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Good Lessens

When I do the dishes, I use way more water than my wife uses when she does them. This is because I am not as skilled as she is and I think that by an avalanche of water I may drown away my dish washing inadequacies. Of course, she doesn’t complain about the water.

It occurs to me that the same is true in writing and communication in general. If we are unsure of ourselves, unskilled, we pile up the words. We believe we must say everything we think and so overcome any chance that we might have missed something. But so often less is, as they say, more.

This has something to do with the idea of expression vs. communication. Artists sometimes get the high-minded, self-important notion that we’re a special breed of human, superior and sophisticated. We might believe the most important thing is “expressing ourselves.”

But the artist under God understands she is a servant. She works, just like everyone else, to love and serve those who receive her work. She is like the farmer, the plumber, the pastor. She is concerned with communication (and communion), with connection, with service. It’s less important that she “express herself” in all the ways that can be self-indulgent, and more important that her work serve people. Not that it serves whatever they wish (as our market-driven, utilitarian society calls for), but like all true love, serves the person’s best. This is a vocation, not a cult. She is called, not enthroned.

Of course, the beautiful thing is that often our calling is at the crossroads of what we feel burdened to express and the way the world needs to be loved and served.

In fact, an important question to ask oneself when considering any calling, including that of an artist, is “Does the world need this?” Another couple of ways to say this:

“Are people served by this in such a way that they are more fully what they are called to be?”

“Does this work I feel called to contribute to human flourishing?”

If it does, then God is probably really calling you to the work.

(Other questions include “Am I good at it?” and, “Does anyone say I’m good at it besides my mom and people really motivated to please me?” and, “Can I do this while fulfilling the more clear callings in my life?” Such as, if I am a husband, am I fulfilling the clear command to provide for my family?)

The self-indulgent artist, writer, communicator is all about expression and so may not be concerned with brevity, feeling it might limit her expression. The kind of writer I want to be can say less and so say more.

I’m striving for an economy of words. It takes more time and more care to say more while saying less. Have you ever been in a conversation with some one who is just a never-ending Gatling gun of words? This person will wear you out. They have so much to say that, ironically, in the end you can’t remember any words except, “How might I escape?”

I can be like that, at times. But I want to be otherwise. Others-wise. I want to say less. I want to serve with my words. I want to pass them out like a soccer mom passes out snacks at a game.

And feel not a bit superior.

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