Last Sunday I was talking to a friend who shared something he was interested in writing and then, as soon as he shared it, expressed doubt as to whether it would actually ever happen. He asked about my own writing, and I in turn shared about what I’d like to do but have yet to actually accomplish or even begin. It seems like there are a lot of us out there who spend a lot of time thinking and talking about things we’d like to do, and yet so often we fail to actually do them. Why is this? Clearly we have a longing and desire for these things (which often seem to be of a creative nature), so why do they so rarely come to fruition?
In my own situation, there are a few contributing factors that I can identify. One is that I’ve been extremely busy in the last couple weeks with travel, getting together with friends visiting from out of town, preparing for family visits, and doing all the errands, cleaning, and organizing necessary in setting up my newly renovated master bathroom. Life gets busy, and there is an endless supply of demands on all of us. The other is plain and simple fear. What if I can’t do it? What if it doesn’t turn out the way I want it to? I have also often noticed in both myself and others a sense that spending time on these creative pursuits we long for isn’t a legitimate use of our time. We feel a kind of apologetic embarrassment that we would consider spending time writing a short story or playing the piano to be as important as cleaning the bathroom. But there is another element that is harder to put a finger on, which presents itself in that weird and mysterious lethargy that seems to invade and make me desire to watch a marathon of The Good Wife on DVD rather than actually sit down and write. Why is this? I love to write. I know from past experience that I always feel good about having done so when I finish, even if I don’t feel good about the actual product (although it’s even more awesome when I do). So why the dragging feet?
In Act 4 of Hamlet, Claudius advises Laertes, “That we would do, we should do when we would; for this ‘would’ changes and hath abatements and delays as many as there are tongues, are hands, are accidents; and then this ‘should’ is like a spendthrift sigh, that hurts by easing.” Granted, Claudius was the villain of the play and was trying to manipulate Laertes into killing Hamlet when he spoke this. But there is truth and beauty in what he says nonetheless and, ironically, directly speaks to Hamlet’s own flaw–his inability to take action. It also speaks to the rest of us who have ever desired to do something worthwhile and good and yet haven’t ever gotten around to doing it.
In Christianity (and, I would venture, the world in general), there is a sort of popular tradition of thinking of sin as ‘bad’ behavior–doing something destructive like killing someone or cheating on your spouse or stealing money from your mom’s purse. But the Greek word most frequently used for ‘sin’ in the New Testament, hamartia, literally means missing the mark. The ‘bad behaviors’ are symptomatic of a larger issue of us not functioning the way we were designed to, the machinery of our souls going awry. I happen to think this lethargy, these abatements, are part of that going awry. We have a target in mind (“I want to do a blog,” “I want to write a novel,” “I want to learn to play the cello,” “I want to get back into drawing”) but then we turn and fire all our time and energy into other pursuits.
I don’t know of any obvious or easy solution to this (please post a comment if you happen to know one), but I know that in my own experience, community plays a key role. I am more likely to write and pursue my creative interests when I am around and in contact with other people who are writing and pursuing their creative interests. It also helps when people bug me about it and actually demand something of/from me. And once I experience that, it makes me want to call out other people and their gifts in turn. There is a verse in Ephesians 5 that says “everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” So this is me calling you out: do your thing–the thing that will give you joy and bring blessing to others–and let’s light each other up.