Presented for your consideration, a portrait of delusion:
People often ask me why I write. I usually give them one of these answers:
- “I enjoy writing. It’s fun.”
- “I write to help relieve stress. It’s cheaper than therapy and requires no prescription.”
- “My 7th grade teacher gave me some positive feedback on an essay, and I never looked back.”
Of course, being a supposedly Christian writer, none of these answers really satisfies. They don’t “testify.” Where’s the hand of God in this? Surely He had something to do with it. He guided, pushed, pulled, directed, moved, inspired, commanded, foreordained, or called me to write…right?
I’ve heard people describe their motivation for writing this way. “God called me to write.” It always feels a little presumptuous to me. We acknowledge that people are called to full-time ministry, or missionary work, or any one of a number of self-sacrificing vocations–doctors, teachers, firemen, policemen, career military personnel, and so on. But…writers? Fiction writers? Speculative fiction writers?
It sounds silly. Writing is something people with real callings might do in their spare time or after they’ve retired. They’d write memoirs, or testimonials, or devotionals, or self-help books. Certainly not trivial little stories about spaceships, fairies, or monsters. Isn’t saying you’re “called to write” just a convenient way to spiritualize something you simply want to do?
I suppose it depends on where that “want” comes from. It’s easy to say that something is God’s will, but like so many other things about God, it’s often more difficult to discern what His will is than what it isn’t. If you think you’ve been called to write, but, like Mr. Bear up there, you see writing as the fast track to fame and fortune, don’t care about learning how to write well, and are impervious to the feedback and advice of people trying to help you, I think it’s safe to say you might not be in the center of God’s will.
I hate to trot out C.S. Lewis again, but he’s very apt for the topic at hand. In The Silver Chair (a Narnia story that will not, unfortunately, be coming to the theater any time soon), Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb find their way into Narnia, but Jill is a bit confused about that and has a question for Aslan:
“I was wondering–I mean–could there be some mistake? Because nobody called me and Scrubb, you know. It was we who asked to come here. Scrubb said we were to call to–to Somebody–it was a name I wouldn’t know–and perhaps the Somebody would let us in. And we did, and then we found the door open.”
“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.
I believe God plants desires in our hearts as one means of guiding us. I think he surrounds us with people who speak on His behalf, if we’ll only pay attention and listen. I also think we have a duty to honor His guidance by pursuing it with all our heart and with as much excellence as we can muster, even if it’s writing silly little stories about spaceships, and fairies, and monsters.
So, am I “called” to write? Beats me. I think, though, that it’s a good idea to write as if I am, and to perhaps not be quite so skeptical of that person over there who is convinced they are.
I once did a Bible study on being “called” to be something (other than an apostle or prophet). In fact, I believe the subject was singleness–are certain people “called” to be single?
I discovered that the “calling” of God is much narrower than we like to believe.
However, one can be “gifted” to be single. Since gifts are many and varied, and different combinations of them result in unique abilities, it should be biblically appropriate to say that one is “gifted” to be a writer…or a musician…or a teacher.
But that is hardly as forgiving as saying “I’m called” to be something. It sounds presumptuous and arrogant to say “I’m gifted for writing”. A right understanding of giftedness is actually quite humbling, and most of us wouldn’t go around mentioning it. It tends to engender more of the attitude Jesus taught in Luke 14–choose the lowest seat, so that your host can come to you and request that you move up higher–in other words, let God exalt you: if you are truly gifted for writing or teaching or garbage disposal, people will notice, and God will use those gifts.
Of course, then we get into what it means to be gifted for something–and it seems to us in our westernized culture that if we are gifted, then it should be easy–like Mr. Bear. But that is not true, either.
Lest I end up writing an actual blog post here, I’ll stop. But I just wanted to make the point that I do indeed believe we often use the language of “called” to justify and validate our desires to do something–and that we may not need to justify and validate them. Just do it, work at it, do it well, and people will recognize that gifting without us having to say anything at all.
I believe I agree with Esther….being called is much more narrow than being gifted. Believers are called specifically unto repentance, out of
The darkness, and unto eternal life among other things and I do believe that certain believers are
Called for a specific task, ie abraham, Paul, the Judges.
Being gifted is different. Our Lord has placed certain talents, gifts, and characteristics within us to be used for His glory that we can squander through neglect and wrong motives.
I am an amateur writer. I simply blog, write short stories for kids, and do devotionals for the church and have no aims at fame or fortune.
I did like the seventh grade teacher line… Because it did happen to me 😉
A couple of other articles on this topic came out almost simultaneously with mine, and they’re definitely worth a read. Check out Mike Duran’s thoughts at Novel Journey ( http://noveljourney.blogspot.com/2011/03/where-do-writers-fit-in-church.html ), and the four-part series at The Gospel Coalition ( http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/03/20/what-are-you-called-to-do-a-theology-of-work/ )
I once heard a sermon about “Creative prophecies/Callings” and an example of this is perhaps you never thought of writing a book while you were child and then one day you decide to write and perfect the craft. Finally(many moons later perhaps) you land a book deal. Does this mean you were called? Well, you put in the time and effort and found your purpose which was to write speculative fiction or self help books and its working out fine for you.
No one really knows. I know for myself, I have wanted write since I first learned how to read a book. All those years I’ve written essays and stories and had some disappointments and rewards and in my 20s I am still perfecting my craft and I am published as well. For me it was a very strong “pull” in the direction of writing. Did I still attend college? Yes. Did I realize I may have to work hard? Yes. Did I quit a job to write full time? No. I realized the realities.
Wow. Fantastic post. Exactly how I feel.
I was called on the carpet by another believer who didn’t think my motives for writing were pure enough. He didn’t want to debate content–he kept asking about my motives. All I could say was, “Dude, I like to tell stories. I like to write. I kind of want to make a little money doing it.”
But the funny thing is, no one questioned my motives when I was writing commercial copy for businesses… Only when I started writing fiction…. Hmm….
The definition of “calling” has been quite abused by the modern church. Very unfortunate. I wrote a piece of flash fiction about this idea. Maybe one day I’ll expand it. It’ll probably anger a lot of people, and they’ll question my motives. Oh well. 🙂
Write it anyway. Even if it angers some, there is always that one or few whom it was meant for:)
Well… I’ve never used the word “called”. BUT God recently asked me to write. I’ve lived my life similarly to Mr. Bear, with not much interest in reading or writing- It was never what I wanted to do with my life… and I still don’t really feel a “want to” about it, but feel spiritual conviction when I try to dismiss this “request” that has been given to me.
Throughout my life I have written things just for fun, mostly poems and very short stories, and have felt embarrassed that friends and professors have made such a big deal about me “writing well”. Who cares how beautifully a Scientific Thesis is written! But I’ve always received comments about how I wrote regardless of what I wrote. I humbly am aware I seem to have a “gift” for writing- like it or not.
Then one day last year I clearly felt God tell me to write a novel. Not in so many or such precise words- but the words and impression made the intention clear. I fought it anyway. I don’t really want to. I have no delusions of making money from it. I half think it might just be for my own spiritual growth in some way, and have no idea if I should let anyone else see what I’m writing. I really don’t care for that kind of attention. But I desire to please God. So over the past year I have probably doubled the number of fiction novels I’ve read in my entire life, I’ve read several fiction instruction books, attended an author’s seminar about plotting, started blogging and subscribed to some good writing blogs such as this one… and I have felt very overwhelmed and ignorant about what I believe has been asked of me… I wonder at times if I misunderstood or had a delusional moment. But God has confirmed and convicted too much for me to deny what He has asked for. I have no intention of quitting my day job.
From my own experience I’m pretty sure God calls some people to write. Even silly speculative fantasy on some strange planet with weird creatures on it. I don’t know why. But I know how Narnia, read to me when I was a child, has impacted my life and understanding of God- and I believe God uses writers to reach our hearts and minds in ways that no preacher ever will. Will I be one of those writers? That’s not yet within my will, but I hope I will let God do with me as He wills. I’m desiring to learn at this point in-order to be obedient in a way that is worthy of the one who has asked me to write a particular strange speculative fiction story. What will become of this? I don’t yet have a clue. But I felt compelled to share this with you here today.
This thought popped into my head: those who are truly called to write should not use it as an excuse to neglect other work or family or ministry. A trap I fall into is similar, except that I tend not to actually neglect, but rather to chafe at my other duties because I would rather be writing instead. Even those who are called by God to write need to find a balance with that calling and their callings to thier families and ministries!
Luther’s mention of Abraham, Paul, the judges should remind us that God doesn’t treat us all as if we’re cookies cut from the same mold or assembly line products zipped down the same path.
I’m thinking some writers are definitely called to write. Patrick could have been describing my experience instead of his, but I know other writers who have loved writing since they were small and want to write simply because of the joy it brings. Who am I to say they are less qualified to write?
After all, writing is an honorable profession or an enjoyable hobby. We wouldn’t look down on someone for being a computer programmer or for playing golf, would we?
But Fred has touched on my series about entertainment in his conclusion: So, am I “called” to write? Beats me. I think, though, that it’s a good idea to write as if I am …
BTW, the article Fred linked to in his comment, the one about the theology of work is excellent. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.
I adore that video. I wish so much I’d have thought to make it myself. It’s such a hoot.
Great post. I was inspired to respond on my blog.
But just want to add here that I agree with your conclusion and I love the quote from CS Lewis’ The Silver Chair. I do believe that if we have desire, and it’s not driven by sin, God probably gave it to us.
I mean, my son wants to be a rock star. But that has nothing to do with his wanting to glorify God. It has everything to do with wanting to be rich and famous.
I’ve never wanted to be rich and famous but I’ve always wanted the writer’s life. You know, the one where you meet with your friends in pubs and discuss writing over a brew and a cigar. heh heh So I’m not sure that my desires are any better than my son’s. After I was a saved, though, I began to want to use my writing for God’s glory. I suspect that God planted the desire to write, and to learn how to write, into me long before I knew there was such a thing as calling.
[…] on Christian calling. He’s wrestling with the issue of whether writers have a divine calling. He says: I’ve heard people describe their motivation for writing this way. “God called me to write.” […]
Fred, thanks so much for this. I went through a strange month of anguish recently doubting my calling to be a writer. i felt if God was really not calling me to write, I was wasting valuable years I could be earning a living, which my family very much needs. I do have a day job as a copyeditor and writing coach, but I have seen very weird things happen when I’ve prayed about this “calling.”
For instance, we really needed me to bring in income over the winter. I have always said to God that if he would give me full-time work, I will put it first, but if he wants me to write, to take away the work. Then I have this book idea burning in my heart to write, a book that is so all about turning to God and glorifying him. My work dries right up, I write this epic novel in record time (165,000 words in three months) and honestly I have no feeling that I worked all that much on it; I soared through the whole experience effortlessly (which is not always the case when I write). But I kept feeling this need to earn a living and kept praying for work…. and the moment I finished the last line of the novel, I got three emails from clients asking me to edit their books. That day. Did that mean I was called to write? Beats me, but I look at writing as what I do best, aside from helping other writers, and I figure the best gift of sacrifice is using the talents I have to praise him, whatever he puts before me.
A friend told me if God wanted me to quit writing (which was the place I had come to, again), he would put me over “there” and not in front of my desk with a ton of ideas for novels (wherever “there” is).
Maybe it’s the semantics that is the issue. If I take away the word ‘calling” and the word “gift” and just approach each day asking how I can best serve God and see what I feel inclined to do for his glory, and what doors he opens to me to serve,Ii usually end up writing and loving it. Then there’s the weird experience where I had prayed hard for God to tell me what to write next and I had two explicit dreams detailing the book, the title, the themes, and the entire first chapter. And this was a book I would never want to write–a painful one, but I do believe God was telling me in this instance to write this book and he gave me a dream (of a kind I’ve never had before–so detailed) in order to impress upon me the need to write that book (in answer to my prayer request).
I did write it, did it faithfully although it was very painful, but I believe God wanted me to tell that story and help others going through betrayal. I see many instances where a person feels led strongly to write their story in order to help others. should we discount that and say that wasn’t God telling them to write that book? I am inclined to believe that when we ask God to lead our lives and put the dremas in our hearts that he wants for us, he does. When God gives us the desires of our hearts, it doesn’t mean he gives us our heart’s desire. he puts dreams in our hearts so we will chase after them. I think God wants us to do things we love for him, for when we do the things we love for God’s glory, there’s a wonderful deep satisfaction that ensues. And I personally feel that’s a gift God gives us.
Sorry for the long post. It’s been the main thing I’ve been pondering for weeks and I value all your comments on this!
I’m glad you kept writing, Susanne! It’s such a frightening, risky business in so many ways, and can be a real leap of faith putting yourself on record, forever, in a very public forum.
I agree that much of this is an issue of semantics and the emotional baggage certain words take on, and it’s also about attitude, as Esther observed. It’s one thing to say “God called me to write” with a prideful attitude, trying to stamp God’s seal of approval on yourself, but it’s quite another thing to recognize God’s calling in your life and pursue it with perseverance and humility.
In her blog ( http://www.sally-apokedak.com/whispers_of_dawn/2011/03/divine-calling/), Sally talks about how God equips us to do His will, and I think that’s a huge part of discerning what He wants us to do. Like Sally, I have the occasional fantasy about sitting in with the Inklings or the equivalent, having that sort of fellowship and fun in a writing community. There’s certainly nothing wrong or unspiritual about having fun writing or enjoying the satisfaction of a job done well, and as Susanne says, that’s also a gift from God.
Lots of insightful comments, everyone. Thanks for participating.
Great post! I’ve been struggling with this very think. Thanks for the confirmation. I love how God works all things to His glory!
Oh my goodness … I just watched that video.
I still don’t know what I think (are some people called to writing or not). But I do believe that if God does call people, it may not be the way that we think. Perhaps he called us to blog or to encourage others on their writing journey or to be a great editor or start that indie press. You may never be “paid” for your calling to write.
At least that’s what I’m learning. To give my writing to God, whatever form it may be and realize that God’s call may not come in the form of a published novel 🙂
One more thought. What about when you want to walk away from writing and you can’t? I’ve experienced that in the last few months. I actually asked God to let me go and live a normal life (haha, whatever that is). But I did not feel the release. So I continue to write. Does that mean I was called? No idea. But I know God wants me to keep writing, even if its little blog posts to share my walk with others.
Great post on God’s call to write. Your words express my thoughts on the subject. I especially liked “I also think we have a duty to honor His guidance by pursuing it with all our heart and with as much excellence as we can muster, even if it’s writing silly little stories about spaceships, and fairies, and monsters.” Thanks, Fred!