2000 years ago the Roman philosopher, Seneca, said, “What’s the point of having countless books and libraries whose titles the owner could scarcely read through in a lifetime?”
Oh, Seneca, what would you think of Google?
We live in the golden age of answers, but what do we really know? Do you have answers to the deepest questions of your life, the ones you can’t find on Google?
Questions like this one: What does God want?
People get mired in this question. “If only I knew God’s will,” they say, “then I’d know what to do with my life.”
But what in the world does God want? A big check? A guilty conscience? Prayer? Love? Obedience? Sacrifice? What?
Run the question backward. If God asked about your will, what would you say? What do you want?
I don’t know what you want, but I know something about it. It’s not one thing.
We want health and safety and intimacy and adventure and success. Our wills are complex and varied. And I think God’s is too. But that doesn’t mean we can’t say something about it.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus enters the home of a woman named Martha who leaps into action, putting the house in order for him. But Martha’s sister, Mary, doesn’t. Instead, she sits down at the feet of Jesus and listens.
Martha carries on, filling drink orders, working the room. But not Mary. She just listens.
Preachers like to praise Mary and beat the hell out of Martha.
But I like Martha. I like workers.
She pokes her head out of the kitchen and yells at Jesus (which is kind of awesome), “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to get up.”
“Martha,” Jesus replies, “Martha, you’re anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken from her.”
One thing is needful.
Notice Jesus doesn’t rebuke Martha’s work. He doesn’t say get out of the kitchen and come sit down. He says, “You’re so anxious. You’re so distracted that you’re missing the one thing you actually need. Me.”
Are you distracted and anxious in the golden age of answers? Are you drowning in the never-ending river of information?
How often do you listen for answers instead of search for them?
I think that’s what God wants.
He wants us to listen.
It was’t Martha’s work that was wrong. It was that she had stopped listening because of it.
But would it be like to listen for Jesus’ voice in your customers this week? What if you saw His face in that co-worker you can’t stand to be around? What if you asked Jesus to be present with you during your sales pitch?
Work can be work. Or it can be something entirely God infused.
I think Mary knew that. That’s why she listened before she worked. She wanted to know what God wanted so she could then know how to work.
Be honest. When was the last time you sat still and did nothing? When did you last pray and wait for God to speak first? When did you last listen — really listen?
I know it’s awesome that we have Google to answer our every query.
But I’m drowning in information, desperate for that one needful thing, and missing it.
I want to know God’s will, but I hardly listen.
In Kindergarten, I made a pledge with a kid named Cameron to be best friends. We shook on it.
Over the years we have shared a lot. He sees me for who I am. He knows my good and my very bad. Today we’re 33 and still the best of friends. How?
I’ll tell you.
He listens to me. He always has. Because of that, he knows me. He knows my hopes, my fears, my dreams. That kind of knowing produces a deep, deep bond.
It’s been said that we have to know someone before we can love them. I say we have to listen before we can know.
Do you want to know what God wants for your life?
One of the biggest myths of our culture is that nobody loves their work.
It’s not true but a lot of people believe it; in part because so many people hate their jobs. A job, for a lot of people, is nothing more than a means to do an end. And to a certain degree, that’s ok. Sometimes a job is a paycheck and those paychecks serve crucial and often providential purposes. Having money is a good thing. And nobody should be criticized for doing something they don’t like in order to make ends meet. In fact, they should probably be praised.
But not everyone hates the work they do. Certain people refuse to approach work as simply a means to end. Instead, the work is an end in itself because it’s also a passion.
Two nights ago I asked a buddy how his day went. His eyes popped bright. “Great. My day was great,” he said.
My buddy is in the midst of a grueling medical residency and he works ridiculously long hours. So I asked him if something special happened; what made it so great?
“I got to operate all day.”
Think about that. The guy was on his feet doing things that are beyond complicated, while under enormous stress, and he loved every second of it.
Why? Because he’s living his passion. Is it hard? Yes. Frustrating and exhausting? Yes. Is it work? You bet.
And he loves it.
I think we have a duty to find work we love. I truly believe that. Even if we can’t do it full-time, it’s still our responsibility to find some kind of work we enjoy. Because if we don’t — if our joy only comes from non-work activities — we miss out on a really rich piece of life. There are few states of mind so fulfilling as having created something excellent, and reveled in the process.
Why am I talking about this?
Because writing is work, even though it’s a passion.
People ask me a lot about how often I sit down to write.
My answer is always the same: Every day.
There are geniuses who can sit down on a whim and crank out a masterpiece. I am not one of them. If I write anything of value it’s because I’ve worked really hard. Period. To create the art I love so much I must place myself in front of the keyboard and grind the words out onto the page.
Hour after hour.
Day after day.
Just like any other job.
Great writing, 99.9 percent of the time, is a product of hard-fought work — not sudden epiphany with a glass of wine in hand. Although, it’s really sweet when that happens.
Einstein put it this way: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
That’s the question: How long are we willing to sit? How bad do we want to see our vision realized?
I want it bad.
Five years ago I emailed a writer named Ben Fountain. I had recently finished my first manuscript and I was looking for any every kind of advice I could get about the publishing world. Fortunately for me, I was able to get Mr. Fountain’s email from another writer who said he was open to me reaching out to him. At the time, Mr. Fountain had published a collection of short stories, entitled BRIEF ENCOUNTERS WITH CHE GUEVARA. The collection is nothing short of astounding. And that’s not just my opinion. The book was awarded the ridiculously prestigious Pen/Hemingway award. Anyway, Mr. Fountain responded to my email with haste and carried on a substantive dialogue in the following weeks that served then and now as a guiding light. I say all this because I recently read his first novel, BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK, and it too is marvelous. And again, it’s not just me saying it. This book was named a finalist in the National Book Award contest — which is basically the biggest deal in writing. If that doesn’t mean much to you, you’ve probably heard of the movie Slumdog Millionaire. The screenwriter for that movie is now adapting Mr. Fountain’s novel for the silver screen. He’s that big of a deal. A few months ago I emailed Mr. Fountain again to tell him some good news in my own writing life, and he responded immediately. The man is just as gracious now as he was back then, which is pretty cool considering that many critics believe his book is the most important war book this country has published since CATCH-22. But here’s the reason I’m telling this story. Five years ago, Mr. Fountain gave me the best advice I’ve ever received when it came to writing. He said, “Write the next thing.” No matter what else you do, he wrote, make sure to go on and write the next thing. Writing, just like life, is a winding road. We never know how long things will take or what they will actually look like when they arrive. All we can do is work hard and hope for the best. Write the next thing. I have held on to that wisdom with a ferocious grip over the past few years, and I would encourage you to do the same. No matter how many rejections you receive. No matter how frustrated or blocked you might get. No matter how many times you feel inadequate. Shove it down deep and write the next thing. Because you never know, the next thing, might just be the best thing.
I finished reading THE PARIS WIFE last night, and I loved it. It’s a wonderfully crafted historical fiction that follows Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson, as they navigate the choppy seas of marriage in the 1920s. The book is set mostly in Paris and Spain where the Hemingways lived, drank, and wrote with other literary expats like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound. It’s a truly fantastic love story that looks at marriage intimately through a uniquely brutal psychological lens. But what really struck me last night after I closed the book was not the novel itself, but rather the short essay the author, Paula McLain, included at the back of the paperback edition. She says a number of notable things in the short piece but I just want to highlight one point in particular. McLain says that once she found Hadley’s voice she began to believe that she could actually write this book that she was “dying” to write. That’s what hit me: she was dying to write this novel. As a writer, I think that makes all the difference in the world. I am currently writing a novel that I feel the same way about. It is a story that has brewed within me for years, and the time has finally come for it. I, too, am dying to write it, and that has made all the difference. As an artist, there is nothing more exquisite than the singleminded focus that comes from writing a story that simply pours out of you, because if you don’t, you’ll die. Metaphorically, of course, well maybe not.
I wish writers everywhere today that same kind of story. The kind you don’t choose, because it chooses you first.