I studied English in college, which means I could occupy you for hours talking about the novel I’ve been writing ever since. This plight may bore you, but I’ll have you know that it torments me. An unfinished novel is like a distant friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with; one that calls every, single, day:
“Hey, its been a while, let’s get to it!.”
“ ‘Ello, how ‘bout we work on some character development?”
“It’s you-know-who! Plots don’t write themselves…”
“Any day now…”
“You’re dead to me.”
So it’s about time I get to writing that damn novel.
And I have, I’ve been working on it. I sit at my desk, I think, I ponder, I clack, clack, clack away on the keyboard. And then repeat. After about two hours of this I take a deep breath, lean back and absorb the profundity of my efforts:
And thus deflated I abandon my characters, the plot, the scene…all of it for, oh- about three months or so. At which time, the damn thing has nagged me so incessantly I sit down and try again.
My struggle is (almost) Dickensian, I tell you.
I recall a recent evening walking by the water. It was a calm day; the ocean was as smooth as a mirror, returning the sunset’s rays back into the sky. A family was skipping rocks from the shoreline. I sat and watched them for a bit.
The manner of a rock across the surface of water is something magnificent. It smashes into it, sending ripples and changing the water momentarily before lifting off again. But then it’s gone and within seconds the water is as it was before, as it’s always been. The ripples have been absorbed into the water itself, nothing’s changed despite everything that’s happened.
I have to admit that sometimes I can’t bring myself to pray. Part of the problem is I’m not even sure what prayer is: intentional thoughts? Psychic text messages? God’s spam mail? A scene from a Norman Rockwell portrait?
Still, I want to pray. But the cynicism weighs in, like a child who’s getting ready to skip a rock and realizes “what’s the point? It’s going to sink eventually.” And when this happens I can hardly bring myself to pray for any of my own concerns, let alone ask others to do the same. Save your breath, I wanna say. Or, more importantly: save God’s time.
It’s not that I don’t believe God hears prayers or perhaps even that God isn’t there; I just have trouble believing he should care about me. I can’t bring myself to believe that in a time of ISIS, Ebola, rampant sexual slavery and a suicide every seventeen minutes… I can’t believe that amidst all these pressing concerns God would or should put everything on hold because “Wait– I’ve got another one coming in. Oh! It looks like someone has a headache and a case of the Monday’s. Genocide in Syria can wait!”
If I were God, I wouldn’t care about me. Not in relation to everything else, at least.
But then I sit down to write that damn novel. I lift my fingers to the page full of notions I haven’t touched in weeks. I stare at the words representing places and characters. And I can’t help but feel like I’m one of them; I’m just a character in greater story and it’s being written as we speak.
Which is not to say that God doesn’t know what he’s up to; any wanna-be novelist will tell you that the book’s almost done: “I just have to write it.” So God moves apart from time, having woven the intricacies of a grand narrative already in his mind. But perhaps he’s just not gotten to writing it yet.
And if that’s the case then I can bring myself to believe, as CS Lewis once put it, that as a being outside of time God hears all prayers as such. My requests are not another phone ringing off the hook in an operator’s room, one that’s already inundated with requests. Rather God has all of infinity to address my prayers, after the all of infinity he has to address to more pressing concerns of ISIS, Ebola and AIDs. Mine are not competing for his attention; the rock will skip but the water will remain the same. Everything will happen in its time, and the author controls that time.
And so there’s times when I sit and wait. I watch rocks skip across the water and I say my prayers, whatever that means. But if I can’t, if I find myself unable to pray, then it’s about time I start writing anyway. Maybe that’s grace, the time I’ve been given.
Rest assured, it’s the only way I’ll finish this damn novel.