Let’s imagine God is calling you or me to a work that feels beyond our capabilities, just for pretend. I have a bevy of excuses at the ready and you’re welcome to try them out: I’m so busy. I don’t have time. I’m tired. I’m not prepared enough/smart enough/old enough/young enough…Sorry, Lord—You’ve called me at a bad time.
I’ve been re-reading a lot of old words I’ve written lately, trying to get my head wrapped back around a project I’ve left dormant for too long and evaluating my failure to progress. I am really trying to break myself of the habitual excuses, like I’m so busy or I don’t have time. Those are only half-truths, and I’ve found there are other reasons I’m not writing.
Currently, I am stuck and all my words sound like garbage to me as I read them, which makes it hard to move forward. I’m not working on this writing project because I’m playing lots of Solitaire and purging my closets. I’m taking long hikes, staring at moss, making random notes in my Notes app. I’m watching season three of All Creatures Great and Small.
I’m tired, aging, and changing. I’m stressed.
Some of these things are reasons for not writing, maybe some are the preparation and gathering stage of writing, and some are the results of avoiding the work.
The word Omphaloskepsis can be loosely defined as the act of navel gazing, or daydreaming. Navel gazing is what I end up doing when I am overwhelmed, or when I’m up against a Big Task that takes a lot of effort. And because of my personality and my sinful tendencies, I often prefer to do other productive things that are mindless, or unproductive things that are numbing, rather than tackle a problem.
If I’m being honest about this stage of my life and writing, I’m just doing a lot of avoiding, a lot of omphaloskepsis. Like an exhausted toddler who won’t nap, I’m unhappy because I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
I have the time, I’m not too busy, and I’ll get started as soon as I win this game of Solitaire and scroll my social media real quick.
When Moses was making all kinds of excuses and naming all the ways he was short of fully-prepared for the work God was sending him to, God asked him a very simple question:
What is that in your hand?
There was nothing remarkable in his hand. He had been tending sheep while hiding in the desert for 40 years and the staff he held was probably well-worn, the nobs of it hardening callouses into his palm. It was just a stick that could be used to keep the sheep on track, to steady Moses through rocky or steep terrain, to scare off predators, or as a crutch when he was tired or injured—a multipurpose tool, and maybe a little false security.
God was not unaware what was in Moses’ hand, just like He knew where Adam was in the garden, but He asked anyway. The questions are for us to answer, for our own revealing and understanding. The questions are part of the assessment that happens when the root of our unhappiness is uncovered before the Lord. Naked and bare, everything is laid open and we don’t surprise God with our answers.
I want something more spectacular and surefire than an ordinary staff. I want to be seen by God but only the good, presentable parts of me. And I want to do the work He’s called me to but only when it’s easy, when there are wide margins and smooth roads and clear directions. I want to do the work when I feel good and confident that it’s mine to do.
I am fragile and distracted, and if He were to ask me what was in my hand, more often than not I’d have to say, “It’s an iPhone, Lord.”
All this talk about the work of the Lord and being called to something—it sounds presumptuous to me. It sounds like I’m saying, “The Lord has called to me from the burning bush to write words that will impact your life, and to free you from some Egypt of your own making.” I despise presumptuousness, so I shy away from statements that make it seem like my writing is a gift to the world.
Instead, when I am writing, I am in the process of learning and assessing where I’m at. I am my first reader and the first person I have in mind, which is contrary to all the spiritual advice about writing for an audience of One . The Christian Experts say to write for God first, and then write secondarily with your imagined, ideal audience in mind. It sounds selfish and self-centered to write for myself, but it’s been true up to this point in my life.
So to say “I feel called to write” really just means recognizing the fruit of writing in my own life, because it brings me joy and is part of my formation as a child of God. I can identify with Flannery O’Connor, who quipped, “I write to discover what I know.”
Writing is my response to God, and I don’t always know where it’s going but God bends back the branches for me if I will just take the first steps through the brush.
I can’t see much before I start but the way becomes clearer as I go.
For example, when I started writing this essay three days after its deadline, I had no thought of Moses or God’s question about what was in his hand. But on this end of things, after poking around at my motives and lack of motivation, by looking at all the things I’m doing instead of the thing I really want to be doing, I have learned some stuff about myself .
Where am I? I am hiding behind a busy life and filling in the blanks with useless diversions, because I don’t feel confident enough to push through my insecurities, to pursue something that might lead to failure. I am in stasis, neither progressing or giving up completely. My fig leaves are the ultra-American excuses of busyness and distraction, but underneath it all, I am just afraid.
What’s in my hand? I don’t have degrees, credentials, or connections that make my writing stand out. Those are not the tools in my hand. But I have all the encouragement one could need; enough space and time; the tools and the resources and the help. And the desire, which has to count for something.
I find it interesting that God didn’t ask Moses what was holding him back. Moses volunteered all those things on his own, so I suppose God didn’t need to ask, but He offered him no legitimacy for his excuses. God did not coddle Moses or try to convince him that he was the man for the mission. God revealed the simplicity of Moses’ life to him, and that simplicity was the tool God would use.
These things hurt to write because it is painful to see them in myself, but here I am, and this is why I need the writing. The writing is what is in my hand.
If you’ve grown or hurt or laughed a little at my humanity, then I’m happy to share what is in my hand with you, the Imagined Ideal Reader. It’s enough.
But maybe there’s need in your life to take an assessment, too. Maybe you need to (figuratively) throw down what’s in your hand and (literally) take up something more in line with whatever God has called you to, for your good and the good of the world. Do you need to write? Do you need a nap? Maybe a long walk, with no staff or crutch or phone?
Or maybe you need to take firm hold of what is in your hand.
Whatever it is, listen for God’s question to you and take inventory of what might be keeping you from a better work.
 Speaking of presumptions…
 Again, let’s be honest: I am constantly relearning these same lessons.
Featured image is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and is used with her glad permission for Cultivating.
Tresta Payne learned to appreciate the beauty of God from the landscape of the Pacific Northwest, where she lives with her husband and four children. She builds her own MFA in creative writing through homeschooling her children and tutoring others, finding every excuse to learn and read and grow. After twenty years of homeschooling she is ready for someone to hand her that degree. She enjoys a good, deep discussion with a balance of differing opinions, and works out her own thoughts in writing. Tresta walks a lot on the wild country roads around her home, with her dog and her thoughts and the nearness of God to keep her company.
A Field Guide to Cultivating ~ Essentials to Cultivating a Whole Life, Rooted in Christ, and Flourishing in Fellowship
Enjoy our gift to you as our Welcome to Cultivating! Discover the purpose of The Cultivating Project, and how you might find a "What, you too?" experience here with this fellowship of makers!