We write for so many reasons. As we write, we experience many rewards in the writing process alone, but those personal rewards can sometimes obscure the deepest reason of all to write: to love our neighbors. In our case, our neighbors are our readers, those with faces just inches from our words, their minds and hearts living in the very houses we have built.
How can we love our readers as ourselves? It’s become increasingly difficult to find our way forward here because of our postmodern culture’s obsessions with fame and the self, but here are a few steps forward:
1. Love your readers by writing beyond yourself.
Write from the self, by all means, but don’t let the primary subject be the self, even if you’re writing memoir. Many of us write to attend to the fragments of our lives and to make something coherent and meaningful from them. It’s a noble enterprise, to pursue wisdom from the chaos of our real lives. We are writing our way home, many of us. “We are lost in a dark wood and we need stories to help us find our way home,” Scott Russell Sanders writes. But don’t forget that this is also the reason readers read, not to find the way to your house, ultimately, but to find their way to their own true home. Our purpose in writing must be more than self-fulfillment. It must be God-and-neighbor fulfillment.
2. Love your readers by living a genuine faith-ward life.
God’s truths are not just propositional and communicated by language: they are experiential, relational, incarnational. Our first job as writers is to write from a faith that we ourselves are trying to live in and live out rather than a faith that is simply pronouncements, words on a page. As Joy Sawyer has written,
“And without an ever-increasing, tangible portrait of our God engraved upon our hearts, we reduce our proclamation of the gospel to the ‘clanging symbol’ of language alone. Maybe that is why our message suffers so much when we rely upon mere rhetoric to communicate our faith: it’s simply bad poetry. . . . . our deepest joy is experienced when the poetry of our lives begins to be expressed, as the apostle John said, not in words alone, but in deed and in truth.”
3. Love your readers by not preaching at them.
We need not tell all the truth about anything at any one time (even if we knew it). Life, issues, experiences, even under the purview of God, are all complex, multi-layered. Communicating Truth and truths is a process that we engage in over a lifetime, encompassing many possible stages: plowing, sowing, watering, reaping. Think of your writing efforts as a lifelong endeavor rather than a tell-it-all right now.
4. Love your readers by loving the world we’ve been given.
Though I do indeed want all people to know Christ, more, I want Christ to be made known. And because He is found everywhere in life, in all places, in all things, I am not just freed but compelled to discover and then reveal Him through all the lovely, hideous, fascinating and stultifying things of this world, which are, after all, His. “Love calls us to the things of this world,” Richard Wilbur has written, and our love for our reader will call us out into this God-made world as well.
And so, I end here, out of love for you, dear readers! I want to preach 100 more ways to love our readers—but let us return to the lives and words we’ve been given, aiming toward a poetry of truth, word and deed!
What is one tangible way you will choose to love your readers this week?