Whether it’s jotting notes, composing messages to colleagues and clients, drafting proposals, filing reports, or assembling presentations, we write our way through the workday. While few of us are novelists, poets, or journalists, many of us do to some degree write for a living. And thanks to the internet, we write when we’re not working as well, continually and even prolifically. At work and at play, we are writers.
You are also a Christian, one who is called to be an “imitator of God” (Eph 5:1). How is all of this writing that you’re doing serving that purpose? For most of us, the answer is probably not much, at least in circumstances where we aren’t speaking explicitly as Christians. That was certainly the case for the two of us. After teaching at a Christian liberal arts college for a few years, we had the unsettling realization that not only how we taught writing but also our own approaches to writing were woefully thin on spiritual practice. We prayed to start our writing classes, and we prayed to start our writing sessions, but from that point forward, we were going it alone.
Thus began a collaborative exploration of how Christians in the past understood the relationship between the writing life and the spiritual life. Our key discovery was that for many Christians in earlier periods, writing was inescapably bound up with spiritual formation. In other words, not just what they were writing about mattered, but how they went about the task of writing mattered. What our spiritual ancestors realized is that the act of writing could be an opportunity to grow in the virtues that Scripture teaches, such as patience, generosity, hope, and love. Much more is at stake when we write, we came to see, than just getting our point across. Growing in writing and growing in virtue go hand in hand.
When we’ve shared this message with friends and students, our listeners’ first response has usually been smiles and nods. It sounds so lovely, doesn’t it? But quickly the scope of our argument sets in, and the questions begin: Do you really mean that all of my writing needs to reflect my Christian faith? What’s this got to do with my lab report? My email to my boss? My hilarious tweet? Here, we double down: All of our writing indeed presents occasions for growing into the virtues, for all of our writing entails connecting with those whom Christ calls us to love — our neighbors.
This may, we recognize, sound like a daunting task. And indeed we’ve concluded that it’s impossible to accomplish all at once and all by ourselves. Thankfully, the Christian life was never imagined as a one-time, pass-fail assignment. It’s not something that you complete on your own.