Calling and Writing

From my email outbox

I got the most humbling and encouraging email from a reader about my piece Finally Real. He gave me some details of his current life—recently married, new dad, youth pastor—and asked two super simple questions:

1. At a vocational crossroad, what questions are you asking?

2. When one starts writing, how does one deliver content to the people and places it needs to go?

I get these questions just often enough that I thought I’d share my stream-of-consciousness reply here.

1 I don’t know if you’ve seen my piece on the three callings of the Christian, but at a vocational crossroad I think the most important questions are in the third category, the “contingent” realities you are living with.

Whom has God given you as your most important partners? How could you double down on relationship, friendship, and collaboration with them?

What context are you most able to speak into and influence (contingently—i.e., at this moment, with all its limitations), and how could you make the most of that?

Where is the intersection of grace and cross in your life (I wrote about this toward the end of my book Culture Making)—the place where you both feel unmerited abundance resulting from your work and a real participation in Christ’s sufferings?

In my experience, our fantasies of uprooting and starting over rarely are the way of true vocation—instead, it’s found in a set of risks that emerge from our current circumstances.

I might recommend Terry Looper’s Sacred Pace as a good guide to discernment as well (if only because what other Texas multi-millionaire has written a book about humble discernment?).

2 Publishing = making public. All it means is putting words / ideas / images in front of a public. I believe very few writers are well served by focusing on distribution in the Internet age. Just set up a non-distracting blog-type site and start writing, and send it to your “public”—the people who you currently are able to address. It can be 12-15 people, it certainly doesn’t need to be more than 120 people. (There were only 120 people in the room at Pentecost. It’s the upper bound for the necessary number of people to begin a world-changing movement.)

If your work resonates, they will pass it along and your public will grow. If your work doesn’t resonate and they don’t pass it along, try to figure out what is missing … maybe you’ve not done the hard work of clarifying your ideas, maybe you’ve not done the hard work of really empathizing with your public and what they are feeling and experiencing.

Iterate, try again, be patient.

True growth is organic growth. I just got the biggest book contract of my life last year … the kind every author dreams of getting … after literally 23 years, starting in 1998, of very slowly, patiently, trying to care for a public through my work. Along the way most of my written pieces attracted dozens of readers, one attracted almost a million (a WSJ piece about Steve Jobs, an assignment that fell in my lap the day after he died), and honestly the downs and ups (more downs than ups) are irrelevant compared to the patient work of just keeping going and trying to serve people with excellence and honesty in any given day.

I really hope this is helpful in some way. I am so humbled and encouraged that you took the time to write. God’s grace to you above all as a father, a husband, and a shepherd of some youth who really need a shepherd. Never forget that’s more than enough and more than any of us deserve. It’s all grace!

Grace and peace,