I was swamped and decided to take the month off. While writing for my blogs and an online women’s magazine are normal monthly activities, October was just too darn busy. At first, it felt like a relief to take a break, but after a while, it felt like I don’t want to write anymore.
In less than four weeks, I’d gone from feeling the need to write like I feel the need to eat–to not caring if I ever coughed up another word. Which is fine, I suppose. If my heart’s not in it, it’s OK to quit.
But there were other phobias setting in, and I worried. Maybe this is an early stage of dementia. Maybe I no longer want to write because I can no longer think. Maybe I’m just not good enough. Maybe God is leading me to do something different. Maybe I only thought he was urging me. Or maybe I’m simply tired, like a friend said.
If I could’ve just leaned back and let myself off the hook, I’d have been fine. But I had to keep gut checking and journaling and digging deep. It was exhausting, as maybe you’re feeling yourself as you read this, like will she just get over herself? (Hold that thought; I’ll come back to it.)
Adding to my writing worries was a fresh stab of mom guilt. I’d written a birthday letter over the summer to one son about what I wish I’d done differently parenting him. He never responded. Another son’s birthday was coming up, and I wanted to give him a similar letter, only the fact that I hadn’t heard a word from the first made me uneasy.
For the sake of context, I need to confess that this isn’t the first time I’d communicated with these sons about mom fails of more than 30 years ago. At least a dozen times over the years, I’d come up with a new regret and I’d apologized, but underneath my “will you forgive me?” words was wanting these grown men to make me feel better about myself. It had become such a thing between us, both of them finally blurted out, “Enough! No more!”
So I decided to ask Steve, my counselor, about it.
Steve is around my age, which is about the same age my dad was when I was growing up. And here’s what feels like the Twilight Zone when I’m in his office: while to anybody else, it might look like two peers chatting, to me it feels like my ten-year-old self talking to my dad. My father had little wisdom, but what Steve says is loaded. I pay attention.
After I read aloud the letter I’d sent my son, Steve looked at me with kind eyes and said, “You know, if I were going to be getting a letter on my birthday, I’d kind of like it if…”
And you know the way a movie might show a momentous moment by slow-mo’ing everything in a scene, the words distorted and droning, while the character that’s having the epiphany is doing cartwheels and throwing daisies as the truth dawns and lights turn on?
Rusty wheels were turning; I could feel them creaking. Sunshiney truth was coming down the pike for me, and while it wasn’t necessarily good news, I dared to dream it included a “get out of mom-fail-jail free” card. I could almost see it, right there, just in front of me.
And then the scene continues at normal speed, and the character finishes the sentence that set off the fireworks in the first place. Without missing a beat, I interrupted Steve and said, “You’d kind of like it if the letter was about you and not me.”
Steve nodded. “Yes,” he said, smiling. “Yes, exactly.”
“Oh my gosh, Steve. My letter to my son was all about me. I’m horrified.” I sat there, stunned, as I struggled to take it in, “And it was on his birthday. What was I thinking? What now?”
“You might write new letters, affirming your sons for who they are and for what you see in them.” It was an eye-roll, forehead-smash emoji minute, only I was doing it for real and not on my phone.
The obvious truth of what Steve said was almost too big to fit inside my head, but once I got past the gag reflex, it slid right in: I’ve been making too much of myself. I’ve been thinking I have the power to ruin my kids’ lives. I’ve been talking and talking this subject to death, as if God isn’t faithful, and they aren’t free agents. But the truth is, I’m not that powerful, and they are responsible.
There was more.
Steve grabbed his Bible, turned to Daniel, and said that when Daniel prayed, the angel dispatched with the answer took three weeks to show up. He had some spiritual warfare to engage in and was prevented, but he finally made it. And the first thing he said to Daniel, straight from the Throne Room, was “You are greatly loved,” Da 10:11, ESV.
Those words nearly knocked me down when Steve read them. Here it was, the “get out of jail free” card I’d been hoping for. While God’s love for me isn’t new news, there was something about the way Steve said it that sounded like God’s own voice over the airwaves. It pierced me. It throbbed. And I believed it in a way I hadn’t believed it before.
My boys had tried to tell me. Other events had hinted at it. And now I knew: the key that unlocked my cell door was, “It’s not all up to you,” and the hand that held it was God’s. It was his love that freed me to hear and see what I could never hear or see before. I could let go and fall into God’s arms and trust that he had my back, so I didn’t have to watch it.
I don’t have to orchestrate anything. I don’t have to worry about life turning out. It’s not my job, because it’s not about me. Blessed relief. I could retire as the center of my universe, climb off Mountain Me, and be a regular person, just like everybody else.
I felt downright giddy about it.
The next morning, I thought about how I’m not the one with the answers, God is. And I don’t have to write any stories. If I’m not inspired to write, I’m not inspired. It’s not on me to save anybody. That’s when I opened my Bible, and Saint Paul climbed out, stood in front of me, and said, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,” Co 3:23.
I don’t know how long I’d been asking God to give me an answer about writing, but here it was, right in front of me. Paul didn’t say that what I did had to be any good, and he didn’t say it had to be done right. (It’s not about me, after all.) He didn’t even say what I oughta do. He just said that whatever I found to do, to do it for God with all I’ve got.
I’ve been writing my head off ever since.