“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” Anne Lamott
Next year is my twenty-five year high school reunion. Other than making me feel older than I think I am, it brings to mind all the writing I did in those years. I have a three ring binder I’ve kept through the years that holds most of what I wrote. There’s the paper I wrote about Walt Disney and the play that won judge’s choice in a local writing contest. There are the poems that prompted my senior English teacher to comment that there must be a dark humorist lurking inside me. (In my defense, I was going through a pretty angsty time that year.) I think there may even be a short story I wrote in grade school called “The Case of the Missing Idea”. Catchy title, huh?
Occasionally I’ve re-read these great masterpieces, and do you know what I’ve found? They aren’t great, and they definitely aren’t masterpieces. Some of them are quite laughable. Some are decent, but I’ve grown as a writer since those days. I’ve become more proficient technically, and I’ve developed in my ability to tell a good story. Improvement in the craft of writing is to be expected if someone writes with regularity. It would be odd if I didn’t continue to grow as I continued to write.
Even in a single piece of writing, one expects growth from the first draft to the last edit. A good story can be shaped into a great one if the author is willing to work with it. My first draft of Faith’s Journey is very different from the finished product. As I wrote, trusted friends and the members of the writers’ group I’m in offered feedback at regular intervals. Some of the feedback was geared toward the themes and overall effect of the story. Other comments were more technical in nature. I implemented some suggestions. Others I passed on.
There was one specific piece of advice I remember passing on. Near the beginning of the story, group members felt there were two chapters where the story lagged. I kept them in as I sent my manuscript to the publisher. Sure, the chapters were a little lighter on action, but they held important information. Imagine my surprise when one of the first things the publisher asked me to do was get rid of or revamp those exact chapters. I should have listened in the first place. I have learned from that mistake. I re-wrote those chapters, and I found they were completely right. Once combined, the chapters still gave the information I wanted, but the way it was done kept the story from being slowed down. The result was a stronger story than I began with.
It’s a lesson that runs parallel to our faith walks. When we accept Jesus’ death on the cross as the punishment for our sins and begin a relationship with God, we don’t start off as the saints we want to be. Scripture tells us we start as babies learning the simple lessons of our faith. The Holy Spirit inside us gently guides us and corrects us. He shows us truths from scripture and helps us implement those truths in our lives.
But we can’t stay in that starting place forever. Just as it would be odd if I were to write regularly yet remain at the same level of proficiency I was in high school, it should be odd to us when we see someone who professes a relationship with God that does not grow through the years. It should be more than odd if we are that person. It should be a red flag that all is not right in our spiritual lives.
Paul told the Hebrew church in Hebrews 5 that they were not growing like they should. He said they were stuck with the simple teachings of faith and not progressing into the deeper ideas of faith. Other verses tell us we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and that as we grow from spiritual childhood to spiritual adulthood we put away the childish things.
To remain unchanged in our writing probably means we won’t have a very long or successful writing career. To remain stagnant in our faith has devastating effects. With spiritual growth comes greater spiritual understanding. With that understanding comes greater discernment to protect us from sinful teachings and temptations. When we fail to recognize sin as sin, we allow it into our lives where it stands between us and God. We begin to follow the world in our beliefs and desires instead of God.
It isn’t just us our lack of growth can affect. Matthew 5 speaks of our mission to show God to the lost in the world. Several scriptures implore us to live in ways so foreign to the world that the people we come in contact with can’t help seeing the difference. In this way, doors are opened to share our faith and bring God glory. Which friend or family member in our lives might miss the chance to have a relationship with God because they don’t see the difference God makes in us?
By the Book: What time do you spend trying to grow as a writer? What do you do to encourage that growth? How much time do you put into growing in faith? What has helped you grow?