The Why Behind the Word

Life has been weighing heavily on my shoulders this week. You know how it is sometimes? It seems like everywhere you turn there’s more tragedy, more brokenness, more need, more heartache, and it’s all so much you don’t even know where to begin.

And it’s not just the sad stuff. You read stories of people triumphing against the odds to rescue a street boy from an impossible life in Africa. Firefighters doing ridiculous things to save people’s homes in Colorado. People advocating for those who have no voice. All over, people doing their part to bring healing to this broken world.

And this is what always gets me – the need is so big, and so widespread, and others seem to know what to do to meet at least some of the need, but I get so overwhelmed and feel so feeble. What can I offer? Where do I begin? How do I take care of what’s already been entrusted to me and still have something left to give to the world?

Tuesday night, I heard that my hometown was shredded by a micro burst. Literally. Several downtown building were horrifically damaged, including the local hardware store where I worked from when I was a young teenager right up to a week before I got married. The store my dad has worked at for over 30 years. The roof was lifted completely off and flung into the river, and the sub roof couldn’t hold out the rain, and the water just flooded in. At one point they weren’t even sure they could salvage the building.

I was sick. Just sick, thinking about it. And Wednesday morning, when I heard about the community coming in and pulling together to help bring the store back from the brink, to the point where it could re-open for business this afternoon and start giving back to the rest of the community, it killed me that I couldn’t rush right home and join in.

But Grace woke up puking that morning, and I had to take care of her. No home-rushing heroics for me. At one point during the morning I looked at the short spy story document open on my computer and put my head right down on the table and said “WHY? Why do I write? What good does this possibly do in the long run? Why am I spending my time on this earth writing instead of doing … something?”

(And then I had to go hold the puke bucket for Grace again. Truth.)

The more I thought (and prayed) about it, though, the more certain things started to come clear. Would I even be the type of person who wants to do something if it weren’t for the books I grew up reading? Would I be the Louise I am today if I hadn’t grown up with Lucy and Edmund, Anne and Diana, Randy and Rush, Taran and Eilonwy, Will and Bran, and all the rest? In my “Influences” posts, the common thread is that not only did these books shape me as a writer, they shaped me as a person.

It’s an odd circle – if it weren’t for people doing great things, writers wouldn’t be able to imagine such deeds to write about. If it weren’t for writers creating great heroes and deeply compassionate characters, real people might never be inspired to do great things themselves. We need books to show us the people we want to be.

That’s why I write. I write to bring hope, to inspire courage, to give comfort and encouragement. Even in real life, my role has always, since childhood, been that of an encourager. Writing is my way of spreading that beyond my circle of immediate family and friends. It doesn’t excuse me from acting in real life, too (and I pray that I will always be ready, in season and out, to act where I am needed and able), but it helps to give me a purpose, to remind me that my writing is not just for escapism or amusement. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either (and certainly my spy stories are mostly sheer indulgent fun), but that can’t be all. Not for me.

This all sounds kind of pompous, looking it over now. “See me, how noble my goals are for my writing!” I don’t mean it that way. Rather, it makes me humble, seeing how very far I have to go before I can live up to my own hopes. And it helps to keep me grounded – when I have a day that I can’t write because my poor baby is retching on the couch, I can let that go more easily, because this is the real life that the writing is supposed to help inspire me toward.

My very favorite sort of stories are those of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And I hope that’s the life I can live, and the stories I can write to encourage others along the same path.

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17 thoughts on “The Why Behind the Word

  1. I'v often felt inspired too by books. There's nothing like seeing Frodo carry the ring all the way to Mordor–it inspires me to never give up. I suspect that sometimes even the "ordinary" things like caring for a sick child or reading a child a book are far more important than we realize.

  2. Books do inspire us. Sometimes we worry so much about the tangible things that we can feel, see, and do that we forget how very important the encouragement and inspiration of words can be.

  3. Well said! I really think that people who spend their childhood with books grow up to be very different than who they would be if they hadn't… in a GREAT way.

  4. WOW… This is an incredible post, Louise. Truly.We can only do so much in this world, but even the smallest steps to help make a difference. Believe me.As for writing to make the world a better place… Absolutely. Our stories are gifts to the eyes, ears, and minds to those who seek them.There is a quote that seems appropriate now, and I'm sorry that I can't remember it or the author, but it goes something like this: "It's in times of greatest need that the world needs art the most."Writing = art.

  5. Louise, this really touched me. I was thinking similar things just yesterday, about the need being so big, and my strength being so small… One of my friends posted a link on Facebook that had this heartbreaking picture of an orphan boy in Iraq, and I was thinking "And I could barely handle raising my own kids, never mind giving a home to those lost ones…" We only have one heart and only limited strength. And so often that strength is used up by holding the puke bucket for our own little ones.But you're so very right – if it wasn't for the books I've read, I wouldn't even be feeling this way. We need to do the task we've been given, here, today, even if it seems like such a small thing to do in the face of such tremendous need.And even if the stories we read have nothing profound in them, are "just" for fun and amuse us for an hour or two, perhaps they can give a little bit of respite, a measure of healing, in the midst of the hard times. And that's a ministry, too.

  6. To think of so much that needs to be done out there, it's overwhelming. You are doing the world good and a great service by taking excellent care of your family, too. Remember that.

  7. We all have a purpose on this earth whether it is writing, teaching, etc. God has a plan for us. We may not know what is coming at us at the least expected times. We have to ENJOY our life to the fullest. It may take some time to discover our purpose. I didn't know that I would be an aspiring writer six years ago and then, I knew it. I write because I want to tell people whether or not they should see a certain film or not. Great post, Louise! I should write something similar to this…

  8. Oh yes, Frodo's journey! And most especially Sam's role in that journey. I cry every time he carries Frodo on his back up the last part of Mount Doom. Talk about inspirational!

  9. God certainly does like to throw twists in our paths, but sometimes I think that adds to the fun in life! I like the adventure involved in saying "yes" to whatever God sends – and again, I wouldn't have that sense of adventure were it not for a childhood spent "adventuring" through strange worlds and times with my books.

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