By Eliza LeBlanc
While scrolling through Instagram the other day, I came across a recent quote by S.D. Smith, author of The Green Ember. The words made my head snap up and the gears in my brain start turning.
“Storytelling harmonizes so well with the idea of Christian vocation because it always involves two people. My job feels like cooking for kids; the end result is the nourishment, which is about love and service more than my own self-expression.”
I had never viewed writing as a task that fulfills a need before. Unknowingly, I’d accepted the mindset that it’s simply a means of displaying who I am (even if I’d like to think I’ve never believed that). Our culture proclaims that we all have a unique perspective to share. That may be true to an extent, but the world today has displaced crucial elements in the definition of an artist.
The Religion of Self-Expression
When I Googled “forms of self-expression,” painting and writing were the top two results. Self-expression and art have become synonymous. We’ve degraded the latter to barely more than the ego-driven overflow of a fallen soul.
Art should contrast the majestic threads of God’s tapestry with the brokenness of our hearts. Not the other way around. But the world urges us to bare our sinful souls, to be hyper-individualistic and brag on ourselves. We can even, perhaps, change the world. We’re creatives, and that puts us in a separate class from the ordinary person who fixes cars or washes windows. The saddest part? Sometimes Christians preach self-expression too, which makes the truth even harder to distinguish from lies.
Barring the (unlikely) possibility that we’re all an army of Lokis who crave being worshiped like gods, pride can easily sneak into the front seat when we attach the word “self-expression” to our writing, whether intentionally or because it’s a popular term. I’m not saying self-expression is inherently wrong. But it is if we remove God from the act of creating art. And I’ve slipped into that mistake without even realizing it.
Nowhere in the Bible does God tell us to “express ourselves” to others. He does, however, ask us to “comfort one another and edify one another” (1 Thess. 5:11) and “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). That’s not expressing ourselves, that’s calling others to glorify God. When we saturate our writing with thankfulness and praise and all the other fruits of Christianity, we have no room left for our egos.
Expressing ourselves won’t magnify God. But drawing attention to His work, His holiness, His mercy is another matter entirely.
A Truer Calling
God wants us to minister to others, “especially those of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Serving and loving fellow human beings is our second highest calling, shadowed only by serving and loving our Lord. Those two missions are interconnected and can’t be divided. When we help our neighbor, we honor God. Yet, somehow, that principle gets lost in the shuffle when we discuss story craft.
Multiple sources admonish us to serve and glorify God with our writing. Though we need the reminder, sometimes it projects an unclear, abstract picture. I’ll bet I’m not the only person who’s puzzled over that oft-repeated advice. How do we know whether we’re achieving our goal of pointing others toward God?
When we work hard to provide spiritual nourishment to others, we can rest assured that we’ve succeeded. After all, we wouldn’t give a family member a supper we carelessly burnt—or a dessert that we put salt in instead of sugar. When we write with intention, keeping readers’ wellbeing at the forefront of our minds, we’re both obeying the second commandment and showing love to mankind.
But what if we’re not published yet (or even ready to be)? Does that mean we can splash ink around with abandon? Yes! And no. In the early stages of our growth, we are just exploring and experimenting. Those half-finished manuscripts and melodramatic dialogue snippets from when we were twelve isn’t the content we’ll be publishing. But all our efforts shouldn’t be purposeless. We must hone the skills we’ll eventually need when we edit and submit that final draft. And while we’re learning about structure, character arcs, and theme, why not cultivate an attitude of service too? Even if no one will ever see it, the age-old phrase rings true: practice makes perfect.
Serving through Our Writing
Serving others is the best way we can serve God. That was His design from the beginning. If we’re focusing on others, our words will never fail to be a blessing. We’ll still stumble because we can never be perfect, but we can certainly aspire. God promises to help us, and even more importantly, He promises to forgive our shortcomings.
Whether we write for a Christian or secular audience, children or adults, serving up beautiful stories that touch readers’ hearts and shape their worldview is indeed our highest calling as writers.
Eliza LeBlanc is a word-wielding introvert who regularly alternates between writing fiction and nonfiction, watching sci-fi and historical drama, and reading hilarious children’s books and epic fantasy.
She’s a homeschool grad, the oldest of nine, and an unshakable chocolate lover. Her favorite movie is The Great Escape, and her favorite book is the Bible. Don’t ever ask her what her favorite novel is. It fluctuates between Number the Stars, The Long Winter, 100 Cupboards…and many more.
Her strategy is improvement (she’s an INFP, after all), she dreams a little too much (er…INFP), and she has too many creative hobbies (it’s an INFP thing). You get the idea. She’s creative. She’s also a professional procrastinator, with a degree in perfectionism. She’s planning to mend that. Someday.