I’ve been thinking about words lately, mostly because it seems I have fewer these days. Back when I first began blogging eight years ago, I posted every day, seven days a week. Over time that frequency diminished to five days a week, then three days, until, most recently, I settled on once a week. Some weeks, even one post feels like a stretch.
I’m not sure why I seem to have less and less to say. Maybe after eight years of blogging, 1,547 posts, 86 columns for the Journal Star, three books, and dozens of articles, I’ve simply burned out.
Or maybe I’ve said all I have to say.
Or maybe, in a world that feels noisier every day, I’ve become more discerning about what and how much I add to the cacophony of voices and opinions.
I’ve been reading Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart. It’s a small book, but it’s packed with powerful insights. Nouwen has (ironically) a lot to say about the value of silence:
“Let us at least raise the question of whether our lavish ways of sharing are not more compulsive than virtuous; that instead of creating community they tend to flatten out our life together.”
Nouwen wrote those words long before the advent of blogging and social media, but I can’t help but read them through the lens of the present day and from my own experience as an author.
When I posted that quote on Instagram (again, the irony), a reader commented that she didn’t understand the last bit, the part about how shared words can flatten out our life together.
I’m not sure I totally understand what he means either, but I know from my own experience, I often come away from social media feeling flattened — numb, distant, distracted, fragmented — whether I’ve shared myself or read what others have shared. To me, there is a false intimacy and a one-dimensionality there, even as we strive for authenticity, depth, and connection.
Nouwen also writes about the importance of faithfully caring for the inward fire.
“It is not so strange that many ministers have become burnt-out cases, people who say many words and share many experiences, but in whom the fire of God’s Spirit has died and from whom not much more comes forth than their own boring, petty ideas and feelings.
Our first and foremost task is faithfully to care for the inward fire so that when it is really needed it can offer the warmth and light to lost travelers.”
On one hand, caring for the inward fire as my first and foremost task feels selfish to me. As a “Christian writer,” I feel compelled to use my gifts to share the gospel — to offer, to the best of my ability, a little light by which to see along the journey. Caring for my own inward fire — especially caring for it first and foremost — doesn’t feel self-sacrificial enough.
Yet here’s the clincher: that inward light is what feeds my words. If I allow my own inner light to be diminished or extinguished, my words will become a mere clanging cymbal — noisy and persistent, but empty of truth.
The inward light also feeds me. Without it, I am an empty shell without a pearl; a body without a spirit.
“As ministers, our greatest temptation is toward too many words,” Nouwen writes. “They weaken our faith and make us lukewarm. But silence is a sacred discipline, a guard of the Holy Spirit.”
I think, in all these years of writing about faith, I’ve come to fancy myself as a conduit of the Holy Spirit. But the truth is, the Holy Spirit doesn’t need me or my words. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.
I think I’ve mostly reversed the order here by trying to care for the inward fire of others before my own. And isn’t that, in some ways, irreverent or perhaps even blasphemous – to assume the soul-care of others is my job, rather than God’s?
I guess this is a long-winded way (again, the irony!) of saying I’ll be quiet in this space for a while – perhaps for the rest of the summer, perhaps longer. I’ve resisted this decision. For a variety of reasons I’ve tried to ignore the nudge. To stop blogging seems both unwise professionally and a little bit unfair to my readers, some of whom have been faithfully walking alongside me here the whole long way (bless you!).
Yet I also know it would be more unwise to keep pushing. I don’t want to become the person who says many words and shares many experiences, but in whom the fire of God’s spirit has died.
Thanks for your understanding and patience, friends. You are very dear to me, and I am more grateful to you than you will probably ever know.