What writing is teaching me about being myself

Read time: 3 min.

What I’ve learned from some of my personal experiences finding my identity and calling.

1. Our differences are our strengths

When I was a kid, I always had a sneaking suspicion in the back of my mind that I thought differently than everyone else.

When the teacher would ask a question, I wouldn’t hesitate to raise my hand to answer. Somehow, it seemed like I always took the conversation in a different way than the teacher had planned. I became less confident in my answers over the years, and would just sit back and listen to others answer and wonder why I always thought about the question in a completely different way than everyone else.

It is only in recent years that I have started to speak up again when I think about something differently than everyone else. I am finding that the different answer is sometimes what everyone else was trying to figure out all along.

The more I use my own, unique voice when I write, the more people seem to praise it. If Mark Twain sounded like C.S. Lewis and he sounded like Maya Angelou and she sounded like Flannery O’Connor, we wouldn’t have a need for all these great writers. Everything they had written would be the same. As it stands, they all have different voices and they all write about different things, so we need them all.

Our differences are not our weaknesses. They are our strengths, because they are what everyone around us is missing.

Our differences are what we have to offer others that they don’t already have.

2. Go with the gift

I’ve had a love for writing my entire life and have been told I’m a gifted writer since I was a kid. It’s just a part of me.

Somewhere along the way, I started telling myself it wasn’t a good enough gift. I’ve always had this vague desire to change the world in a big way, but writing has always seemed like a very passive way to do that to me.

One time I was with friends and discussing what career I should choose. The conversation naturally went to writing, and one of my friends looked me dead in the eye. “You have to be a writer,” he said.

I asked him why.

“Because you lit up when you talked about it,” he said.

I wasn’t convinced this was a good enough reason to pursue any career path. My true calling couldn’t possibly be something I loved so much — it would involve sacrifice.

I thought being a teacher seemed like a more noble calling. It was an active way to change the world and serve others. It seemed like the type of job God would approve of. I convinced myself that was what He wanted me to do.

Eventually, I heard someone say your calling is where your gifts, interests, and something the world needs collide. Writing is one of those things for me and I started to see how it could be used to change the world. In an effort to serve God how I thought would be best, I was missing the opportunity He had placed right in front of me through my gift of writing. I look back at that time of my life and laugh at how obvious it should have been.

I knew pursuing writing was the right choice when I was visiting my high school and told one of my old teachers about my decision.

“Ah, yes,” she said. “Go with the gift.”

3. Just tell the truth

The comedian Tim Hawkins once said, “If you want to be a comedian, tell the truth.”

You can make a whole comedy sketch by simply saying what everyone is already thinking.

People gravitate to genuine people. We can get really lost looking for it and often deny it, but we all want truth at the end of the day.

The silly thing is, I always think people will want some put-together, perfected version of myself. I spend so much time crafting an elaborate facade of who I think people will want me to be, only to find the facade becomes a wall between me and them. Every relationship requires tearing down this facade, one truth at a time. Then, the real friendship begins because I am relieved to find they actually wanted the real me all along. The real me doesn’t usually scare people off and, if it does, they aren’t my people.

When I write, sometimes all I’m thinking about is how to impress people with my writing. I want it to be profound and perfectly worded. When this is my motivation, the writing never turns out very good. It’s stiff, stale, and just plain boring. It’s like the phony facade, keeping people from the real me. If I skip the facade and just write down what I really think, it resonates with others and becomes what I actually wanted it to be all along.

If you want to be a writer, tell the truth. The truth always makes the best stories. And everyone knows, truth is stranger than fiction.

Everything I’m learning about being a writer keeps bringing me back to this one truth:

If you want to be a writer, be yourself.

Free

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Today marks 14 years since I decided to follow Jesus. I was sitting in church on Easter and the pastor explained salvation in a way that clicked in my 7-year-old mind. After I made the decision, I remember feeling the weight of sin’s power lift away. I even felt physically lighter inside, like I could float away. That first day, I knew there had been a change in me and He was present in my life.

In the years following that, I slipped into the belief that yes, He had saved me that day, but after that, it was up to me to keep it that way. Following God was an exhausting duty I put on myself to be good. It was miserable to live with the belief that I could never fail and, when I did, God was watching me in utter disappointment. Of course, I constantly failed.

I lived in a relationship with Him but it was cold and distant, strangled by fear and shame.

He didn’t let me stay that way, though. He met me where I was. When I was about 15, I was sitting on the rug in my room like I always did to read the Bible in my dry and lifeless way — to simply check it off my to do list to appease Him and get on with my day. Dry and lifeless was how everything felt when it came to following God. What was the point?

That specific time, there was a moment when it felt like time stood still and I felt as if He said, “I just want to be with you.”

That was the point — to be with Him. The point of following Him had been choked away by my dependence on myself. In my self-righteous pride, I was making it all about me and what I did, whether that was good or bad.

Take away all the good works, all the attempts to never sin, all the striving to please, all the things I thought would make me worthy, and there was just me. And my flaws. And my messes. My weakness. My fear and my shame. That’s who He wanted. That’s who He loved.

He wanted me to spend time with Him as that true, utterly powerless version of myself. Then, He would be the one empowering my life and giving me the ability to choose the good. The pressure was off of me because He had taken it that day I decided to follow Him.

I was free. I just didn’t know it.

I still wrestle with attempting to live life on my own, the way I want to, in my own strength, every day. It’s only when I stop wrestling and let Him fight for me that I find true freedom — freedom to follow Him imperfectly. Freedom to mess up every day, but still be with Him and still be loved by Him.

And that’s the point. That’s what it’s all about.

P.S. This is actually the short version. The version with all the details is in the works, so stay tuned.