I have to write a lot. It’s a part of my life that I thoroughly enjoy as it gives me a chance to do theological reflection on a regular basis. Enjoy it as I do, however, I am familiar with writer’s block, that feeling of not knowing exactly what to write. Years ago I got some very helpful advice on how to deal with writer’s block: when you don’t know what to write, just sit down and start writing; write the first sentence, any sentence at all, and then write another and another. What was promised to me was that, in the practice of just sitting down to write, I would discover something to write about. The first sentence is the hardest but it always leads to the second and third and so on. If you don’t know what to write, start writing. Remarkably simple advice that has served me well for many years. If I wait for the perfect idea about what to write, I’ll never sit down and write. But if I will just sit down to write I will consistently discover something to write about.
This is the time of year I hear a lot of excuses from people. That’s a regular part of the life of a priest as people tell us that they are sorry for not being more regular in their church attendance or their giving, explaining how busy they are and how hard it is to get to church, or about how strapped they are financially and cannot support the church like they want to. Even though I’m a crusty veteran I am not unsympathetic. Life is busy. Money is tight. It’s easy to be overwhelmed.
Excuses for faithfulness abound for all of us. There are many more reasons not to do something than there ever are for actually doing them. Maybe that’s the devil messing with us. Maybe it’s just part of our sinful world, that voice which discourages us or tells us what we know we should be doing can’t be done.
Giving in to the excuses is very easy. We all do it. Faithfulness in every aspect of our lives is something that involves dealing with the excuses. Everything we know we should do will involve getting past some thoughts about how we shouldn’t be expected to do it. We all think about doing things, know we have a responsibility to do those things, and struggle with thoughts which tempt us not to do them. People being what we are, we more often than not give in to those thoughts and just don’t carry out what we know we should do.
I got some other good advice many years ago about being successfully married. The best way to insure that my marriage would stay together, I was told, was to keep going home every night. Marriages are hard but if we keep showing up each day and meet what is there to meet, we are likely to stay married. And there are a lot of excuses for not doing that work that have to be dealt with, aren’t there?
We all have responsibilities and we all have excuses for not tending to them. Taking a deep breath and taking the first step in those responsibilities is the hardest part. If we take the first step, it will lead to the second and third and so on. If we take the first step faithfulness is possible. If we give in to the excuses faithfulness never is realized.
The first step in dealing with writer’s block is writing the first sentence. The first step in faithfulness in worship is going to church. The first step in faithfulness in giving is making a pledge. The first step in staying married is to go home. The first step in faithfulness in prayer is sitting down to pray. I’m sure you can come up with your own example. The first step is a hard choice we have to make. The other steps come more easily and we find a faithfulness that may even surprise us.
Excuses abound. Faithfulness awaits. The choice of the first step is yours. Salvation and wholeness are promised if you will but take the step.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.