I once wrote a short story that was edited by a very gifted, well-known editor. My story ended with the words “and she entered in to her death, her very own death,” which I thought was a wonderfully emotive ending. I was very proud of myself and couldn’t wait for this gifted, well-known editor to reach the end of my story. Surely it would bring him to tears, surely he would be so taken with my story that he would pass it on to other gifted, well-known editors so that they would all be blown away. Hot damn. What masterful writing.
After getting back my story with his comments, I eagerly thumbed through the pages, which did have many coveted checkmarks in the columns (in fiction writing, checkmarks are like ‘likes’ on Facebook, they can elicit that happy place inside of you to do a little prideful jump). However, after getting to the last page, where I was sure I would get a checkmark, maybe two, likely with a ‘Wow!’ as well, the well-known gifted editor had penciled a very sad, discouraging wavy line that means, basically, ‘it sucks, take it out’ under the last words of my story, the words that said “her very own death.” Next to the wavy line there was no check or ‘wow,’ just his scratched in words, “sentimental flourish.”
He was right of course. The ending was far better as just “entered into her death.” What I had done was take the natural movement of the story and tacked on bland words in hopes of making the reader remember back to what I thought were the ‘beautiful words’ I had written already, instead of the story that in effect was still taking place. His comment, as much as it stung, rang true. The last line of my story was indeed sentimental flourish.
This morning I was reading what I believe is probably the best devotional ever, My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers, and I was struck by the words “If you get out of the light you become a sentimental Christian,” sentimental being closely related to nostalgia: always looking back, remembering a past goodness, sometimes exaggerated, sometimes over and over, that provides a needed nudge, an elbow in the side that says to you, oh yeah, remember how great that was?
What Chambers was getting at was that if you fade in your ability to hear God’s quiet voice day to day, you will be left only with nostalgia. That day you were saved, or those college years when you trusted him for everything, when your roommate came to understand Jesus’ love and salvation, that talk you heard that brought you to tears because it was like God was speaking directly to you. Those were the days, and surely they are enough to carry you through to the end of your life. They are enough. I’ll read my Bible every day in honor of them. Those days are my testimony.
But testimony is a declaration or affirmation, and while testimony is a beautiful word to use when describing how you came to Christ, we are to continue to declare and affirm God’s work in our life. We are told to listen for God’s still, small voice.
But how? I’ve often heard these words and thought ‘how do I do this?’ Sitting in a quiet room doesn’t work for me. Staring at the beautiful trees in my backyard and thinking about him doesn’t really work either. It might for some, but for me I can be left feeling even more empty. I didn’t get any voice, small or otherwise. What’s the matter with me? Christians say all the time ‘God told me to, etc. etc.,’ and God doesn’t tell me squat.
But what I’ve slowly learned is that in wanting to hear his voice, in actually trying to hear his voice, I’ve been seeking him with as pure a heart as I’m able. As I’ve sat in my back yard under the trees and heard nothing, I’ve at least hungered to hear his voice and that is the beginning. He knows I hunger. And in telling him this and expressing my desire to hear him and trusting that he wants me to hear him more than I want to hear him, then—and it might look different for you than others—he’ll be there.
Open your eyes under the tree and open your eyes when you’re driving to pick up the kids and open your eyes when you’re at CVS and when you’re a crazymaker doing dishes before the guests show up. Pray and expect. Every day can be a testimony and declare and affirm his plans for you.
His story of you didn’t end after that prayer way back in college. In fact right now you’re standing in the best part of the narrative but if you don’t want to know about it you won’t. However, if you do, he knows this and he doesn’t want you to miss it.
In the short story I wrote my failure was in leaving what was really happening—the arc and the plot—and patched on sentiment at the end because I had left the real story and no longer trusted it. I had left that place where, as a writer, every word is carrying you forward.
Oswald Chambers reminded me this morning not to leave the real narrative that God is telling because my own words, “her very own death,” fall flat compared to the power of his word to raise my dead soul and make it into something beautiful.