Why we write is a fair question, especially when we put the word “Christian” in front of the word “writer.” I wrote this piece last summer (July 2019). So close now to releasing the book I allude to in it, here I am stepping out into clearer view. May this first post be a reminder to never forget my first love.
Why do we write? There are so many perfectly acceptable answers. For the fun, the community, the challenge. To make a living. To grow, to learn, to teach, to serve. To entertain, to encourage. To change the world. We all write different things, and for different reasons.
But nowadays, more than ever, it seems to come with another reason, or at least requirement: To be seen. Boy, is that a loaded one for me. I don’t have the personality that seems to be the modern prerequisite for making it as an author. So many things make me want to run in the opposite direction. Online presence, self-promotion, networking. Making a name for ourselves.
It’s not like I can’t do this. It’s not like I haven’t. I’ve written and edited in the corporate world for decades now. Working on brochures, newsletters, proposals, training materials. Presentations, press releases, articles, technical reports. That world I’m fine with. It’s all very straightforward. I can even hand over my resume without a shred of self-consciousness.
But my personal writing, where I talk so much about God, has been a hidden thing for most of my life. And here I am in this season where I can’t keep it to myself any longer. I’m not even starting small—this past year I’ve written out my heart and set it down whole. Despite this fresh desire so strong it can’t be ignored, everything in me shouts “pump the brakes” each time someone emphatically tells me I need a blog, a sales pitch, a following, a platform.
And an ache in me repeats in a loop:
“Oh God, your name, not mine. Your name, not mine.”
It’s not that I won’t necessarily go there and do some practical things that need doing. In my own time. In my own way. It’s just that the vulnerability of sharing my words with the smallest handful of confidantes as I work to get this as right as I can—it’s big enough for now.
I’ve spent this spring and summer checking my email and scanning rooms to read the eyes of those who hold my heart in their hands, wondering who has or hasn’t gotten through another chapter. Another week passes, and I tell myself, “You’d better get used to this.” These recurring, necessary silences remind me that God’s are the eyes mine most need to seek.
Once my words are out there in the world, most reactions and thoughts will never get back to me. And the connection I’m most craving is the type I might never see until heaven. I’m not enough of a monk to deal well with nothing but crickets chirping between now and heaven, but I can’t help but see how these rounds of silence carve more space in me that God, in his grace, continues to fill.
As this act of creation takes the time it needs, God continues to recreate me.
One evening here in our writer’s group, the icebreaker was, “What’s your writer superpower?” We all laughed, of course. I laughed again when my turn came and, thinking of Violet from The Incredibles, blurted out, “Invisibility.”
We moved on, but the question in me hung around. As good laughter and good questions sometimes do, they made unexpected inroads into me. Like water finding a way, forming those pathways to places there are no maps to. Why did I respond that way? And so quickly? And why did this feel like a conversation God wanted to have with me?
All year the Beatitudes have had more of my attention than usual. At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is speaking consolation, hope, and blessing to those whose spiritual resume looks nothing like my job-related one. And that description in Matthew 5 holds some of the truest things about me. Poor, for instance, with nothing to boast about but Jesus. And meek, my greatest strength not my own. Mourning all the things I’m not, in the full light of a holy God. With each line, this other sheet of paper in the file at my desk seems more and more flimsy.
Words can fail me when I face a room full of writers because the words weighing on my mind are the ones so many are not really looking for. Not here in the mad dash to the Publish button and launch parties. I see the shift in their expression before I get to the second sentence, losing them with my clumsy lead.
They’re right, I suppose—no, I’m not part of the machine. But I’m no hobbyist, either. These words are how I live and breathe.
I keep coming to learn and going home asking God how he’d have me enter in. And thinking of Matthew 6, where Jesus is saying don’t be like those who love to do their praying on corners for the goal of being seen; they have their reward in full.
I know where my treasure is. I know which reward I’d rather receive. What can I do that feels honest to that?
You know when you’re focusing on something for so long and then realize you were oblivious to something else just an inch outside the frame? Earlier this week I read these verses—ones so familiar, but I’d forgotten their context.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”Matthew 5:14-16 NASB
How had it been so long since I’d noticed—they’re from the Sermon on the Mount, just one verse past the Beatitudes.
And it felt like Jesus was talking to me. In all my lack. In all my need. In all my hiddenness. Helping me to reconcile what can feel like a contradiction.
Father God, to see my name in print leaves me thinking about your name. Your name—the one that’s holy, the one worthy of glory and honor, the one I want made famous. Father, in your Word there’s this image of kings throwing their crowns at your feet. I don’t have a crown, but I’ve got this paper I’ve both written and drawn on. My art. My words. My heart on page after page. Some of the highest praise that’s ever come my way has had to do with all this. This evidence of worth and impact and achievement. My Exhibit A, my Exhibit B.
But I come to you, Father, with all that cast aside. It’s Jesus, at your right hand, who is my worth, my identity, my reward.
Why did you make me this way? To need to find the words to crystallize things. To not stop thinking and writing until I can name these stirrings within me. Why did you create me so that words and images burn within me and seek vents? Me. The one who’d rather not rock the boat. Who’d rather not have a spotlight pointed my way. Who’d rather climb all 86 flights of the Empire State Building rather than come up with an elevator speech.
Father, I don’t know how to do this, but here I am. Willing to follow your lead. You’ve brought your light to my life. Help me be a lamp.
Cheryl Velk is the author of the book Garden Songs: A Spiritual Formation Field Journal. Follow her on Instagram.