One of the things I struggle with the most are endings. Whether it is writing endings, envisioning the ending of a project, or saying goodbye. I struggle with exit strategies. I have no problem getting started. I love a good opening story. A hearty laugh or a compelling metaphor. I set goals like a maniac. But when it comes to putting the period on the last sentence, now that’s a challenge.
When I think about it, I don’t even struggle all that much with the middle. I like the middle because it’s where the synthesis happens. I love putting this one thing and that one thing together, comparing them, seeing how a dialogue between the two creates something new. The middle is where we get our weave on. But when it comes to wrapping it up and putting a nice bow on it, that’s where I falter.
I’ve never been good at cutting things short. I have no problem writing. It’s the editing things down into word limits that is my kryptonite.
So most weeks when I come home from work on Thursday, which is my Friday, my wife, Emily, asks me how my day went. I typically feel defeated. “Well, I don’t have much of a sermon written,” I say. My key task for Thursday is to write a message. The bread and butter of pastoring is something I’ve not mastered in 6 years. I feel like I’m on training wheels every week.
In a typical week, I’ve been studying, reflecting, drawing and praying all week for insight into the biblical text. I usually have a lot of thoughts but they’re almost impossible to tie together and refine in one sitting. So I come home with either a shitty first draft, as Anne Lamott would call it, or I’d give anything to have even that much.
And then I wait.
I take a step back from writing and thinking about my sermon. Friday and Saturday I focus on my family, exercise, clean out the Guinea’s pig’s cage. You know, that kind of stuff. Now, that doesn’t mean that while I’m cleaning out Oreo’s cage thoughts don’t come, because they do. And when they do I write them down and then move on with the day.
But I have to take a step back and wait.
And this has taught me something really important. I am learning to not expect that the ending comes right away. And the ending isn’t always obvious or what I expected it to be.
So often in the waiting between Thursday and Sunday morning, a new idea, a story, an image or a short phrase comes to me through the daily living of life and then the light turns on. Ah ha! That’s it.
I remember a Saturday night recently where I still didn’t have that thread to bring it all together. Then a friend shared a Dorothy Day quote on her facebook:
“The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor. -Dorothy Day
There, I had it. Out of nowhere. It was the puzzle piece that was missing. It was the ending waiting to be discovered.
This happens week after week. I study, draw, pray, draft and then wait…and wait…and sometimes wait some more.
Then I wake up on Sunday morning, usually about 6am and I read the passage again, pray for God’s help and begin writing. Sometimes I start from scratch. Sometimes I just edit what I have and sometimes it’s a little of both. But there’s always something there. Now I know what it is I am supposed to bring to the community. Now I know how things fit together. The ending came in the waiting.