On Faith and Fiction

“Are you a person of  faith?” He leans out of the car window, his face searching mine. We’re newly neighbors, and this meeting in the grocery store parking lot is random.

What do I say to that? Last night, I stood in our backyard and talked over the fence with him about the night sky. He has a good telescope and I like him. What do I say to this question?

“Yes,” I say.

He nods, satisfied. “I knew you were,” he says.

A car pulls in behind him. I back away, wave goodbye so he can move on.

On the drive back, I think about my answer. Am I a person of faith? Not the way he meant it, I think. No every-Sunday-morning church, Wednesday-night Bible study, and evangelizing to the neighbors faith. I don’t stand on street corners with God is Great signs and I don’t ask my co-workers if they have found Jesus.

I suspect these are the sort of things my neighbor would count against my claim to faith. But am I a person of faith?

Not blind faith.

But am I a person of faith?

I think about that Sunday in Quaker Meeting, the epiphany that We Are Not Alone, even when everyone we trust abandons us. How I–or something, or Someone–purged the fear in my gut that day, shook it out of me in one great gush, replaced it with faith that Help Is On Its Way. How I walked forth in courage. Because I knew then that I am held in God’s hands, that we all are.

Am I a person of faith?

Last May, Annie and Glennon, two people I admire, said “Write for one hour a day,” and so I did, and I wrote a novel. Is that faith? Saying, “I’ll give it a shot” and then doing it, day after day after day, even when it’s hard, even when it feels pointless. Is that faith?

Let me tell you something about faith. I had very little when I started my book. Maybe as much as a mustard seed–ever seen a mustard seed? They’re small. Not microscopic or anything, but no bigger than the head of a pin, anyway. Small. That’s what my faith was like.

And it didn’t tell me what was in it, either, any more than an unlabeled mustard seed tells you it’ll turn into a mustard tree. My faith said: “Start writing. Do it every day. Something will happen.” It made no promises about what that Something would be.

Then the book started to grow. It grew to 5,000 words. Then 10,000. 20,000. It kept getting longer, and a story started to emerge. Around 40,000, it started to feel like an actual novel. Along with the novel, my faith grew. I could do this.

And it was a good thing, too, that my faith had grown roots, because after 95,000 words, it was time to revise. Revising is hard.

Some weeks, I spent days doing nothing making no measurable changes. I was writing character sheets, or developing a timeline, or literally cutting and taping the manuscript. Writing scenes I knew would never end up in the book, but that were necessary for me to understand what the characters were doing in other scenes and why.

Did I have faith? It didn’t feel like it. It felt frustrating. It felt like I’d never, ever ever be done. Like a sailboat in a lull, no momentum, and no motor to get it going again. Did I keep going, well, yeah. But only because… well, I guess you’d call it faith. But it didn’t feel like faith. It felt like paddling without an oar.

It did get done, though. Eventually I found myself with a completed second draft, a book organized and corralled into almost-presentable format. An actual novel.

Faith grew roots. It’s stronger now. Or maybe that’s not faith. Maybe what grew was confidence. But confidence feels rather like faith, don’t you think?

I’m now in second revisions (third draft), which means I’ve been through this before. When I stop changing the actual manuscript and start working on other things (right now I’m writing chapter synopses to get a handle on the order of events and better build tension in the right places), I don’t panic. It’s part of the process. I have faith that it is what I’m supposed to be doing. That it will all get done.

Am I a person of faith?

I believe in God, because I’ve experienced God in the Silence of Meeting for Worship, in the quiet of my heart. I’ve felt God take my hand when my hand most needed taking. Is that faith, or is that knowledge? (Superstition, whisper my atheist friends.)

I don’t actually know anything. I have no proof. I have only my heart, and experience, and faith that Something will happen if I just take the next step. And so far, every time I take that next step, Something happens. I’m not moving mountains, but if the pen is mightier than the sword perhaps it is also at least as mighty as a shovel. I’m writing books.

Am I a person of faith?

Maybe faith is just doing Something You Believe In, and stepping forward with the belief that Something Good will come of it. Which is another way of saying we are held in God’s hands.

Am I a person of faith?

Sure. You betcha.

P.S. Plant a mustard seed and Something will happen. But not a mustard tree. Mustard does not grow on trees, no matter what the preacher told you. Sometimes the Thing that Happens when we do Something We Believe In is not the Thing we were expecting. Often it’s far more beautiful.

It is kinda pretty, though.

7 thoughts on “On Faith and Fiction

  1. This is BEAUTIFUL, Heather. Beautiful. Beautiful.

    Love this line: “If the pen is mightier than the sword perhaps it is also at least as mighty as a shovel.”

    I am so glad to be your friend. I needed this today.

  2. Carrie, thank you for sharing this on FB. I, too, needed to hear this today. To feel faith in the workings of the Universe and the power that is behind it, but having also felt alone and that maybe Help was not on the way is I think a part of human nature. It is nice and good to know that by taking steps and actions and at times not knowing if it was working is all good and that good will come from it.

  3. Beautiful! I have not thought of myself in those terms until recently. I love how open to interpretation this is, and the yellow flowers! My mom loved yellow roses, and it has been since her death one year ago that I have become a “person of (somewhat undefined) Faith. Thank you!!

  4. Thank you, beautiful ladies, for your comments! I’m so glad I could be a comfort. Janet, the flowers are in fact mustard flowers (if Google is to be trusted, lol). Aren’t they beautiful?

    Warrior on, friends!

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