ. I've been having similar thoughts as I worked through a plot/motivation issue in my WIP.
    I came to the conclusion that maybe the point of my struggle wasn't to refine the story, but to refine me. If the story sells, great, but even if it never does, I'll still have reaped the benefits of lessons learned

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