Before you ever write a word in print, it’s important not to despise obscurity. I’ve written in journals for twenty-six years, recording silly things like which boy I liked in seventh grade or my misgivings about moving. When I became a Christian at fifteen, my journal became a place where I could pray, lament, study, and ponder spiritual questions. Because I’ve always been in the habit of writing, it has not been hard to establish a daily writing routine.
Henri Nouwen, in his book Reflections on Theological Education, emphasizes how writing helps us discover what’s within us: “Writing is a process in which we discover what lives in us. The writing itself reveals what is alive. The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write. To write is to embark on a journey whose final destination we do not know.”
Like the psalmist, I’ve written for an Audience of One—for the ears of my King: “My heart overflows (is astir) with a good theme; I address my verses to the king; My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” (Psalm 45:1) Having the experience of laboring over words in obscurity before the tender gaze of Jesus has helped me find my voice—that elusive commodity for which writers pine. So, write when no one sees. Write things no one will read. Write because you have to. Write for the sheer joy of it, and leave your career in God’s capable hands.
Whenever you get discouraged, remember Joseph. He became a powerful man—a savior of his people—but not before he endured horrendous trials. He labored faithfully in Potiphar’s house and then in utter obscurity in prison. Still, God saw him. Through the trials, God built character and empathy and courage into Joseph. In our celebrity driven society, we tend to view Joseph in the latter chapters of Genesis, skipping over the pain. We want to be Joseph, but we don’t want to walk the rocky path he journeyed on. Don’t despise your current circumstance. Don’t disdain your humble beginnings. These are places God can build upon, brick by brick.
Remember to be faithful in the smallest writing tasks. Do editing for free. Send meaningful prose to a struggling friend. Write a poem to your spouse, just for the sake of blessing him or her. Jesus said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” (Luke 16:19)
No matter where you find yourself today—as a successful novelist, a freelancer who can pay for housecleaning from his wages, or an obscure journal-writer—thank God for the place in which He has planted you. The Message renders Zechariah 4:10a this way, “Does anyone dare despise this day of small beginnings?” Revel in your obscurity. Just as Moses tended flocks forty years, Jesus labored relatively unseen for thirty-three years and Paul spent fourteen years (Galatians 2:1) in self-imposed exile, we—if we are to attempt great things for God—must not despise humble beginnings.