Writing Without God

Foot PrintsI always thought I would write theology.

I felt a calling to dissect doctrine, exegete bible verses, and grasp at the unknown. I wanted to be one of the ones who helped others think and rethink of the truths of Christian faith. I wanted to write books about theology, about Jesus, about God. I wanted to teach through my words, to offer to understand through paragraphs and sentences, to proclaim timeless truths in new and unheard ways.

I wanted to be a good Christian writer.

I read book after book about theology. I read article after article about Christian faith. I debated with other people to sharpen my own understanding. I did everything I could think of (short of getting a degree) to prepare myself for a life of plumbing the depths of theology. I wanted to write the next Desiring God, but with a Blue Like Jazz flair.

I was serious about this. I wanted to develop an edgy voice for talking about the bible. I wanted to be a sought after teacher and writer. I wanted to impress my friends and the pastors I knew. It wasn’t all ego, though. I really wanted to help people see Jesus better, to ask better questions about God, to develop a faith that mattered in the normal, waking world. After all, I was in love and awe of Christ so why wouldn’t I want to help other people to do the same? So I began to write. If you go back and look through the archives of my work, you will see my attempts at it. I tried to teach through some bible passages, tried to write out where my thoughts and questions about theology were taking me, attempted to craft the equivalent of sermons for people to read and glean truths from. Everything I wrote was tilted toward this idea of being a theology writer.

It all felt flat.

It wasn’t that I didn’t put my heart into the words because I did. Rather, it was that the words couldn’t get traction. I spent a lot of time feeling like I needed to come up with the next great idea, some new twist on scripture, or discover some hidden truth. I never felt like I could really hook people with my words. I wasn’t novel enough. I didn’t have something that made me stand out, something that made me unique. No matter how much I cared about what I was writing about, the truth was I was just another voice. I was simply adding to the cacophony of static wherein people scream louder and louder about doctrine and dogma and more and more people tune them out.

In part, I think my frustration was that I hadn’t yet found my writing voice. I was struggling to put words down on the page that really reflected how I spoke, thought, and felt. I did a lot of writing in a manner that I felt I should. If I wanted to write about faith, this was how I was supposed to do it. You don’t get honest words trying to write like you should. I wasn’t being dishonest, but I wasn’t truly seeing what was in my heart to write about. I was trying to write faith and theology because that’s what I thought a good Christian writer was supposed to do.

Over the years, my writing has evolved. So has my faith. I have grown, changed, been altered by tragedy and chaos. I have found good things, and been surprised where God has shown up, and were God hasn’t. Through all the mess of life and the mess of writing, I have found my voice as a writer. This isn’t about a specific topic or subject matter. Rather, I discovered how to rip open my heart and get brutally honest with my words. I discovered how to bleed on the page Like Hemmingway said to do.

I don’t always bleed about God.

I don’t have this singular focus of theology, church, and faith that I once had. I have broadened my horizons and the trails I am taking are leading me out of the world of doctrine. These days a lot of my writing is about mental health and while I care deeply about where it intersects with faith I find myself writing about it without mentioning God.

Maybe this says something about my faith these days. Maybe it means I’m backsliding. Maybe it’s a sign that I need to get right with God again. Personally, I don’t believe that my writing without God is some sort of spiritual failure, some sort of heart hardening against his grace. All it means is that my eyes are now opened to the word around me, a world where God hides.

Sometimes we can’t see God. Doesn’t mean God’s not there. It simply means that we are in a season of aloofness.

Sometimes I don’t write about God. Doesn’t mean God’s not there. It simply means some of life as I know it isn’t anchored to theology and doctrine as I once thought it was.

I feel a little silly writing this because so much of my writing has touched on faith, Jesus, and church. But the truth is I’m discovering that I’m not necessarily a faith writer. Just as I am discovering that my life is not singularly defined by my faith I am finding my writing to be branching out from the theology that once defined it. See, faith is a part of the life God has bestowed. It’s not the central pillar upon which life is built. Faith and Jesus are still going to be a part of the words I write but they are not the only thing I have to write about.

So I’m not going to be a Christian writer when I grow up. Instead, I am going to be a writer whose faith comes across in some of what I write. Other pieces may remain void of the name of God and mention of my faith. That’s ok. I believe Jesus is still in my words, whether he gets byline credit or not. Just because my writing voice and style and tone are moving beyond doctrine, theology, and the church doesn’t mean I am abandoning faith in my craft. It just means I am refusing to be defined solely by my faith.

I’m not a one-trick pony. I am a complex human being, and I will write about those complexities. Sometimes my faith will come blazing through to where you can’t miss it. Other times it may be in the background, not mentioned but still informing the way I try to do my life. Either way, I will write my heart out. Either way, I will bleed on the page. Either way, I will get better at my craft.

So I’m not a theology writer. That’s ok. It doesn’t detract from my desire to be a writer. The fact that I am finding more facets to write about and more wells to draw from speaks to the reality that I am called in some way to be a writer. The expectations I had when I was younger may be falling to the wayside, but the core, the truth, the dream of being a writer still remains.

  • Leanne Popkes Sype

    Knowing what little sliver I know of you, you write with God even when you aren’t writing about God. I always sense the Holy Spirit in your messaging especially about mental health. You don’t ever have to try to stand out in your writing because God made you a writer; He’s designed you to express His thoughts through your heart, your words, your story so we can all understand His heart better. You stand out automatically because you belong to God.

    This here: “I wanted to teach through my words, to offer to understand through paragraphs and sentences, to proclaim timeless truths in new and unheard ways.” You’re doing it. I see it in every piece that I’ve ever read from you.

    • Thanks Leanne. I hope I’m doing everything you say I am. It’s hard to see it from the inside sometimes. It’s also scary to say that I may not be writing directly about God because that defined me for so long. I’m glad at least you can see that I might still be talking about God even when I don’t mention God directly.

  • Yes, me too !! I launched myself as a faith blogger. It is where I cut my teeth as a new writer and where I publicly struggled as my creed collapsed. Work and my son’s cancer diagnosis brought blogging to a halt for over a year. When I decided to tiptoe back to my blog I knew that faith would no longer be a central theme. Oh it will bleed out and ooze it’s way into my blogposts all sneaky like when I’m not looking, and im OK with that.

    In my first post back I out a huge UNSUBSCRIBE button and explained that my blogging theme had shifted. I made peace with knowing I would lose some readers (and I turned off the notifications so I wouldn’t be crushed by those who left). Like you I am discovering new writing territory and thought caves to explore.

    Writers like you and me shine brightest in the dark ocean of dense code when we write as honest and bold as we can about our lives, unfiltered. Unresolved. Undone. In the age of Pinterest perfection and Facebook bragging….as well as the onslaught of online articles that say Make-Your-Life-Shiny-and -Happy-in-4-Easy-Steps, we are in need of Truth Tellers and honest writers willing to pull back the curtain and reveal our own flaws. Writers are meant to be a mirror, oracles who bring to light what is unsaid.

    Your voice is needed. Your story matters very much. Tell on yourself. There is a reader who will find their way a bit more easier for the journey from the light of your writing and storytelling. Tell us your stories as only you can.

    I’m listening !!!

    • I’m glad you’re listening Pam. I want to be a honest writer like you describe. A truth teller. I like that. Sometimes that truth may not mention God. Doesn’t mean God’s not present.

      Thanks for encouraging me that my voice matters.

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