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3 Reasons Christian Authors Don’t Need All the Answers

July 20, 2018

By Kate Flournoy

 

I used to believe that a writer’s mission was to tell the world important truths through stories.

 

Talk about pressure.

 

If you’re like me, you don’t handle pressure well. I’m generally laidback, but when I start worrying that I’m not as intentional, skilled, or efficient as I should be, my life can get wild in a hurry. The ugly word for that is perfectionism.

 

Wiser people than me have already shared advice on perfectionism, so I just want to say a few words about the mentality of needing to have all the answers. When I write with the single-minded assumption that I’m teaching a lesson, the task becomes a burden. Attempting to wrestle all the different story threads into straight lines that lead to a sole point is like tackling a greased pig. I’m left feeling hot, frustrated, and unsuccessful.

 

Several grand crashes after I tried writing specifically to make a statement, I decided I needed to re-evaluate, and three simple but invaluable lessons emerged.

 

1. The Key Is to Ask Rather than Answer 

I know of only two forms of writing where clear logic and the ability to convince with facts are strengths: sermon and law.

 

Why not fiction writing? Because excellence is different for a story than a sermon. The purpose of a sermon is to instruct and convict. The purpose of a story is to touch and convict.

 

Both sermons and stories can provide answers to difficult questions. But instruction is the highest calling of a sermon, whereas the highest calling of a story is to penetrate someone’s heart and open it to truth. A story accomplishes this by asking more than it answers. We enjoy stories more than sermons, which means we’ll seek answers for the sake of a story we love.

 

Of course, the best stories do teach profound lessons. But that isn’t their primary goal. Fortunately, we don’t all have to be as wise as pastors to excel at storytelling. Even a timid girl of nineteen who doesn’t have much experience with anything (me) can write a good story.

 

No matter our youth and foolishness, we have one enormous asset: we’re fallible humans writing to other fallible humans. The quandaries that intrigue us and make us think will have the same effect on others.

 

Christ is a wonderful example of this. He used both sermons (Matthew 5) and stories (Matthew 13) as He taught. Study the stories. They ask more than they answer.

 

2. Writing Is Worship

Before we proclaim that we fully understand what writing should be, we need to take a step back and consider what writing is first and foremost.

 

It can be a ministry, a passion, or a dream. We all have our own goals and reasons. But before any other worthy motives, writing should be an expression of worship to our Creator. Although impacting readers through our work is important, our focus needs to be on showing devotion and adoration toward the Creator who gave us the gift. Just between us and Him.

 

We’re not preachers, remember? We don’t pound out sermons from the inspired pulpit of God’s omniscience. We are the poets who strive to write as humbly and honestly as we can, content to know that God has the answers to the questions we keep asking.

 

When our focus isn’t on possessing the answers but on honoring the God who does, writing is a lot easier.

 

3. We Are Only the Signposts

As much as I’d like to hope that one day I’ll be as wise as God, the reality is that I’m human and so I won’t.

 

Our favorite books are the ones that teach and inspire us, and we all yearn to write those kind of stories. I mistakenly assumed that I had to exemplify all the wisdom those books imparted and then learn how to lay it all out precisely and beautifully. Not only was that humanly impossible, but since none of the wisdom was mine in the first place, my mindset was also arrogant.

 

What does being a signpost mean? We stand on the road to the King’s palace and call to passersby, painting word pictures of the glories ahead. When travelers stop and beg for answers, all we have to do is point up the path. “By the grace of my King, I know only a little. If you want better answers, approach Him yourself.”

 

The pride that fuels our calling should not come from our skill or our wisdom, but from gratitude to Christ that we’re privileged to be signposts for Him.

 

Your Wisdom Doesn’t Matter

Your knowledge is a thimbleful of dust in the vast desert of God’s eternal wisdom. You cannot help Him—only serve Him. One humble and devoted signpost is of more use to Him than the smartest philosopher who leans only on his own strength.

 

Ultimately, the outcome isn’t in our hands, and for that we should be infinitely glad.

 

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10)

 


Kate Flournoy is a die-hard country girl raised on Tolkien and Lewis and determined to change the world. She’s a shy drama queen, timid idealist, hopeful cynic, melodramatic logician, and intellectual poet who believes that simplicity is best and everything is possible…except her ever coming to like cheesecake. Let’s not get too wild here.

 

You can find her blogging at https://kateeverythingwriting.wordpress.com/, and you can get a free short story by signing up for her newsletter here.

6 Comments

  1. Jane Maree

    Ah, this is so good to remember! Excellent points, Kate. I particularly like #1, because that’s so true. If we can ask our readers questions, they can come on the character’s journey in such a personal, close way that the book truly impacts them.

    Reply
  2. Daeus Lamb

    Well done, Kate. The analogy of the signpost is helpful for me. (Analogies are the best.)

    Reply
  3. Matthew Sampson

    So well put, Kate! I agree with Daeus that the signpost is a wonderful analogy for our role as storytellers, and more broadly for our role as Christians relating with those who don’t share our faith.

    I think there’s practical value in looking at this interplay of question and answer in the context of our characters and what THEY struggle with too. For example, giving them the grace to make mistakes! Dealing with the negative consequences of your own poor choices is always an opportunity for personal growth.

    I wrote to myself some time ago, “As Christians, we have the Answer, but giving answers to our characters while refusing to let them ask the questions is inauthentic.” If there is no question, can there be an answer? For example, if one particular character has anger issues, and he manages to clamp down his anger even when pushed, he has no real motivation to ask questions about where anger is appropriate and where it’s not—he doesn’t have that visible experience that makes him terrified of his own dark side.

    Conversely, let him make that mistake because he hasn’t questioned deeply enough, and then let him look for the answer—and really bring out that struggle of trying out new ways of managing anger that may or may not be the healthiest ways to deal with it.

    A practical way to show through your characters this author mindset? 🙂

    Matthew

    Reply
    • Kate Flournoy

      Great point! Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more. 🙂

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