A Spiritual Insight from #NaNoWriMo

Last month was #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). All around the world, writers commit to starting new projects and to writing every day in the insane undertaking to write 50,000 words toward a novel in one month.

I've heard about it for years, but have never taken the plunge. I'm primarily a non-fiction writer. I blog regularly for InterVarsity and LaFe. I write the daily devotional (together with Alex) for Chatham Church. I craft Bible studies and sermons and trainings. I'm even working on a book on ethnicity in the Bible.

"Noveling" just isn't my style.

But I love fiction. I read and watch and talk about fiction stories every day, especially fantasy and science-fiction. On my sabbatical last year, half of my reading and more than half of the spiritual formation that happened came through fiction. And Dad and I did get about 30,000 words into writing a novel before we stumbled and lost our momentum.

So I went for it. I sat down on November 1st without an idea, without plot, without characters ... with nothing but a blank screen. And a story started to come out. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Sometimes a thousand words would come out in thirty minutes. At other times, I would only have 300 to show for an hour and a half. Characters took shape. A plot began to develop. Conflicts and tensions formed.

And I was having fun.

But something hung over the experience. For #NaNoWriMo, the challenge is to write 50,000 words in a month. That's 1,667 per day. And I swiftly fell behind.

I got sick: first with terrible sinusitis and then with the stomach flu. Amy experienced a minor pregnancy complication that required me to be a lot more engaged around the house. The church hit an important point in our strategic conversations about planting and building, which required a lot of me. And my novel-writing adventure kept getting pushed to the side.

I experienced tremendous joy while writing and, at the same time, sadness and shame about falling behind.

One week, late in the month, I met with Joe Moore for some spiritual direction. He's incredibly wise and I benefit tremendously from spending time with him. Joe checks up on me on Facebook in advance of our meetings and saw my #NaNoWriMo updates. And he pointed something significant out to me.

In my life, I have this sense of a timeline that runs alongside me. I'm supposed to be at Point X by Time Y. I graduated from grad school 2-3 years earlier than the timeline expected, so I could experiment with joining InterVarsity Staff. In my mid-twenties, it was time to start having kids (which made the infertility experience so difficult). In my thirties and forties and fifties there's a script that tells me where I'm supposed to be.

A lot of immigrant families resort to tools like these to guide our footsteps. For me, I felt pressure to meet the timeline so that I wouldn't let the family down. And this has produced significant spiritual tension for me.

The last decade has been full of God calling me to set my timeline aside in order to follow him into the joyous life he has for me. And I have. And I've experienced tremendous joy and, at the same time, sadness and shame about falling behind.

My #NaNoWriMo adventure helped to uncover this dynamic in my spiritual life. Sadness and shame stalk me as I feel I'm falling behind. But the joy of the path God has set before me makes it worth abandoning the timeline.

Art provides a tremendous lens through which we can see the interior of our souls ... but, then, that's probably another post.