I just finished Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and, frankly, I’m exhausted. I wasn’t prepared for the abundance of insect larvae illustrations. Neither was I prepared for the density of the book; the depth of reflection about, quite literally, every aspect of the landscape of Tinker Creek. It was overwhelming. I couldn’t accumulate that many deep thoughts in three lifetimes.
When I read something along these lines (Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is another example, but I could name dozens), my first reaction is one of despair. I will never be able to write like Annie Dillard. My mind will never work like hers; my vocabulary will never be so rich. I’ll never be able to develop original languages like Tolkien did, and I’ll never have Chesterton’s level of comfort with theological and philosophical concepts. The question, then, is “Why should I try to write anything?”
One of my favorite authors only ever wrote a single book. It isn’t a great work of literature. The use of language is not deft, not at all lovely. But Dan Stone’s The Rest of the Gospel is packed with truths so broad and wild I’ll spend my lifetime trying to wrap my heart around them. One of these truths, stated quite simply, has profoundly altered my view of what I have to offer. Stone says:
God is pleased to love through us just as we are. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: ‘For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we would walk in them” (2:10). Are you His workmanship right now? Yes. God in you, where you are right now in your spiritual development, can reach someone else. Next year you’ll be someplace else spiritually, and He will use you then. But He can use you right now. Every day wherever we are in our walk with Him, He can use us. Because there’s someone out there that couldn’t take us if we were any deeper. They can take us right where we are. He’ll send that kind of person to you.” (The Rest of the Gospel, 232)
Even typing Stone’s words, I’m thinking that I need to pick up the book again and read it for the sixth time, or maybe the seventh. I need the reminder that, although countless people are writing and mothering and speaking and singing and engaging the world with far more skill than I am, I have no cause to feel ashamed of my lack.
I’ll never, ever be able to write like Annie Dillard. And you know what? It’s a good thing. There were people Annie Dillard was uniquely designed to reach. There were people strategically placed into her sphere, people who needed to hear what she had to say. But some readers glazed over. They closed her books and set them aside. They could not receive her words. And if, right now, I suddenly possessed the genius and style of Annie Dillard, I would sever the connections I have with a huge number of my friends and family. I would lose my mission field.
It’s a simple truth, so obvious it’s almost silly that it should have to be spelled out in words: I’m called to do what I do best. I’m called to speak the truth of my story and the truth of the gospel and to show love and grace to the people I know, with the skills I’ve been given, in a voice flavored by my unique personality.
I picture us running, all of us, in a great marathon. I’m not at the head of the race, cutting the wind with lean tendons and muscles. I’m not (usually) trudging at the back, cursing the length of the journey and my crippling exhaustion.
I’m somewhere in the middle, hauling my pear shape and my snarky comments over the hills, and some people are jogging nearby. I will chat with them as I run. My presence will impact them in some small way. And if I were to quicken my pace or alter my trajectory, if I were to move even one step further away, my voice might be out of their hearing. In my striving to be someone else, to be somewhere else, something would be lost.
Why ever, then, would I wish myself at another stage of the journey? I will get where I’m going, when I must. Until then, just as I am and not one whit holier, I’ll speak from my limited store of knowledge and experience. I’ll do it without embarrassment, without shame.
Because there’s someone out there who couldn’t take [me] if [I] were any deeper.“
We are His workmanship, and He can use us right now, right where we are. Glory be to God!