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By Faith,

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Illustration by Noel Shiveley

In mundaneness, we can underestimate the potential of the Spirit, forgetting our reality proven in the Resurrection. Especially in this present moment, the simple act of remembering and seeing past our situation becomes a discipline.

Ironically, I don’t think there’s a better time than now for Easter to come. As we experience a stretch of days alone or kept inside with others, we realize how “small scale” our lives have suddenly become. But, it has always been this way. This is a paradox in living for Christ/dying to self: to press into deep calling, but in the context of simple things- to surrender the idea of “going big,” and instead follow in Jesus’ humility, devoting ourselves to God in dramatic and quiet ways alike.

While we’re confined to four walls, the everyday basics are emphasized. Our intentionality behind texts, calls, social media posts, interactions with a barista, and some things that might have seemed shallow before, are now our best opportunities to live purposely. Yet, this has always been the point- to consider our faith and depend on the Spirit in everything.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”

Hebrews 11:6-7

This chapter in Hebrews is often referred to as a “hall of heroes” type of passage, but the focus isn’t on any of the dozen people cited, many who were much less than role models in their own right. Rather, the author emphasizes our inadequacy and our need to depend on power greater than us. He brings our attention back to God.

This is the way of the disciples who came before us, who recognized their inability and gave themselves in faith to the One who secures. They were aware of their own frailty, but saw a greater reality beyond themselves in God. To the world, our Father’s will is seen as a restraint, but to those who trust him, it is liberation from ourselves. It is death to sin and the path to life everlasting. It is invitation into the impossible, only accomplished by faith in the crucified Christ and risen King.

“It is the same power that raised Christ from the dead that lives in you.”

I had to sit with that when I first heard it put that way. It sounded like the kind of thing that would get you in trouble in a certain religious setting — one that I had even been a part of. But by faith through this same power, it becomes true. Despite any confinement, we still have the same power that led Jesus to follow his Father’s will over his own. By faith, the same power is present within us in all circumstances, no matter how mundane.

By faith, Jesus gives us himself. By faith, we come into his presence. By faith, the future heaven breaks into the now. By faith, death becomes new life. By faith, we grow into the righteousness he has given us. By faith, we join the lineage of the saints. By faith, a hidden life is filled with meaning. By faith, a season of restraint becomes a time for opportunity. By faith, nothing is wasted as we surrender to the Spirit, recognizing that even this moment is for our good and his glory.

Worship song recommendation – Same Power by Matthew Zigenis

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An Inherited Hope

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Photo by Ophelia Ding

Easter is my favorite day of the year.

Every day is another social media-appointed holiday, but while #easter might be trending, today stands apart. The resurrection of Jesus is a declaration that God has been faithful to us, despite our unfaithfulness to Him. While Christ lived perfectly in line with God’s will, we have put ours at the forefront, rejecting Him through our sin and disconnecting ourselves from the reality we were made for. Aware of the hopelessness we had brought on our lives, God chose to send His Son to make a way for us back to Himself. We didn’t deserve a place in His Kingdom, but Christ loved us. Dying on the cross before a mocking crowd, He allowed judgment to be brought on Himself, knowing that if He didn’t, we would pay the price for eternity.

After he breathed his last, the temple curtain which previously separated the Jewish people from God’s presence tore in two. Suddenly, Christ’ sonship extended to anyone who put their trust in Him alone. Now, we are able to know God personally as Jesus does: as our Father.

When Christ died on the cross like a criminal, His followers assumed defeat. They didn’t realize this was the apex of God’s all-encompassing plan to reunite His people with Himself. They believed Jesus came to reclaim the lost from their sin and call them back to God’s love, but they didn’t understand this was how it was going to happen.

On the morning when Mary Magdalene and James’ mom, also Mary, found the empty tomb, they were told by an angel that Jesus had risen. After two days of mourning and enduring true despair they thought would last forever, they were overwhelmed with joy.

God hadn’t abandoned his people. Jesus died, but death did not have the final word on his life. The darkness could not overcome the Light. Sin could not override the promise he made that he would bring redemption for those who seek him. And now, by placing our trust in Christ alone, sin doesn’t define us either. He does.

“But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.”

Luke 24:12

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Becoming Ourselves

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Photo by Ophelia Ding

It doesn’t take much effort to become creatively lost. Even after years of routine and rootedness, it’s easy to fall out of rhythms we’ve set for ourselves. Eventually, we try to rediscover the thing we once loved, but where we once found inspiration, we find a dried-up well in its place.

I don’t think there’s an area of life that’s exempt from the possibility of us falling away. It doesn’t matter how much we’ve invested, there’s always a chance we’ll drift from who we are. It can happen in our jobs, our relationships, our faith, or anything else we give ourselves to. Whether it be a result of burnout or neglect, the temptation to allow the seasons of dryness to win is strong.

Over time, that sense of indifference left unchecked can morph into cynicism. The thing that previously defined all other modes of life is replaced with an attitude stuck on the idea that “it can’t happen again.” This sort of spirit is subtly draining, and ultimately steals away potential for change. Depending on whether we remain faithful to a mindset of either surrender or resistance, it has the power to shape who we become in the future.

After years of writing creatively, I finally hit a wall and lost the inspiration I had growing up. My excitement for a story I had been working on for months faded. I wasn’t in love with the ideas I used to be in love with.

Whenever I’m growing in my understanding of something, I go through a phase of confusion. I start to feel disoriented. As I took a step back from writing narratively, I felt that same confusion rise up. There was something for me to take away from my sudden lack of investment:

Inspiration isn’t a reliable source for motivation.

That might be an obvious sentiment, especially when it comes to writing or any type of creative work. But it’s an even more important reminder when it comes to life as a Christian.

At some point, every believer will feel like they’re falling out of love with God. Whether we’re aware of it or not, all of us drift from how close we think we are to Christ. We stop opening our Bibles in anticipation of hearing about the Kingdom we’ve been brought into. We won’t spend the time in prayer that we previously felt was so rewarding. We won’t think much of the lyrics projected on a screen on Sunday morning.

It’s not that we’re losing interest in God like we would lose interest in a job we thought we wanted, or a movie that gets boring halfway through, or a show that declines in quality after the fifth season. The problem isn’t that we’ve discovered some red flag about God that makes us pull back and lose heart. It’s the opposite dilemma: we’re forgetting who He is, and specifically who He is to us.

In those times of drought, what was previously personal becomes theoretical. The box labeled “emotional” gets replaced with one that’s not so demanding labeled “intellectual.” Slowly and subliminally, we detach ourselves from the experiences that led us to Him.

At certain points throughout the past year, this happened to me. I allowed some thoughts to overshadow others, and I lost focus in my walk with God. I could sense what was happening internally and how it would get worse if I didn’t adjust my habits.

“At first it may feel like freedom to skimp on prayer and neglect the Word. But then we pay: shallowness, powerlessness, vulnerability to sin, preoccupation with trifles, superficial relationships, and a frightening loss of interest in worship and the things of the Spirit.”

— John Piper

As a 22-year old, the decisions I make (whether it be related to school, career, who I spend my time with, etc.) have the potential to impact the trajectory of my life. If I want to live well, I need a strong foundation.

It doesn’t matter if I feel like I consistently don’t get anything out of an hour in reading scripture or writing a prayer. If I don’t devote time to re-centering myself in the truth of who He is and who I am, my balance will be off. My focus in life won’t be based on something steady. It will shift from one thing to the next depending on whatever catches my immediate attention.

“Don’t worry if your heart won’t respond: do the best you can. You are certainly under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, or you wouldn’t have come where you are now: and the love that matters is His for you — yours for Him may at present exist only in the form of obedience. He will see to the rest.”

— C. S. Lewis, a letter to a former pupil (January 4, 1941)

I have to remind myself things I already know but don’t feel. I have to reread the same verses over and over, re-listen to sermons I’ve felt convicted by, go back to books I’ve read, and look at old blog posts I’ve written (I’ve come to realize I’m just writing to my future self half the time).

When I’m unable to mentally invest in the thing that previously powered me, I also tend to overemphasize where I’ve been. Instead of completely forgetting, I’ll start remembering things as being better than they were. The past becomes a daunting high score I struggle to live up to and recreate. I eventually have to confront the reality that Nick once failed to convince Gatsby: “You can’t repeat the past.”

We can’t go backwards— and that’s the point. By the time we’re out of a drought, we’ll have matured into a truer version of the person He’s turning us into. We won’t even want to return to how things were. It’s by going back to Him over and over that we become ourselves. We’ll change because the relationship has deepened. We won’t want to regress.

Ironically, falling into a rut is a reoccurring experience. I know I’ll eventually be back where I was. It’s a cycle. We’ll go months feeling secure where we’re at, and then it happens again. Our priority is tested as we stop caring, and our first love becomes a chore. The danger of going through dryness and coming out the other end is in assuming that we can handle it the next time. As we learn the wrong lesson, fatigue gains the advantage.

“After you’ve gone through it once, you might fall victim to the arrogance of invulnerability. The false idea that since you’ve been burnt to a crisp once and survived, you can do it again. Don’t be stupid. It’s pure denial you’re feeling, not confidence.”

— Scott Berkun, How To Survive Creative Burnout

The truth is, reading one blog post isn’t going to be enough to get anyone out of the pit. It requires more than hearing some person’s thoughts and relating to them. For there to be any change, we need to get to the end of ourselves first.

We have to recognize our inability to grow alone and return to old truths we’ve become unimpressed by. We have to remember what our heart has forgotten. We have to realize we aren’t really pursuing Him on our own— He’s been pursuing us. It’s not that He’s been distant as we thought. We’ve just become unaware of who He is.

Inspired by Matthew 7:24-27

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The Gospel That Rewrites Us

Growing up, I heard the word “gospel” thrown around by Christians who assumed everyone listening had an idea what it meant. Even though I had sat through countless Sunday morning services, I was never actually told what “the gospel” was.

It makes sense that most people, even those who grew up in church, wouldn’t have a clear definition of the word. In our culture, there’s a wide array of meanings attributed to “gospel.” It can be a music genre, a slang term for important, or just a vague idea of religion.

“Gospel” is actually the translation of a Greek word meaning “good news.” But, there obviously needs to be context for it to be understood. If “gospel” means good news, what makes it good news?

If you’ve ever been approached by a street evangelist, you’ve probably been told a thirty second summary of the gospel message. However, without any backstory, it’s not easy to connect with. The gospel is the story of a Savior redeeming humanity by dying on our behalf — but if we don’t see a personal need for being saved from sin, we’ll never see what makes any of it necessary. It’s like if you walked in on the third act of a movie, but missed the first 50 minutes. You aren’t going to care what happens if you don’t know why anything is happening.

For us to know why the gospel matters, we need to know why we need to be redeemed. Jesus can’t be a great Savior unless there is something terrible for us to be saved from, and something great for us to be saved for.

There are times when it seems obvious that the world is broken and needs redemption, but it isn’t often we feel something is wrong in ourselves. Even though we can name a long list of corrupt politicians and movie executives who clearly need redemption, we don’t think we do. At least, not to the extent that Jesus seems to think we do. We don’t think we’re so bad to the point that Jesus had to die a brutal death on a cross to buy our forgiveness.

But when we underestimate how much our actions matter and we excuse our sin as not really being a big deal, we sell ourselves short. We defend our actions, saying we aren’t hurting anyone, that we’re only committing victimless crimes. Or we remind ourselves how others have the same issues as us, and some people are even worse, so we aren’t that bad in comparison.

The reality is, our sin goes beyond our actions, because how we act is just a reflection of how we think. We might not live in direct opposition to God, but we usually live in neglect of him. Apathy toward God is the human condition that we need to be rescued from.

Instead of choosing to follow him, we buy into the idea of writing our own journey, of following our heart, but nobody mentioned our heart isn’t always the best guide. Sometimes what we want leads to self-destruction.

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This is the story of the Bible, that we’ve chosen our own way over God’s way, and we’ve created a distance between us and him because of it.

It’s the same story as when Adam and Eve decided to give into what they wanted (a piece of fruit for temporary appetite and curiosity), over contentment with God and what he had already given them (the entire Garden of Eden and the peace they had with their Creator).

When they ate the fruit, Adam and Eve were told they would have the kind of knowledge and authority that only God has. They were told they would be like him, but in a sense, they already were like him. They had been made “in his image,” meaning God had created them as a smaller scale reflection of himself. They were “complete,” they were perfect as they were.

But they sacrificed their relationship with God to be independent from him in hope of becoming their own gods. It not only cost them the peace they had, it cost them their identity. They separated themselves from God. They abandoned him, choosing not to be his children anymore.

In pursuing a life without God like Adam and Eve did, we’ve grown more attached to sin than to him. We’ve made ourselves numb. We’ve become more accustomed to indifference than to our Creator and his love. God’s image in us has been shattered because we’ve chosen other things over him.

“It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

― C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

The good news is, even though we can hardly comprehend our need to be redeemed, God came to us as a man, Jesus, to save us from the sin that had detached us from him.

Jesus lived for God and not just the default desires that we live for, like success or thrill or popularity. He never gave into the temptation we give into on a daily basis. He lived out God’s will for humanity, knowing what he would eventually have to do.

Jesus was the Messiah, a promised Savior from an ancient prophecy, and God had said it was through him that he would redeem his people from sin. Except, no one had any idea how this would happen. After Jesus was betrayed by his own followers, he was handed over to government officials to be executed as a rebel in the most humiliating way possible for that time. Innocent and alone, Jesus suffered a torturous death he didn’t deserve so we wouldn’t have to pay for the sin we’ve committed against God.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:34

When Jesus died on the cross, the life he lived was counted onto us, and the judgment our sin deserved was counted onto him.

At the time, nobody figured it out that this was how God was delivering his people from sin to be reunited with him. After Jesus was buried, it was assumed that he wasn’t God. He died, and God doesn’t die. People thought he was just another one of the many frauds who claimed to be the Messiah.

But on the third day after his death, Jesus returned to show us that the mission has been accomplished. He is God. It was through dying for his enemies that he was restoring our relationship to himself. Sin has been defeated, and even death couldn’t hold back the author of life.

Now, we can know God as only Jesus deserved to know him: as Father. Through the cross, Jesus gave us back the identity we gave up.

Instead of abandoning us like we did to him, God loved us anyway. That’s why the gospel is a message of grace. It’s the story of God replacing our self-made narrative for the life that Jesus lived. It’s the story of God rewriting our lives by giving us something we could never earn without him. We’re saved from our sin, but what that really means is, we’re saved from ourselves.

By believing on Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we can know God personally and be forgiven of everything we’ve done against him, whether it’s something we did intentionally or unintentionally, out of hate or out of carelessness.

Now, when God sees us, he sees us restored to the image that we shattered.

Photo by Jonathan Ogden

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Denying Denial

“Always be honest with yourself.”

It’s an important guideline for a journalist attempting to be unbiased, and it’s important advice for a person pursuing truth. It’s the idea of accepting the thing that’s difficult to accept, of admitting the reality that you would rather deny — but coming to terms with it anyway.

As I get older, I’m realizing this is the most important foundation to have. It’s a prerequisite that determines the course of our lives. Not to “stay true to yourself” and what you want, but to be honest with yourself even in what you don’t want.

It’s easy to tell ourselves lies so we can avoid dealing with reality. Our denial can come in different forms. It can come in faking happiness or contentment, causing us to neglect rising feelings of depression or dissatisfaction. Or it can be us ignoring the doubt that’s building up inside toward the thing we want most to be true. Or it can simply be us pretending something was better than it was, when it was actually a disappointment.

Denial is dangerous because it seems safe, but in reality keeps us in the dark. It keeps us from understanding truth, admitting wrong, and changing for the better. Denial produces a stagnant people instead of a sanctified people.

Although we can’t always be aware of what’s going on internally, we have an opportunity to pursue something better when we begin to understand the state of our soul.

. . .

I’ve been growing bitter recently. As I’ve become more aware, I’ve been tracing it back to a frustration over culture, an irritation from overemphasis  —  on things like self-care and self-love, reflective of the individualistic narrative we’re told to live by. It’s the idea that we’re the main character of our own story, and everything that happens revolves around us.

Ironically, at the root of my bitterness is a similar spirit to the one I’m against: an elevated sense of importance, a superiority no one has the right to have. It’s the same mindset that I resent. The first thing it considers is “how do I feel?” instead of “how do they feel?” It believes it’s entitled to look out for itself before it thinks of anyone else. Self-concern is its main priority.

I can’t afford to live in this kind of denial where I acknowledge another’s sin but not my own. The truth is, I’m not qualified to be offended, because even I don’t live up to the standard I’m offended by. I need to be honest with myself to pursue humility. I need to deny denial to confront my pride.

It makes me think of a meme I saw a while back from the production of The Passion of the Christ. Mel Gibson is sitting in a director’s chair, leaning over to Jim Caviezel sitting next to him, dressed as the bloodied Messiah wearing a crown of thorns. The tweet that went along with it was: “me explaining my problems to Jesus.”

I thought it was funny, but my next thought was about how accurate it is. A meme ended up giving me perspective. That on its own is humbling, and so is what it reminded me. While I might bring something to God in prayer that’s weighing on me, nothing really compares to the suffering Jesus endured.

This is the gospel, that Jesus died on a cross so that everything I’ve done against him wouldn’t be counted against me. And now, through his sacrifice, I can know God and talk to him through prayer.

But I don’t deserve it. I’m not qualified. I deserve far less, and far worse. I deserve the separation from God that Jesus felt on the cross, the thing he prayed he wouldn’t have to endure when he was being brought to Calvary.

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Luke 22:42

The only person who deserves a “yes” to every prayer is Jesus. He deserves the response that I don’t because 1) I’ve never been so righteous to deserve God’s attention 2) or his favor, and 3) I’ve never been in a situation where my prayer came from such desperation.

Jesus’ first plea wasn’t answered, yet so many of the small, mundane requests I bring before God are answered. A lot of the time, the blessings I receive aren’t even the result of something I prayed about.

Keeping this reality in mind should foster humility. Once we see everything is by grace, feelings of superiority and entitlement begin to fall away. We’re no better than the person who’s wronged us, or the person who said something offensive. We’re all on the same page — in need of forgiveness I doubt we really understand. Forgiveness we have because Jesus was willing to die for a people that didn’t deserve him.

Photo by Jonathan Ogden

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If Jesus Hasn’t Risen

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Photo by Nicholas Jones

To a lot of people, having a clear perspective on the world while being a Christian is impossible. Many would say the two are incompatible. A person can’t have both genuine awareness of themselves and everything else, and yet believe in God or the Bible. They can’t really be in tune with reality if all of life is obscured through faith in some greater reality.

And, I would agree — in a way. If the resurrection is a lie, then so is my worldview. If Jesus never rose from the grave, then my perspective is a delusion.

I don’t think that’s something a person outside of church would expect a Christian to say. But, it’s true. If the object of someone’s faith isn’t real, then it’s not just their faith that’s invalid, it’s their entire worldview and a ton more.

The Apostle Paul realized this same consequence. If the eyewitness testimonies of the resurrection were lies, then Christianity isn’t just pointless. It’s blinding.

“And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

-Paul’s letter to the Church at Corinth (1 Cor 15)

This is the thesis of the Bible, that Christ died the death we deserve for our sin, and rose again in defeat of the grave. If the only reason this belief is still with us today is because someone thousands of years ago was in denial over the death of Jesus and made up a lie, then there’s no point to letting it redefine your life or your worldview.

Yet in a sense, Paul had more at stake than any of us do if the resurrection was a falsified account. He had gone through a tremendous amount of suffering to show the Church that the gospel is worth living for, even if it means death. His imprisonment, abandonment, interrogation, starvation, beatings, and eventual execution were all in vain if the thing he did it for wasn’t real. If anyone was going to be in denial of the alternative to the faith, it was him. Instead, he thoroughly understood everything it would mean if Jesus hasn’t risen — even if that meant everything he endured for the sake of the gospel had been in vain.

He says in that case, he should be pitied for wasting so much of his time and for going through such harsh persecution. If Jesus didn’t die for our sins and rise again, then the gospel he suffered for wasn’t worth any of his pain. Paul could’ve been enjoying a comfortable and quiet life at home all along. His sacrifice was either reasonable, or reasonless. There’s no in between.

“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

-C. S. Lewis

It’s refreshingly different from what we’re used to that both the Apostle Paul and C. S. Lewis had this self-awareness in which they understood the personal implications if their hope was hollow. There’s a sense of credibility to it. They knew if the resurrection never happened, it would make them delusional for believing it and liars for proclaiming it. They realized the empty reality that contrasts the empty tomb.

If the gospel isn’t true, it means…

  • A worldview based on scripture is irrelevant.
  • The Bible was written in vain so it has also been taught in vain.
  • The trust we have in Jesus is meaningless.
  • We aren’t saved from the sin we’ve committed against him.
  • Death is the end.
  • We’ve wasted our whole lives on an ancient fabrication.

 

But Paul has enough perspective to know this isn’t the right one.

 

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But Christ Has Risen

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead… For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

1 Corinthians 15:20-22

After Paul reflects on the despairing alternative to eternal hope, he reminds the Corinthians of the truth. This “what if” alternate reality doesn’t exist. Its only use is to emphasize the reality we’re in.

Like how a Christian worldview becomes invalid if the gospel isn’t true, the reverse also stands. Any way of seeing the world that ignores the gospel becomes incomplete and misinformed if it is true.

The fact that Jesus has risen means…

  • He is God. He deserves to be at the center of our lives instead of ourselves.
  • He deserves to be taken seriously so scripture deserves to be taken seriously.
  • The trust we have in Jesus has more significance than trust we have in anyone else.
  • He’s forgiven us and has saved us from the aftermath of our sin.
  • Death leads us to God’s eternal presence if we live in his presence now.

“And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

2 Corinthians 5:15

The resurrection means we have something new to live for. There’s something worth devoting ourselves to. There’s a new motivation for living. We have something to hope in. Death has died. The “already but not yet” is in process. There is a reason to look ahead, because our destiny is sealed in the risen Jesus.

When something gets in the way of this reality, whether it’s anxiety or a misled mindset, I have to remind myself of how the gospel applies personally. If I’m going to see things clearly and respond the way I should, I have to build everything on this all-encompassing truth.

In the mundaneness of signing up for this semester, I can say something to myself like, “I’m not getting all the classes I want, but Christ has risen…”  Even though it doesn’t sound like a relevant response, it’s a reminder that I’m not living for an accomplishment, or a major, or a career, or a feeling, or to get ahead of anyone else. I’m supposed to be living for the One who died for me.

“This project I’m working on isn’t going the way I wanted, but Christ has risen…”  None of us are made to just be artists, writers, students, etc. We shouldn’t stress out so much on an identity we’re trying to maintain. We’re the beloved first before we’re anything else. As the most important thing is raised up, all other things are lowered.

“Nothing in life is making sense, but Christ has risen…”  What happens to us usually doesn’t have an obvious purpose. When we examine our lives, confusion tends to be a default response, but God doesn’t hide himself from us. He’s revealed his will for us and the rest of creation in the resurrection.

Since Jesus rose again, we can be confident he will also keep his promise of returning again. This is the final consequence of the empty tomb. Even though this world is fallen, he will come back one day to restore it. This is the future we have worth looking towards, because he is the Savior worth following.

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A Good Kind of Apathy

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Photo by Ryan Knapp

Obviously, apathy is awful. I would know as indifference has been a personal struggle. But, I’ve learned a certain amount of not caring can be a good thing. Or at least, it can be a sign of a good thing.

Sometimes, apathy is an indicator of growth. It can be what happens when you start to understand something for what it is instead of what you thought it was. Indifference can be a response to false advertising, a shock that follows radical change in perspective.

For me, one of those major changes was a full-on paradigm shift. When I readjusted the way I thought about the world from a self-determined individualistic view to a God-made gospel view, everything was turned on its head.

The things I thought were the most important became less important. The job I had always thought of myself having became less captivating. Impressing the people I wanted to show off to became less enticing. Even my interests started to feel less intriguing.

That might sound like a bummer, but think of it like this… If you were opening presents on your birthday, and you received an Amazon gift card, you would initially be pretty excited. But then you open another present and it’s keys to a Mustang. In light of having a new car, you might not be as enthusiastic about a gift card like you were a moment before.

I still like all the same things (Star Wars, Batman, writing…) but I don’t love them like I used to. When the focus of life is replaced with the source of life itself, everything else seems a good deal less important. Certain things begin to matter less once you realize what matters most.

If the parts of our lives we thought were the most crucial actually aren’t, then we have less reason to worry about “if it all went wrong.” No matter what happens, it’s not the end of the world.

It’s like when you run into someone famous. (As I’m writing this, Michael Cera walked into the coffee shop I’m at. He’ll inspire this paragraph.) If you wanted to introduce yourself to George-Michael Bluth, you might be anxious at first, maybe because you’re taking the situation more seriously than it deserves. You’re contemplating the possibility of looking bad, or it being awkward.

But when you think clearly and realize it isn’t an experience to take to heart, since you know the One you should take to heart, that anxiety is lessened. You’re excited, but you aren’t overwhelmed. Whoever the celebrity might be, they become just like you, under God’s dominion. That means their opinion of you isn’t defining. Celebrity run-ins are awesome, but they aren’t that dramatic.

With this perspective, we can relax. We can take a step back and breathe. Anxiety loses credibility, because the stakes aren’t so high after all. The “worst case scenario” isn’t the worst case scenario anymore, whether it’s an internship not working out, having to retake a class, or making a subpar impression on Michael Cera… None of them would’ve been life-giving anyway, so none of them are life-threatening.

As the book of Ecclesiastes says, everything under the sun is trivial in the long run. Everything is passing away, so your heart shouldn’t be in this life. It should be in the life to come.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”

-Helen Howarth Lemmel

In this way, there’s a good kind of apathy. If you realize what is worth being devoted to, you’ll realize what isn’t worth being devoted to. Some things don’t matter as much as the world might like to think. Not everything deserves your heart. 

Apathy can be toxic. When you don’t see the relevance of things where there is relevance, it threatens your well-being.

But when you don’t see significance where there isn’t any significance, a certain amount of indifference makes sense toward the things God doesn’t want us to completely give ourselves to.

If you value what’s worth valuing, everything else becomes less valuable in contrast. If you know God as beautiful and worthy of praise, everything you previously considered likewise receives a demotion.

I confess that most of my apathy is wrong. Most of it is self-destructive. But by God’s grace, there is a certain amount that I’ve grown from. There is a sort of reasonable indifference. There is a positive kind of apathy that honors the thing of first importance, and pushes you into knowing a truer reality.

Categories
entries

Our Divine Purpose

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Photo by Allison Mitchell // Source: Instagram

This past semester in a literature class, I wrote an essay that focused on the theme of restoration in the gospel, similar to a previous entry. One line describing the new heaven and the new earth read, “Where there was once chaos, there will be purpose.” Where things used to seem meaningless, we will see meaning. Although our purpose in life was once obscured, it will be made clear. We won’t need to contemplate our meaning because we’ll live it out for eternity. It won’t take faith because it will be sight.

When we received feedback on our papers, another student told me that this idea of there being purpose in a perfect, sinless world sounded like a paradox. In this life, there is so much work to be done to correct and improve our conditions that we can hardly imagine what “purpose” is apart from trying to make things better. If there’s already peace and justice in heaven, how is it possible that we have any purpose left to serve? How is there a role left for us to fill?

Today’s Purpose

To understand what our future purpose in heaven could be, we first have to realize what our current purpose is on earth. We’re used to defining our meaning by what we do and how our actions affect others. But what if we actually have purpose apart from this? What if God has given us a meaning that transcends our circumstances — whether we’re unemployed, or broke, or failing in school? What if the way God works isn’t the way the world works? What if meaning isn’t what we thought it was?

The reality of our purpose conflicts with everything we’ve been taught in the west. Even after you hear it a few times, the answer still sounds like an oppressive, authoritarian purpose to be given. It can be hard to grasp whether you know Jesus as your personal savior or you don’t. For a long time, I was aware of the answer, but I didn’t understand it. Even though I grew up hearing it repeated, I didn’t get it.

The answer comes from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, a book of foundational Christian doctrine written by English and Scottish theologians in 1646, based on what the Bible already teaches. It opens with a question on life’s purpose.

Q. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

It’s a simple answer, and it’s an offensive answer. One of the verses cited is 1 Corinthians 10:31 which says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

The word “glorify” means “to exalt,” “to praise,” “to attribute importance to.” It’s telling us we’re meant to live for God and not for ourselves.

Questioning Purpose

For a long time, C. S. Lewis struggled to understand how God could create us with this purpose of worship. Lewis considered it selfish that God would ask us to live entirely for him. It’s important that we raise this concern. We would all agree that a man who told us to bow down to him, and to sing for him, and to do everything in his honor, has a pride issue. But, we call him prideful because he’s wrongfully full of himself. He’s ultimately undeserving of our praise. No one has lived up to a standard worthy of us devoting our lives to him, except for Jesus. When God tells us to live for his glory, it isn’t equivalent to some guy telling us to do the same for him. God is different, because only God is worthy of our praise.

However, Lewis was onto something when he called God selfish. For us, selflessness is a virtue. When we live selflessly, we give up our rights for the good of others — but when we’re full of ourselves, we’re inconsiderate of anyone who isn’t us. When we’re selfish, we live independently of God. We make our own rules, and we’re prone to sin. When we’re selfless, we lay ourselves down for others as Jesus commands us. We resist the temptation of comfort and easiness, and we accept Christ as our authority. When we abandon ourselves, we become better as we grow into being more like our Savior.

But, if God were to be selfless and abandon his character, he wouldn’t be anything like how he is. He wouldn’t be good, or merciful, or gracious, or loving… In many ways, God is full of Himself — and that turns out to be a good thing. He isn’t like us, because he’s good on his own. He doesn’t need to grow into someone he’s not already. This is why he’s worth following, because he’s perfect as he is. While we’re sinful by our nature, God is holy by his nature. 

This is the purpose that Jesus invites us to partake in — to live for the One worth living for. To live for God’s glory instead of our own. To live for Christ and not for self-interest.

By intentionally creating us with this meaning, he loves us. He redirects our mindsets from living for “the now” to living for the eternal. Our purpose no longer has an expiration date, because it isn’t reliant on abilities we’ll eventually lose, or a name that will someday be forgotten. He shifts our motives from our good to his glory.

“God is the one being in the entire universe for whom self-centeredness, or the pursuit of his own glory, is the ultimately loving act. For him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When he does all things ‘for the praise of his glory,’ he preserves for us and offers to us, the only thing in the entire world, which can satisfy our longings. God is for us, and therefore has been, is now and always will be, first, for himself. I urge you not to resent the centrality of God in his own affections, but to experience it as the fountain of your everlasting joy.”

-John Piper, Is God For Us Or For Himself?

The parts of life where we’re often told to find our meaning and satisfaction (such as career, relationships, school, family, or any other passion) can’t compare to the real reason we’re here. None of them can truly satisfy our desire for meaning because God didn’t intend for any of them to. True, lasting purpose can’t come from the created. It can only from the Creator.

We might be content with our idols for a season, but our contentment never lasts because we weren’t made for the finite. We were made for the infinite.

“Anything you put in the place of God will fail you… No matter how good it is, it can’t handle the weight of your soul.”

-Dave Lomas, a sermon titled On Christian Living

Only a life lived for the Kingdom is sustainable because only the Kingdom is without end. It goes on because God goes on.

To Enjoy Him Forever

The Catechism’s answer about the “chief end of man” doesn’t stop at glorifying God. It also tells us that we’re meant to “enjoy him forever.” To some extent, this is the easier part. But, to worship God actually goes hand-in-hand with enjoying him.

“I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…. The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game…. I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ‘Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?’

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”

-C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

Our enjoyment of him is praise to him.

“Adoring God for being what he is, is the very essence of Christian worship and of Christian praise.”

-Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Living Our Purpose

We tend to complicate the practical application of how this purpose God intends for us affects the way we live, but it’s easier than we realize.

We ask questions that bring up the mundane parts of the everyday like, “How am I supposed to glorify God when I’m listening to music?” or “How can I serve God when I’m stuck in traffic?” Scripture is straightforward in telling us to do everything for God’s glory, but when we’re actually in the moment it describes, glorifying God seems like a distant concept. How are we supposed to apply it practically?

Some might say it’s through obedience. It’s true that we can glorify God through obedience in our actions. When we’re on the 405 going 20 miles an hour, we can practice patience. In everyday situations, we can always ask ourselves “what would Jesus do?” and then respond with the answer.

But I don’t think that’s all the verse from earlier in 1 Corinthians is saying. It doesn’t just mean that we should glorify God through the things we do. That’s part of it, but that isn’t all of it.

Going back to the example given: how can we glorify God when we eat and drink? How was Jesus glorifying God when he was having dinner?

I think it’s simpler than we make it out to be. When we’re eating, we should attribute our enjoyment of our meal to the One who provided it. We should also recognize that it’s God who gave us the people we’re at a table with. We live to the glory of God when we accept what he gives us. We recognize it all as grace, so we give thanks to him. It’s then that we forget ourselves and embrace who he is.

We can only really live well in our purpose if we live in remembrance of the cross that Jesus was crucified on and his resurrection that came three days later. This is the necessary response to such a sacrifice. For God to not only show us mercy by dying in our place, but to show us grace by giving us new life, we have a love that demands our attention. This is why we have more reason to live for his glory than we have a reason to live for anything else. No one other than Jesus is capable of this kind of abundant love and grace he has for us. He deserves our devotion in a way nothing else ever could.

The alternative to acknowledging God is ignoring him. In the moments we write God off, we’re really saying that he isn’t worth our consideration. Whether it feels like we’re abandoning him or not, this is our default setting. It isn’t always a conscious decision to push him aside, and that’s what makes it so dangerous. To neglect God is to forfeit our purpose.

This is what the Enemy wants us to do. Satan wants to strip us of the divine intention for which we were created. But, he’s rarely the one who takes it away from us. Instead, he persuades us to take our purpose away from ourselves. Often, his method succeeds.

“Subtlety is key. The whispered suggestions of the Enemy will rarely tell us to look away from God; he is much more effective when he simply suggests we look to ourselves.”

-Tim Chaddick, The Truth About Lies (an awesome book on temptation that’s only $2 at Barnes & Noble)

To live in response to yourself instead of in response to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is to live in sin. By making up our own purpose and taking matters into our own hands, we’re saying that his death and resurrection doesn’t matter. By sinning, we’re also saying that God isn’t the authority he says he is. Instead of living to his glory, we attempt to live to our own. By choosing sin over holiness, we violate the reason we’re here.

But this is why he went to the cross. We sin daily, abusing life so that it can go along with our desires instead of his design. By dying for our debt and returning on the third day, Jesus invites us to walk in his glory. He paid the price of death and rose again so that we could have something worth living in light of. Now, we have something to celebrate. We have something worth proclaiming. This is how Jesus restructures our routines to fit his will instead of our agenda.

Our Future Purpose

As we live out our purpose to bring glory to God, things will change. Gradually, without noticing it, we become the person that God intends us to be through the sanctifying power of the Spirit. This process is brought to completion in Jesus, whose presence will restore us fully in heaven.

In one sense, that’s when our purpose is finished. That’s when God is finally glorified in the way only he deserves. It already happens through us in moments, but someday it will be a constant. In this sense, our purpose continues. The meaning we serve in heaven turns out to be much of the same as the meaning we serve on earth.

The difference is in how our purpose plays out. I don’t think anyone can give a definite answer for what it’ll look like in heaven. I wouldn’t trust anyone who says they know. It’s not far fetched to say there’ll be singing, but beyond that, there’s not much we can assume. All we truly know is this — that we’ll have perfect, full communion with God, and that our reconciliation to him will be to his glory.

This divine purpose we have is one that doesn’t have an end. It isn’t like a seasonal job with a final day of employment. Our purpose doesn’t stop once we gain a feeling of success from getting to a point in life we’ve always wanted to get to.

Our purpose doesn’t end in satisfaction, and it also doesn’t end in disappointment. It doesn’t end in quitting, or failing, or breaking up. Our purpose doesn’t even end in death.

That’s why the only real purpose is lasting purpose. It’s purpose that overflows into every part of life. It isn’t confined to work hours, a classroom, or a community. It’s relevant in our moments alone, and it’s relevant in our moments in public. It matters regardless of circumstances. It even matters when we feel like it doesn’t.

Glory be to God for making us with a purpose that can hold the weight of our soul.

Categories
essays

A Good Editor

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Photo by Titus Haug

Not every story is equal. Not every story holds truth, and some stories tell truths truer than those told by other stories. You can claim it’s subjective, but it isn’t really. Not every story can make people weep. Not every story can give people a new name. Not every story can change minds. If more people are offended by one story than by another, it doesn’t take much to deduce that “subjective” is actually an admission of apathy, or perhaps laziness, or perhaps both.

It’s like how tolerance at its core is just carelessness — distant, dishonest, impersonal… But love isn’t passive. It’s invasive. Love doesn’t tolerate. It corrects. Love stirs up conviction. It leads to confrontation. Love isn’t a critic with poor taste and bad judgement. It marks papers in red ink — not to curse, but to build up. Love is an Editor.

I bet that’s why most books aren’t even mediocre at best. Good editors are hard to come by. At least, editors willing to completely restructure the fifth draft are hard to come by. Good editors sacrifice. They might not be paid much, but they care more about the craft anyway. Good editors aren’t discouraged by their price. They’re patient, humble, honest…

It’s not an opinion that writing must be followed by revision. There might be some disappointment. There might be some anger. But it passes. Eventually, there’s an understanding on behalf of the person whose work was butchered that they needed the butchering…

Because it turns out — they’re better now. They’re recovering from their former self. They’re growing in a different direction. They’ve been repurposed. They’ve been cared for enough to have the facts told to them. They’ve experienced the relief that their suspicions had been right all along… They were much farther from the final draft than they anticipated. It would now require a complete shift in thought. They would have to see things from a new perspective, abandoning the one they’ve grown comfortable in. They would have to forget what makes sense to them, and instead consider what makes sense to their Editor. They would have to surrender control for something more substantial: trust.

Too often, editors aren’t worth this risk of full dependence. More often than not, creatives are justified in their decision to work alone. Most people in the editing field take advantage of original thinkers, obscuring their vision and stunting their creativity. Editors have a reputation of bringing them to a breaking point, until they can’t handle any more “narrow-mindedness” as it tends to be called.

But, the fact remains: to be your own editor is a hopeless task. It is full of blind spots and wishful thinking. It is a seemingly smooth path, but where it leads is a cheap confidence. It is uninformed, yet boastful. It is too proud to consider another’s opinion, cautious of what a collaboration might entail… A loss of authenticity, a loss of voice…

It is self-deception at the expense of self. Growth can’t happen by staying in the same mindset forever. After rereading the same few paragraphs all day, an author is forced to admit their perspective isn’t everything they thought it was. At some point, a writer has to come to terms with their limitations. They must face this inability to be better than themselves by going to someone else.

By giving into this justified temptation, they’ll face criticism from the pretentious who would never allow themselves to receive criticism from anyone. They’ll face judgement by those who would never allow their own work to be judged. They probably didn’t realize that the task of an Editor was so controversial. They probably didn’t consider that accepting an editor’s revisions was counter-cultural. They looked to an editor to get better, but neglected the thought that for many, having an editor means they’ve compromised their full potential… Ironically, it’s the opposite that’s true.

Isn’t it the writer’s fantasy that their most recent draft would be returned to them with little to no revisions? This desire lives alongside their original motivation for story-telling, their hidden hope to be known and in being known, to be loved. But how can anyone truly be known without being critiqued? How can anyone genuinely be loved without being corrected?

Evidently, an Editor-less writer is a cowardly writer. He only knows the indoor world of his surroundings. He’s taken “write what you know” to an unhealthy extreme. He’s contemplated everything, except everything he didn’t realize he could contemplate. His will ends with his unwillingness to risk being wrong. He’s too good for anyone to look down on.

_____

It might be asked: “How does one go about choosing an editor?” The answer is long and much like most writing advice, doesn’t seem to work for everyone.

First — settle on a budget, financially… But more importantly, creatively. What are you willing to pay? What are you willing to give up? How much of your old self are you going to take off? How much of a new self are you going to put on? Some would call it “selling out,” but in reality, it is giving up… And on certain days, that can be the right thing.

Second, consider your time. Is there a deadline? If so, look for someone who doesn’t skim lines just to get back to you fast. Look for someone who’s thorough, but who also has so much time that he practically lives outside of it. He’ll reply within a few days. If it takes longer than a few days, you can rest assured it’ll be worth it.

Lastly, find someone who knows what they’re doing. This might sound obvious, but many creatives resort to editors who will tell them only what they want to hear. They would rather fail with praise than strive with critique. The relationship between them is a shameless counterfeit. It’s only the checks they care about. These are the same “editors” that discourage many from looking for one. As long as the client’s clueless, it’s smooth sailing for both of them.

The only reliable editor turns out to be one who doubles as a writer. Find someone who’s been published. Find someone whose work you wouldn’t mind taking credit for. Find someone who will give you good ideas to steal. Find someone who will offend you, but will make up for it in how they’ll change you. Find someone who takes you seriously, and wants to see you succeed. Find someone who convicts and confronts. Find someone who’s invasive and not passive. Find someone who loves instead of tolerates.

There’s much more to look for than what can be included in a three step process, or what can be described in a brief few sentences. The most important decisions always happen over time, through seasons of doubt and days of distress. A part of it happens through careful analysis, by comparing one editor’s resume with another, asking yourself what it is that separates them… Why does he have so many clients? Is it because he tells people what they want to hear, or is it because he tells them what they hate to hear? Is it because he doesn’t charge much, or is it because he’s the best so he charges more than anyone can afford?

The answers to these questions will lead to a decision that will change the course of your writing career. They’ll either tell you that you’re lost or they’ll confirm you’re exactly where you want to be. They’ll either tell you the truth or they’ll tell you a lie. You have to be precise about this sort of thing. It’s what everything comes down to. We aren’t the ones who make the rules, after all. We’re just the ones who inherit them.

_____

 Keep in mind that a good editor gives himself a variety of roles in the life of a writer. This isn’t because the Editor has nothing better to do, but because it is the best thing he can do. It’s his job to aid the writer who believes he isn’t capable of working alone. His self-inflicted task is this: to recreate the created, to bring order to the disordered, to sustain the unsustainable… And there is nothing more unsustainable than the career of a writer who doesn’t accept creative critique.

Before a good editor is anything else, he is a Messenger. He relays reality to the writer, telling him truths so he can know something better than cliches. When he comes across paragraphs of filler, he’s upfront with his client, regardless of how uncomfortable the conversation might be. A decent editor would never say something is fine the way it is. There’s always either something that could be expanded, or something that should be subtracted… But he doesn’t simply point out where the piece has gone wrong so he can move onto his next criticism. When he says something should be cut, he suggests something else should go in its place. If a plot isn’t going anywhere, he doesn’t just say “this plot isn’t going anywhere,” but instead completely restructures the story so it can have a satisfying third act.

His advice might not be gentle, but it’s always wise. If there’s ever a feeling of offense, never assume you should ignore it like you would with anyone else. Assume there’s a point to his message. Assume he’s worth listening to, because he is, and then wrestle with what he has to say. Since it’s his duty to challenge you, never immediately resort to challenging him. There’s reason for his credibility. After all, a good editor is willing to give his life for the rough draft. He spends his days marking papers in red ink to turn subpar writing into something else entirely — despite the offense it might cause the author or the clients it might turn away. Every time an editor returns a draft, he puts his career on the line. His sanctifying work comes with a price, and it is at his expense.

The Messenger’s way of editing leaves no room for a writer’s contrasting convictions. He only stands for the truth he possesses. For instance, a popular belief today seems to be that there’s no such thing as a truly finished piece. By following this philosophy, a writer can take as much time as he likes on a project and even continue to write post-publication. He returns to his work endlessly, making sure everything is as exactly it should be. He thinks that if one sentence were out of place, his entire piece would collapse. Even though there might be some truth to this, a writer should never neglect the importance of his deadline. A good editor knows there comes a time when it is finished. Editing infers there’s an eventual end, however far down the road that might be.

When a writer disagrees with such a thought, his editor reminds him of something he’s not taken seriously enough — editorial jurisdiction. He reminds the writer that since he’s an editor, he’s also a Judge. He enforces the “limitations” of literature, knowing guidelines don’t only set restrictions, but also provide the freedom a writer needs to get through to an audience. As the legal authority, he knows there’s a certain way of story-telling that’s right, and another that’s wrong. He knows there’s one way of writing that debts a reader in time wasted, and another that exempts a reader in life gained. Although his verdicts are often called harsh, it’s more accurate to call them fair. Would you ever want to read a story that didn’t keep any of the promises it made? He’s the one to thank.

Bottomline, a good editor is a Doctor. He enters the worst conditions to make them the best conditions. He diagnoses the illness to deliver the cure. He only asks that a patient discloses their symptoms before they proceed to anything else. Although he knows writers tend to be unaware of every effect of their ailment, he wants to hear firsthand what a client believes the problem with their writing is. However limited their perspective, it’s through this honest self-evaluation that his work begins.

Not long after, the Doctor prescribes an often ridiculed method in the creative field: the abandonment of self. This is the most essential part of the editing process. It’s only when a writer gives up the control he thinks he should have that an editor treats him for weaknesses he’s unaware that he has. It’s by letting go of his work that he’s finally able to experience change. Soon enough, the remedy will kick in, and his aching will fade away. The previously mediocre writer will be healed of his former ideas, and his health will be restored.

At the end of it all, a Good Editor redeems. He redeems both the piece that definitely wouldn’t have sold without revisions, as well as the one that didn’t seem so bad in its original state. Both tend to be improved far beyond the author’s expectations, whether he actually thought his work was fine the way it was, or he mistakingly believed nothing could be done to save what he had created.

Any writer willing to accept his inability to improve himself knows there isn’t any such thing as a piece that’s worth publishing without an editor’s hand. Although he often goes uncredited, he’s responsible for much of the finished product that the author puts his name on. It’s an editor who has the final say on the characters, the climax, the conclusion… Every plot ultimately relies on him.

This is the kind of rest that every weary writer searches for but doesn’t often find. This is the kind of dependence that every independent writer needs but doesn’t want to sacrifice… Regardless, clients know their Editor is trustworthy because they’ve seen his portfolio. They know he’s caring because he cares for those who admit their need to be cared for. If he was indifferent, there wouldn’t be any lines crossed out or themes rewritten — but since the Editor has compassion, the story shifts. Since the Editor chooses redemption instead of condemnation, the writer receives a new creation in exchange for a broken one. Since the Editor decides love is better than apathy, there’s always something for his clients to look forward to… A story rewritten, a writer refined, a reality revived…