“Great writing is about great reality — clearly seen and greatly felt.” For months, John Piper’s words hounded me as I wrestled with my own work. Does my writing reveal “great reality”? Do my readers see and feel that reality deep in their bones?
The concept of reality didn’t faze me. I concurred with Piper that reality exists outside myself and was not rooted in my feelings and self-expression. But that word “great” paralyzed me. I had trouble thinking about anything else.
I have the pleasure of teaching writing at a Christian University and am thankful for my ministry to college students, but my own writing often felt hollow and devoid of real meaning. For example, I write frequently about baseball, a hobby I enjoy quite a bit, but that joy is a surface pleasure, one that distracts more than satisfies the soul of both writer and reader.
That distraction isn’t bad in itself. We can enjoy hobbies and leisure activities if we see them as gifts from the Sacred instead of sacred themselves. Reality exists in such pursuits, but those pursuits left me thirsty for more significance, a deeper joy rooted in exploring the Creator, both his character and work on earth.
If you are a Christian writer, maybe you’ve felt this pull to convey great reality to a society that desperately needs to read it. And like he did for me, God may work specific realities into your heart, allowing you to see and feel those truths in a new way.
Piper exhorts writers to “see truly and savor duly the reality you intend to show through writing.” As people, we all savor something, and as writers, the things we savor often come out in our writing. In my pursuits, I’ve always tried to represent reality as it is, whether I was publishing academically, writing about baseball, or promoting my academic program and university with magazine stories, website content, or blog posts.
But Piper’s call for Christian writers isn’t just to represent what is, it’s to treasure and enjoy the most important realities with the reader. As Piper notes, the closer we get to biblical truths, the greater the reality: “if God exists, then the most important reality in the universe is outside of me. If he created the world, and works in it, then his works and ways are of great objective importance.”
My writing wasn’t immoral in any way, but if all I’m doing is giving hope to beleaguered baseball fans that their team isn’t perpetually doomed, then I’m depriving myself (and my readers) of the joy that comes from enjoying God through my writing. My soul ached for more, but I needed an outlet to produce more soul-satisfying work.
Greatly Seen and Greatly Felt
Great writing stems from more than just clear thinking; it’s engulfed in emotions, those that make us feel the weight of the situation, whether it’s light and joyful or heavy and convicting. Therefore, to write well, Christian writers must follow Piper’s call to first see and savor the reality they will eventually write about.
As my desire to convey important realities grew, my eyes were opened to those affecting me in my daily life. For the last five years, many people close to me have lost children to miscarriage. Before these tragedies, I knew little about the subject because we have created a hushed culture surrounding miscarriage.
As I dealt with the heartbreak near and within me, I saw two biblical realities neglected by our society: the value of these lost children made in God’s image and the need for people to grieve with one another to heal cavernous wounds.
The little ones these families lost were made in God’s image, knitted together by the Creator in the womb (Psalm 139:13). They had short lives, but their death was every bit as tragic as those who lived much longer. Our culture doesn’t see fetal death that way, but as Christians who understand the value of all people, we need to show them the dignity of those lost children.
Also, the Bible calls us to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15) and bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). In loving on family and friends who lost children, I realized how important that support was for the grieving process.
Too often, we expect loss families to grieve quietly in the corner because their pain is uncomfortable for us. That’s not the biblical way. While the Lord ultimately mends broken hearts (Psalm 147:3), he asks us to stand beside those hurting, and I longed to be part of the healing for those wounded families with empty cribs.
These two realities consumed me. Because of the painful circumstances of my loved ones, I saw these truths in a new way, and I felt both the weight and beauty of how they related to child loss. I yearned to write about them, an itch that increased in intensity the more they marinated inside me.
Finding the Opportunity
As a writer, I’m blessed to live in a time of tremendous opportunity. The digital space has allowed organizations of all types to become publishers. Many organizations now produce blogs, magazines, and other online publications as ways to further their causes and promote their businesses. Writers are no longer a luxury; they drive much of the work that businesses, non-profits, and ministries do.
Earlier this year, I found a way to write about the realities that had gripped my heart. While remaining a writing professor, I volunteered to help the Early Pregnancy Loss Association (EPLA) launch a blog, and I continue to serve as an editor and writer for it. The EPLA seeks to “help bear the burden of grief for women and families who have experienced the isolating heartache of early pregnancy loss.” Founded by Christians, they affirm that miscarriage is the loss of a person and that families need others, including their church families, to stand with them as they mourn.
This work has been far more fulfilling than any other writing project in my career because I get to savor great realities and express how they play out in a difficult circumstance. God took truths I thought I knew and helped me greatly see and greatly feel them anew.
The Christian writer has the unique opportunity to seek and savor the most important reality of all: God Himself. If God has called you to write, you are charged with using that gift to serve others (1 Peter 4:10). Faithful stewardship will often involve writing truth to a culture filled with brokenness, questions, and unchallenged assumptions. As with me, you may not have to look far to find those truths: God may be writing them on your heart through your circumstances.