A couple weeks back, while walking through a bookstore in Hayes Valley with my mom, she pointed out a poem posted on one of the shelves, slightly hidden among the cookbooks, graphic novels and rare editions of the classics. It’s a poem I’ve heard before, one by Charles Bukowski called so you want to be a writer? In his words:
if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it…
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.
I agree with Bukowski to an extent. As a writer, words often come bursting out of me, demanding to be written down before they give me a stomachache with the intensity of their force. But Bukowski seems to downplay the work that goes into forming words into intelligible thoughts, into shaping stories so that they encourage others and spread truth rather than just being a self-serving, jumbled mess of words on a page. That’s no help to anyone.
Instead, sitting down to write takes work. It can be a daunting process in that it’s hard to know where to begin sometimes. For me, thoughts and memories float around my head like dandelion spores blown about in the wind. I try to grasp at them, pin them down, and put them in an order that makes sense. Like so many molecules of sound, these thoughts bang against the walls of my brain. They are shouts and whispers clamoring for attention, each vying for the top spot, and I have to work through the process of ranking them, attempting to organize them through keystrokes and mouse clicks.
There’s also the tendency to get distracted while I write– mostly by myself and my surroundings. Even as I’m writing now, I lost focus for a few minutes, pulled out of my train of thought by a mosquito buzzing around my room and then by a hang nail that I started chewing on with a complete lack of self-control, like a child picking at a scab. But then my thoughts came rushing back in, forcing me to be grounded here in the present moment, curled up on my bed in a little patch of sun. I’m trying to take advantage of the warm sunlight streaming through my window. It keeps coming and going, occasionally obscured by the clouds quickly rolling in from the bay, but mostly the sun is really making an appearance today. And in my neighborhood – and in this city, in general– that is a gift that I readily receive.
The process of writing is a gift for me, too. I enjoy it, and, as is the case with most good things, writing can take effort. Occasionally, I find value in just sitting down to write without knowing where I’m going. The words take me there eventually, and that’s somewhat the point for me anyways. In writing, my jumbled thoughts and hazy memories take shape and become clearer. Words help put structure around otherwise unformed truths.
So that’s where I’m at right now, trying to determine where to begin, not quite certain where to start my story. After all, like every one’s story, mine’s nowhere near finished yet. But it’s not my story to write anyway – it’s God’s – so I’ll begin where He tells us to begin: with joy and thanks.
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1Thessalonians 5:16-18)
What I’ve learned most in the past two years has been the simple, but extremely transformative truth of God’s goodness. He has brought me joy and contentment by revealing himself to me in the fun things (like my move to San Francisco) and the hard things (like my ended engagement). As Dallas Willard puts it in his amazingly powerful book The Good and Beautiful God, I have “fallen in love with the God Jesus knows.” In getting to know God’s character more, I’ve started learning the “secret of being content in any and every situation” that Paul talks about in his letter to the Philippians: thankfulness.
That’s not to say that I’m always successful in the endeavor to be joyful in every situation, but the more time I spend with God, the more I can see him faithfully transforming me to be more like his Son, and that’s what gives me the ability to be grateful in all my circumstances: single or attached, living at home with my parents or on my own in the city, five pounds up or five pounds down, succeeding at work or feeling pressed on all sides. Knowing God more for who He is (loving, good, faithful, strong) helps put me at ease and frees me up to give thanks for all that He’s done – most obviously and most importantly for the gift of His Son, which allows me to be in this supremely satisfying relationships with Him.
Next week I’ll write more about what God has been teaching me about giving thanks and making a joyful noise and how choosing joy has the power to change us – even when our circumstances stay the same. For now, I’ll leave you with this truth that God has been speaking to me lately:
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)
I’m praying that God would give you and I a dose of good medicine this week. Let me know what you’re thankful for – or what you’re not! – so that I know more specifically how to have you on my hopefully cheerful heart.