My friend, David Swanson, sent me this video interview John Wilson conducts with Bret Lott. These men talk about work, stories, humility, Flannery O’Connor, and the things that make good writers.
I found this video about the writing and habits of Joyce Carol Oates here. It was produced by Kristina Budelis and Sky Dylan-Robbins. I trust you’ll enjoy how she talks about language, her routines, and the non-extraordinary act of writing.
Have you ever thought about how long it takes to accomplish what you spend your days doing? I met with a media PR person and an architect the other day. He’s in a supervisory role at work and he is new to parenting. His wife, new to parenting as well, works to promote the events of a film center in Chicago. Both of them spend a lot of time with their son and in their jobs.
And it occurs to me that people like my meeting friends–including me–have work we’re doing that takes a while to complete. Does that make sense? Whether planning for an event, reviewing building plans, or mentoring a staff person, these things take more than one moment. They take a series of moments, meetings, and interactions. It’s slow work.
Writing, teaching, ministry, cleaning, fathering–these are all slow jobs. And slow work takes time to complete and time to appreciate.
I read this in an email newsletter from Preaching Today, and it feels right for preachers and appropriate for people doing other slow work too:
Last week I talked to a pastor who nearly quit during his fifth year at Church ABC. He wanted to quit, the church wanted him to quit, but for some reason he hung in there. Now he’s in his 18th year at the same church and his preaching ministry has finally hit a sweet spot.
My point is not that you should always stick it out. My point is that deep, effective, Spirit-anointed preaching is slow work. It takes time to build trust. It takes time to hone your craft. It takes time to study a biblical text. It takes time to know your people and your cultural context. So, preacher, I urge you to accept this slow work of God. Don’t be in a hurry to change the world with one amazing sermon or one flashy sermon series. Learn the art of slow preaching, long-haul preaching, week after week preaching. It will bear more fruit than you could ever imagine.
I hope you get a glimpse that your work, whatever it is, is fruitful. Not pointless but productive. And I hope you do it as well as you can.
I can’t tell how you interpret most of what I say. We talk enough for me to have some understanding. Perhaps, I’m simply slow. Still, you remind me that conversations are full of so many more things than words. I suppose, in that way, you push me into contemplation, into the long corridor where words are far behind us. As for what you said, about the writing project in front of you, I hope you know that I’m in the circle of your biggest supporters. Get it done, and savor as much of the getting as you can. I’ll be the one wearing glasses at the end of the finish line, reminding you of your greatness and of the next race that’s set before you. Please keep going.
Everybody needs a reason (or a couple dozen) to keep at the work that they do. Spiritual leaders included. Those reasons come in the form of conversations where people explain how their faith is developing, periodic check ins when a guy says something about God that sticks in you, an email where a woman says how she’s praying for you, and a host of other reminders that the work you do matters.
And then there are those moments when you get a reason for the work you do while, at the same time, being reminded of the overall point of your work. The point, for instance, of a pastor’s work is not for that pastor to feel any particular way about his or her work. That pastor’s work is entirely about the explicit and continued lifting up of Someone else while he himself (in my case) is changed by that Someone.
I read Ashley Moy-Wooten’s testimony a few weeks ago. Then, she passed it to me and a few folks in our church after she posted it on Undocumented.tv, a blog focusing on how immigration is a missional opportunity for churches. I hope Ashley’s words can remind you that God can use people that you’re around, people you’re working with and for, to reach you. She has echoed parts of my heart in her testimony. The faith community of God’s church has been for me how she’s describing people in her work. God can remind you, perhaps, through her words, that there is an overall point to what you do.
When identifying that her relationships with immigrants were ways that God reached her, Ashley says,
I would have never guessed that the people I felt I was fighting for would actually end up being the biggest blessing to me that I would ever receive in my lifetime—the gift of faith and encounter with God.
She goes on to say,
What continues to astound me every day, though, is how powerful our God is, and how easily He can turn a top on the other side as it continues to spin. What many of the people I’ve worked with will never know is just how indebted I am to them.
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