"The fear that you'll never write again is going to hit you
when you feel not only lost and unable to find a few little breadcrumbs
that would identify the path you were on
but also when you're at your lowest ebb of energy and faith."
~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
The paragraph above would adequately describe the last year or so of my life - when it comes to writing, anyway. She goes on to describe this all-too-familiar sensing that everything you have to say feels commonplace, cliched, mundane...
Those words were published in 1994, long before the advent of bloggers, online content, social media. That pervasive sense of meaningless has increased infinitely amongst the never-ending stream of content, where every thought and opinion is publicly documented and shared online. Everything feels noisy and chaotic and you find yourself not wanting to take part in the chaos, not wanting to struggle to have your voice heard.
And then I'm reminded that writing - my writing - was never/has never been about having my voice heard.
It has always been about hearing His voice.
It has always been about the pause. The silence. The moments of solitude, like those this morning, when I dusted off the computer screen and my desk and the pages of my blog. When I sit in silence with His word and a blank screen. I have friends that commune with the Lord in their art, some in singing, some in painting, some in beautiful artistic journaling, some with instruments and this morning, as I sat silently asking for the reminder of why I did this thing that had began to feel mundane, I was reminded: this is my instrument of praise - and of communion.
I have a few friends who have continually encouraged me to write and I've summed up all my reasons for not writing as having "writer's block", which sounds both ambiguous and vague and as though I have actually been trying to string words together and for whatever reason, cannot. And then I reread this line last night:
"The word block suggests you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you're empty."
The syllables felt heavy as I read them. In my mind. In my heart. Pressing down.
I am empty.
"Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34) - and I write, but my overflow - it would seem - has all dried up; a barren wasteland.
The words of David, in the wilderness of Judah, resonate in my spirit: "O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water" (Psalm 63:1).
Ann Voskamp once said that "a jar of fresh water can't spill filthy water". Selah.
And an empty jar can't spill anything at all.
Our church begins every year with 21 days of prayer and fasting. I knew, going into this season, that in addition to the prayer and fasting, I would be taking an extended break from social media. Like, all of it. It has become such second nature and while I love so many aspects of it, I'm becoming more and more aware of the noise it creates. I find myself scrolling through the various streams of feed whenever I'm bored, or sleepless, or riding in a car, or in line at the store. As a photographer, I've pretty much always been obsessed with documenting moments, but even I have to call into question whether or not I really need to take a photograph of everything.
Example: I woke up this morning and the light was shifting through the blinds, peeking through a curtain onto the ceiling. It was a beautiful hue of gold and pink. Because our house is on a hill, every now and then we get to experience a breathtaking sunrise view. Maybe this was one. And my first inclination was not to peek and soak it in. It was to grab my phone so I could take a picture of it. As if my Instagram feed could really use another photograph of the rising sun.
There's a lot of talk in our culture about creating this curated life via our social media and while I think that has some truth to it for some people, I think there are a lot of people who, like me, simply enjoy a documented life. For those of us who were kids in the 70s and 80s, we often lament the fact that there are approximately twenty-five photographs of our childhood, most of which are Polaroids that are cracked and faded and impossible to reproduce. And so, we overcompensate, by taking twenty-five-thousand of our own children, who will have a different burden altogether of sifting through our digital archives someday.
It seems a force too strong to try to "balance" and so we just give in to the incessant scrolling and posting and sharing and then we find it scary, if not impossible, to just. stop.
We find that our lives are full of statuses and tweets and instagrams and memes; and it all seems so harmless, so fun, so justified...
Until we realize that we're empty.
Like sheep. Just like Isaiah said. And you know why he used sheep as an analogy? Because sheep are dumb. Sheep, like us, are prone to wander and utterly dependent on the shepherd.
"I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me" (John 10:14) - Jesus.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside still waters,
He refreshes my soul,
He guides me along the right paths.
During these 21 days of prayer and fasting [and writing], this is my prayer. That the Lord will remind me that there is nothing I lack, that I will learn all over again how to be still - and lie down in green pastures without feeling the incessant nudge to Instagram it - that I will walk along still waters and soak it in without "checking in - and that my soul would be refreshed, my jar would be refilled, and that my feet would be guided back along this Narrow Path Home.