by Randy Petersen
Where are the words when I need them?
This is my first pandemic, and I’m frustrated. I want to help, but I’m not sure what to do. My stock in trade is language. I want to craft sentences that provide comfort or hope or clarity to those who need it. But I’m drawing a blank.
As a Christian writer, I feel even greater pressure. I am called to love others, and words are generally the way I do that. So where are the words now?
Maybe I’m just cranky because all my activities have been canceled and there are no sporting events on TV, but I do get tired of the platitudes. Facebook seems awash in shallow sentiment. I don’t want to add to the emptiness. Yes, I love the lyrics to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as much as any theater guy, but I long to create a new message for this unique time.
Is this just an inconvenient attack of writer’s block, or is there something about this crisis that disables creativity?
I know it’s absurd to complain about this, when my neighbors are troubled by illness and fears of illness, fears for loved ones, loss of jobs and income, the freefall of retirement savings, etc. No need to cry over my spilt mojo. But maybe you’re feeling something similar.
If so, my writing friends, let me share the things I’m telling myself.
Platitudes. I don’t like them, but most of them were created for times like this. And they carry enough truth that they often help people. For years, my pastor has said, “We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.” Now I want to hear that every day. So don’t be afraid of those truisms. Unpack them. Refresh them. But don’t dismiss them.
Permission. One of the most important things a communicator can do in a tough time is to give people permission to feel what they feel. This is especially true among Christians. Are you frightened? Depressed? Frustrated? Lonely? Angry with God? If you as a writer express your difficult feelings, you’ll have a host of readers thanking you for putting their confusion into words. Don’t tell folks how they should feel. Feel what you feel, and be honest about it.
Purpose. Writers often have a prophetic gift. Not predicting the future, but explaining the present in light of larger truths. The last word of the overquoted but always appropriate Romans 8:28 is purpose. We get to connect perplexing events with God’s purposes. Often people focus on each day’s troubles without seeing the growth that God intends.
Peace. We have the power to speak peace into troubled hearts. In the 1870s, a lawyer/poet named Horatio Spafford responded to a personal tragedy by penning “It is Well with My Soul,” and succeeding generations have found comfort in those lyrics. We can use our wordsmithing gifts to craft a deeply needed message of assurance. Avoid false promises—“It’ll all be over next week”—but keep offering the powerful promises God gives us. He will be with us, always, in this world and the next.