Through the violet window of my study, I watch the last ray of sun sink below the wind blown trees. A stab of panic jolts me, as always when the night comes. That’s when my writer’s block sets in like a debilitating disease, turning my brain messy. It has gone on like this for over a year.
The cursor on my monitor, with its penetrating blink, pierces my eyes. The blindingly empty page glares at me. I can’t think, can’t rest, can’t breath, can’t write. I’m afraid, conscience of the hopeless fear that shows up every night in the form of a desperate question. It begins to take shape, even though tonight I told myself I wouldn’t let it. It hangs in the dark blue space like the swollen moon outside. It is written in big, despairing letters: Why can’t I write?
Trying not to dwell on this unbearable question, I make an attempt. The keys click beneath my fingers. I type a word – no good – backspace - then a sentence, to hopefully free something that’s stuck, or to maybe fissure a “word dam” - backspace, backspace. I slam my fist on the desk. A picture of my wife plunges from the desk to the floor. Why can’t I write!
“Jon, are you okay? I hear my wife call drowsily from the bedroom.
“Everything’s fine. A picture fell.” I say.
“Are you coming to bed soon?” Between her words is the subtle hesitation of quiet contempt.
“Why do you do that? You know I have to write! I can’t push the deadline back again!” My tone is harsh, too harsh, but I haven’t the time or the emotional strength to fix it, not tonight.
Her voice stops. Stifled sobs upset the half dark house. I picture her crying into her pillow, her sprawling hair hiding her face. She is being unreasonable, overly emotional. This is my ministry, she knows that. The Lord has given me a gift of writing.
So quickly she forgets that joyful afternoon in the kitchen – she was wearing that T-shirt I love with the little sleeves - when I got the call from Christian World Magazine. They said they liked my work, that they wanted me to write for them. It was an answered prayer.
That night we celebrated. We went to a fancy restaurant where the cheapest entrée on the menu went for $19.95, and all the servers carried long, black pepper mills. Grace wore the shiny, silver earrings I got her for Christmas the year before, and her deep, brown eyes looked in love with me across the candle-lit table. I held both her hands in mine and knew that she was all my strength. “I love you, Grace. I couldn’t have done this without you.”
But now, the whole house is stuffy with a silence that presses against the noise of my thoughts. Grace has fallen asleep once again in tears, probably sorry she married me. I rub my eyes, trying to turn my attention back to my work. I just need something, anything to fill the vacant page. The keystrokes click with cutting abruptness: I CAN DO ALL THINGS IN CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME*. The words in all caps cry out from a vacuum of whiteness. I study the curve of each letter as though they’re foreign symbols. This is useless.
The chair creaks as I lean back to consider the flat, metal cross on the wall above the light switch. A glint of moonlight makes it seem pure and simple. It should be easier than this. Why won’t the Lord strengthen me? Suddenly, I grow aware of the dull ticking of the hallway clock outside my door. It grows louder inside my ears.
The distinct fragments of the evening – the terribly blank page, the dangling moon, my wife’s red-rimmed eyes, the moonlit cross, the tireless ticking of time – smear together like a reckless watercolor painting. I lift my face up from my hands toward the sky. I think I know.
When did I fall away, Lord? When did I make this ministry about me? The gift You have so graciously given me I have put in Your place. Forgive me, Lord. I am sorry. I’m ready to listen. Lord, please be my God, not my writing.
In our bedroom, Grace is sleeping. Streaks of mascara stain her pillow. “I’m sorry, Grace. Will you ever forgive me?” I whisper.
“Always,” she says with half shut eyes.
* Philippians 4:13
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