I glance at the computer and hesitate. The cursor is blinking at me, waiting and wordless.
A few minutes later, rather than writing, I find myself sorting socks or organizing a drawer. The refrigerator is being cleaned out and the shelves straightened.
Time—which I do not have any excess of—dribbles by, my creative energy wasted on small tasks that could have been done anytime. And before I know it, the afternoon is over, the kids are home, and the evening becomes a blur of activity that takes what little is left in me.
Then the self-condemnation begins. The shaming, accusatory voice whispers names as I tumble into bed: You are Worthless, Lazy, Unfaithful. I try to shake it off. “Tomorrow,” I promise, “I will be better.” Yet there are a thousand tomorrows that have come and gone in exactly the same way.
Using our gifts is, in many ways, a lot like the practice of prayer. It requires discipline, focus, and time set apart. You could argue that done with the intention to glorify God, it is actually a form of prayer.
Standing at the stove, sitting at the piano, arched over a canvas, a garden, a workbench or a notebook—we become like our Creator as we take what is formless and bring forth something lovely. To craft, to be creative, is a powerful and even prayerful experience.
When I write, sometimes the words flow and I’m lost in storytelling. But sometimes—admittedly, oftentimes—it feels hard. Sometimes it is excruciating. And so the hard, deep work gets pushed aside for busyness. So often we tell ourselves we’ll do it later. We find things to distract us and whittle away weeks and months.
And the enemy wins because he’s diluted our days into a bland sort of nothingness.
“Stop saying you don’t have the time. Start admitting you didn’t make the time.” (Carey Nieuwhof, At Your Best)
There are some natural and supernatural forces at work in our lives, keeping us from fully becoming the creative people we were born to be. I believe calling them out affords a sort of power over the temptation to procrastinate and put off doing what would make us most fully ourselves.
The first force is resistance.
That is, the inertia around our best, most sacred work. Anything but that our minds and bodies moan. We experience this resistance because what is most worth doing requires something from us. It costs us—often dearly. It means digging deep, drawing forth, going places within ourselves. It means ignoring all the distractions that glitter around us for the sake of what is not shiny but far more lasting. That means there’s a transaction happening—the spending of energy that we have a limited allotment of every day. It’s a precious commodity. It’s something to be stewarded. And when it is gone—it really is gone. We can’t do excellent work with the dregs of our energy.
“Everyone has his own unique mission, which he discovers when he becomes aware of his talent. The accomplishment of this mission requires all of our vital energies,” writes Alexandre Havard in Created for Greatness: The Power of Magnanimity.
And then, too, creating is risky. It is vulnerable, because we, by necessity, leave something of ourselves in the work. Something that could be ignored, scored, or laughed at. Resistance is often the function of a protective part of ourselves, doing its job, trying to keep us unremarkable. Safe. Blending in means being without the risk of rejection. And there is an overpowering guardian within us that wants it that way. “And I was afraid, and I went and buried your talent in the ground.” (Matt 25:25)
God has bigger plans for us, and He knows well the parts at play deep inside. It is part of His purpose for our healing and spiritual maturity, our growth in wholeness as we grow in prayer, to allow for the creative, expansive side of us to bloom. The closer we come to God, the more we become like Him, the more we will flourish and show forth His glory.
But that? That makes someone furious.
Our enemy cannot be creative.
He can only mimic, distort, tear down. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10) And so when we, God-like, design and dance and draw forth beautiful and holy things out of darkness, his fury and envy know no bounds.
Which leads us to another force working against us: retaliation.
This is the Who do you think you are voice. The ridiculing, taunting voice that tells us no one wants what we have to offer. That it has been done before, and better. That makes us want to rip it up and stuff it away and keep it to ourselves. Retaliation is a bitter, evil reproach for the offering of ourselves to the world, stretching out our arms and our hearts and saying, here, here is my offering.
Satan hears an echo in that offering — the echo of a cry from a Cross that marks the end of his reign. And he retaliates against us for reminding him that God became man that we might become like Him.
Being human is such a staggering reality—this made in the image of God business, it means we cooperate with Him in the remarkable work of reconciling all things, drawing them up under His goodness—ordering them, shaping them, making them sweet and seamless and sacred.
And that’s what we need to remember when our fallen nature and our fallen enemy seek to steal that part of us away: we were made for more than what is busy and what is safe. We were made for magnanimous dreams. After all, we were made for nothing less than heaven, and we make the earth a little more like our heavenly homeland when we do beautiful things.
So I’ve started saying the “Prayer Against Retaliation” in Deliverance Prayers for Use by the Laity every morning.
I’ve also written a prayer for writers—which really, is all of us who are aware that words have a certain power and that we were designed to receive truth and goodness and beauty through them, whether in an email, a birthday card, or a novel. May it be a blessing to those who embrace that calling! (You can access a printable version here.)
A prayer for writers
Father of Lights,
I praise you and thank you for making me in your image, in the image of a loving God who brings forth from nothingness and who speaks words over chaos, creating beauty from what is dark and formless.
You have made your people for words and You have designed us to know You through them. You speak into our lives, bringing clarity and loveliness, and you do so most powerfully and personally through the Eternal Word Himself, your Divine Son, who was with You from the beginning.
Unworthy as I am, I find myself privileged to participate in a small way in the magnificent work of creation and redemption with my own gift of words—this gift that the Holy Spirit bestowed on me in my baptism and strengthened in my confirmation. To be a writer is to share in some way in Your lavish expressiveness, Lord, and I am amazed and humbled to find myself the recipient of such a calling.
I ask you to bless the work of my hands. Sanctify the scribbled notebooks and sticky keyboards. Take what is merely human and wholly insufficient and infuse it with Your grace; give my words deep meaning. Make them to point to eternal splendors and reveal timeless truths with freshness and vibrancy.
Help me to find the discipline to write—to push past the distractions and the lies of the enemy who whispers, who do you think you are? when I put my pen to paper. Who tempts me to procrastination, busyness and the swirl of activity at the cost of the deep work that brings forth real creativity.
May my words be the means by which the world receives again and again the staggering story of its salvation and sanctification. May my writing always magnify the message of the Gospel, the Living Word, and draw others to Christ.
And may You, Oh God, be praised and glorified in both my words and deeds, now and forever.
Mother of the Word Incarnate, pray for me.
*For a printable version of this prayer, click here.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.