Every January 1st, many of us decide to come clean with our personal struggles and make resolutions to better ourselves in the days ahead. In the spirit of this new year, I have my own confession to make: I often suffer from periods of sorrow and loneliness so profound that I sometimes wonder how I am able to keep it together. Some of my depression is seasonal; it comes from the hours I keep at work and the lack of a really good night’s sleep. Some of it comes from the trials I face and my struggle to endure them with courage and faith.
But mostly it comes because, as a writer, I have discovered that I have an intensely empathetic connection to the world and a deep desire to use my words to respond to the pain around me with the love of the cross. As a Catholic, I have learned to see the true purpose for my writing behind the delicate and, yes, even dangerous dance that takes place as I ponder the inner workings of my own soul and its relationship to the story of salvation.
For the believing writer, there is a reason for the deep and personal interior journeys we travel as we take hold of the inspired thoughts within us and fashion them into works of art for all the world to see. My New Year’s resolution this January is to stop apologizing for my inner insanity and to more fully embrace these periods of pain as a part of the madness that stirs the words within me and pushes them out onto the page.
Making the Mundane Meaningful
I freely acknowledge one could argue that I am using my writing skills to take what appears to be a mundane part of the human condition and turn it into something nobler than it is. I do often wonder why I allow myself to take these little trips through the darkness. After all, who wants to live with a melancholy writer all the time? Certainly not my wife and kids. As a Christian, I should also be seeking the delightful above the despair, the passion above the pit.
But there is something about the lonely path I walk that gives impetus and direction to the things I write. It is a powerful thing to take these messy little struggles of life and, through my Catholic faith, create a mini cosmic chaos into which I speak life, call forth poetry and prose, and pronounce it all good.
I suspect I am not alone in this kind of personal struggle. I would think this sadness is a chief characteristic of almost every artist and, as such, is a gift from God. It is a gift because it allows us to travel to those inner realms into which most people dare not look. Like the seed that cannot grow until it is planted in the earth, each tomb-to-womb experience eventually cracks the shell of our understanding and allows the beauty of salvation’s story to spring forth from the fertile ground of God’s grace as a new shoot of hope.
In the light of the Savior’s gaze, we are able to cultivate the words within us into a beautiful work of art that reflects the great mysteries of the Godhead as revealed in His Son and lived out through His Church. This journey allows us not only to look into the gloom with open eyes but to see the God of heaven who is light within that darkness. It points us to the love that allowed the Son to give His life for all our sins. It bonds us to the One who rose from the darkness of death and ascended to the heavenly places to experience the joy of redeeming the world.
As writers, we take that experience and turn it into hope on the printed page. That kind of power is humbling but it is also glorious. It truly makes all the trials worthwhile!
Godly Writing vs. Cheap Imitation
In more recent days, I have seen a lot of writing that is dark, obtuse, and disordered. I admit that I have at times been fascinated with the worlds these words explore. Because I want to share the Gospel with the lost, I know I must sometimes venture to where the lost reside, and that includes their writings. I want to understand not only the pain of others but the lies about living to which the enemy leads them. Like Jesus entering the homes and lives of sinners, I need to bring His light to bear upon the darkness of worldly thinking as I lead those adrift on the waves of confusion to the safety of Christianity’s shore.
Though I may at times enter into those dark places, I know I need to climb back out again; because, while the words point me to the struggles of these writers, they fall short of the real purpose of writing.
Those who dabble in this worldly writing might argue that if the words have taken me to a dark place and forced me for a time to sit and suffer, then the purpose for the writing has been fulfilled. But having seen the heights to which words have taken me, I find I must reject this explanation and refuse to remain in the shadows of such despair. Through my faith, I have been called to soar above the clouds of confusion and seek the place where the light is warm upon my face.
The suffering we experience in those times is only the thing that points us to something more. Our writing should follow a heavenly call and raise the reader out of the depths of despair and the dull routine of everyday existence. This way, the beauty and purpose of the trials we endure can find their fulfillment and lead us to new vistas and heavenly horizons.
Resolutions and Realizations
New Year’s Day is a call to renewal. I find it both amusing and profound that it takes place right after Christmas and in the middle of winter. One might think that it would be much more natural and practical to begin a new year at the start of spring. But I cherish that the Christmas Season unfolds with the Church year during the dark days of winter. It is a powerful picture of what it means to move from sin to salvation, from uncertainty to understanding.
On the journey of salvation, we often come face to face with the darkness and coldness of our own inner winters. It is when we reach the darkest point that we must decide to move once again toward the light and seek the springtime of spiritual renewal in Christ that is to come.
God help me if I remain in the places into which my sorrow tries to take me. Lord, forgive me for lingering there too long when I go. I appreciate the lonely places inside my soul, and I am content to accept the darkness, so long as it leads me once more into the light where I am joined to truth and beauty and all that is good. I resolve that the words that are given birth within me by the Holy Spirit will mature into new hope to make the world in which I live a more blessed reality.
God bless my writing brethren who understand the lonely life and the profound joy to which each journey can lead us if we take the time to push through the darkness to see the true purpose for which our artist’s hearts have been fashioned. May you embrace the sadness of your winters only long enough to cause you to yearn for the springtime ahead. May your gift for words raise each of you from the loneliness of your inner room to the altar of your keyboard, where your next great work of art is waiting to be composed! God bless!