In the Margin: Adventures in Freelance Scheduling

by Randy Petersen

I scurried across the Wheaton College quad, rushing to a play rehearsal in the spring of my sophomore year. An old friend was approaching from the other direction, someone I’d known well as a freshman but hadn’t seen for a while.

“Great to see you, man,” I launched without breaking stride. “How are you?”

I was expecting a quick “Fine,” as we both hurried on our ways, but he slowed up and said, “Not too good.” Clearly he needed to talk.

So I stopped, and we talked, and the chapel clock rang out the hour as I stood there and listened. My frantic race across campus had stopped cold, but I was confident that God wanted me right here, being there for my old friend.

Wise Ways

I got to rehearsal fifteen minutes late. My cast-mates were finishing their warmups under the wise and caring eyes of the director, Jim Young. Head of the theater department, Jim was one of the greatest saints I’ve ever known.

“Sorry I’m late,” I told him, “but I think you might approve. I saw an old friend who needed to talk, and I sensed that God had brought our paths together in that moment. I decided it was best to stay there and be a friend to him, even if it made me late.”

Jim saw my sincerity, I think. This was not just a sophomoric excuse. What’s more, it fit with what he was always teaching us, in theater and in our faith—paying attention to others, living fully in each moment, being open to God’s leading. He wasn’t mad, though he might have been a bit bemused that I was using his own ethos to justify my tardiness to his rehearsal.

Calmly he replied, “Perhaps next time you could leave earlier, to allow time for anyone God brings into your path.”

Stop and read that sentence again, because there’s wisdom in it that I’m still unpacking.

Yes, live in the moment. Yes, listen for God’s guidance. Yes, stop and help people along the way. But if God has cast you in a play, get to rehearsals on time. If God has given you a writing assignment, meet that deadline. Create margin in your schedule so you can keep in step with the whims of the Spirit and still get your work done.

Lord Willing

There’s a pertinent example in the book of James, though I’ve been misreading it for most of my life. The author chides those who confidently announce, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”

This has led many of us to an almost superstitious reluctance to talk about future plans without appending the words Lord willing. As James says, “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow?” (James 4:13-14 NLT).

Only recently did I notice the words stay there a year. This is not about going to a barbecue on Saturday. It’s a long-term business venture. This means uprooting your life, going to a different city, and working there for a year. And why? To make money.

From the text of this epistle, we know that the original recipients included some wealthy business owners. James urges them to care for the needy, pay their workers well, and not expect special treatment. We get the idea that these folks made decisions based on money. Profits meant more than prophets. (Hey, see what I did there?)

James suggests a different priority: “What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that’” (v. 15).

Freelancers often make decisions based on profitability, at least in part. Will I get paid enough to make this job worth my while? That’s a reasonable consideration. But James invites us to add another checkpoint. What does the Lord want?

Many of us have done work for free, or for minimal pay, because we felt that God wanted us to. And I imagine others share my experience of saying yes to a high-paying project—a no-brainer from a profit standpoint—and regretting it later. We should have asked that second question.

Micro and Macro

Now let’s pull this whole thing together.

As Christian writers, going about our work and our lives, we might think in terms of micro-guidance and macro-guidance. If we are asking what the Lord wants when we take on assignments, that’s macro-guidance. We can confidently say we’re on a mission from God. So when an interruption comes on deadline day—say, a friend we haven’t seen for a while—we can have the discipline to say, “I’m already working on what the Lord wants, so let me call you back tomorrow.”

Better yet, we can tap into the wisdom of my theater professor and build some margin into our schedules. That might allow us to follow the micro-guidance of some minor interruptions while still being macro-guided to meet the deadline.

Addendum: I wrote this piece shortly before the Coronacrisis hit, and I realize that many people’s lives have changed drastically. Perhaps you have more “margin” than you want. Yet you’re still making micro-decisions every day, though these may be quite different from your previous daily decisions. Let me suggest this might be a good time to work through the balance of micro-guidance and macro-guidance. How is God using these daily decisions to shape your future life and career?

 

Writing with Honesty . . . and Humility

by Randy Petersen

I’ve been reading—and loving—the 2019 book Write Better by long-time InterVarsity Press editor Andy LePeau. Buy it for yourself. Read it. Memorize it.

Here’s one gem, out of many, from a section on persuasion.

. . . [H]onesty means showing humility. Despite our carefully researched evidence and excellent use of logic, we might still be wrong. As finite, fallible human beings, all of us should always be willing to learn, to have our minds changed, and to have our most cherished beliefs challenged. We need to be careful, then, not to overstate our conclusions. We should be confident but not cocky.

Vocation Now and Later

by Stephen R. Clark

Whenever the idea of Christian vocation is addressed in an article or conversation, there’s a well-known quote attributed to Frederick Buechner that almost always comes up: “Vocation happens when our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

Actually, as Buechner himself explained in an interview¹, it’s not a direct quote, but it captures the essence of what he was getting at.

As Christian writers, imbued with God’s image, we all want to know why we’re here. What we’re supposed to be about. For what purpose did God create us?

And we tend to spend a lifetime seeking “the” answer to that question.

In the meantime, we write and live and move and have our being, going about our days, doing our best to please God and enjoy Him for now and here, longing for over there.

This we call our Christian walk.

God-shaped

In the process of living our lives and doing our writing in the light of God’s Word, we seek to be better people. To be Spirit-filled, God-shaped, Christ-redeemed creations.

We care about those around us. Go to work and do our writing as well as we can. Give money to those in need. Do acts of service. Treat people well. Grow where we are planted.

As we do these things, our writing vocation and purpose take shape through our humble, clumsy service to God.

Perhaps we even recognize that our “purpose” is not singular, but rather a series of purposes, a multiplicity of callings. All, of course, anchored in Christ connected by His will flowing through us.

From time to time, our thoughts turn to heaven. “What’s that going to be like?” we wonder.

Honestly, I’m not sure Christianity has done a good job of revealing what heaven and the new earth will be like.

What it won’t be like is how it is cartoonishly characterized: you’re sitting on a cloud wearing a halo and wings strumming a harp. The Bible does, however, refer to us reigning with Christ. It mentions streets, cities, dwellings. All of this implies activity.

Frankly, I’m really hoping there will be books. I think there’s going to be a lot of time to catch up on my reading!

Foreshadowing the new earth

A couple of years ago I read a really great book, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey. I strongly recommend the book to everyone.

On the topic of Christian vocation, Pearcey states, “In our work we not only participate in God’s providential activity today, we also foreshadow the tasks we will take up in cultivating a new earth at the end of time.”

As Spock would say, Fascinating!

This means we’re going to have stuff to do over there on the other side. Stuff for which we are perfectly suited, that fits to a T our created personalities, that extends our unique giftings into eternity!

Wowza! That sounds, well, darn fun!

And how we live now, all we do here on earth in this short time we have, prepares and shapes us for the rest of our eternal lives.

Holy vocational education!

Going back to Buechner, he explained, “When you are doing what you are happiest doing, it must also be something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done. In other words, if what makes you happy is going out and living it up and spending all your money on wine, women, and song, the world doesn’t need that.”

This helps sift down the possibilities for us in terms of what we’re made for. Wanton carousing isn’t something this earth or the new earth needs.

Glorify and enjoy

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

In this we find further guidance when it comes to vocation as well.

We seek to do that which pleases God, serves Him and provides us a sense of enjoyment—joy, satisfaction, contentment—in the process.

Add in the context of Luke 10:25-37, where the double commands to “Love the Lord your God” and “love your neighbor as yourself” are clarified in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Clearly, what we do must also benefit those around us.

So vocation is not about us having our fun, doing what we want, living our truth, even if it’s not hurting anyone else. How we live here on earth, what we do now, has eternal consequences.

And so our vocation doesn’t end at heaven’s gate, because death for the Christian isn’t an end. It’s a new beginning to a new life . . . and a truly glorious career!

So, how’s your on-the-job training going?

===

¹ Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, “Frederick Buechner Extended Interview,” May 5, 2006

 

Four Questions for the Scrupulous Writer (plus two more)

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even yourself.

George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” (an essay published in 1946)