Wednesday, April 02, 2008

How Do I Change my Life?


When I was younger, I was always reading books and watching movies that I thought would help my writing. I wondered what it meant to 'be a writer.' I loved writing, of course, and I pursued it vigorously. I filled my shelves with how-to books, and any film or teaching on writing I inhaled as if in deep need of fresh oxygen. Too often however, their words of wisdom seemed, well, so ordinary, as if I was merely studying to be a plumber or carpenter. They talked about craft, about grammar and plot and theme. While helpful, none of them addressed the magical aspect of writing, this somewhat fantastical idea of writing I'd held in my head for so long. The more I read, the more the dream of writing began to lose its luster.

When the movie Finding Forrester came out, a film about an older novelist who mentors a young aspiring writer, I went to the theatre eager to absorb this new drama, hopeful for a return to the mystical wide-eyed days of my youth. I was sure that this Hollywood film with Sean Connery would surely deliver something to bring back the magical aspects of my dream.

It never happened.

However, it taught me something profound, something that I have re-absorbed many times these past few years.

In one of the key scenes, Connery's older writer gives his young protégé his first advice about writing.

"Writers write."

It is, in so many ways, an inane comment. However, like most young writers, I was so caught up with the idea of writing, that I devoted very little time to the craft itself. I was in love with the idea of the cafe writer, of passing great wisdom, of seeing that wisdom wonderfully extricated in my own ability with the quill. In my mind I could see people sigh and shake their heads in wonder as they nestled into my words. With all my dreaming though, the actual act of sitting down and pounding out work somehow got lost. It took a couple of years before I realized that to be a writer meant one thing first and one thing only.

Writers write.

A very dear friend sent me an email a couple of weeks ago. She commented on my change in life, and my newfound contentment. She asked me what my secret was to letting go and creating my new life. I didn't reply to her email immediately, mainly because I wanted to think about it. The other night, I met a woman who asked me a similar question. How did I change my life? How did I know that it would work in this manner? The more I thought about it, the more I realized the simple truth of the older writer in Finding Forrester... writers write.

To change your life, you simply need to change it.

It sounds like a ridiculous answer, I understand. We are a culture that is forever seeking the 'keys' to everything. We love lists and proposals, and we love it when everything is broken down for us into a simple policy we can apply to out life. Perhaps this is the reason we have turned the deep resonant faith of one who follows Jesus, into a largely ignorant piety that no longer asks any questions. We have become content with the "list". My friend who wrote me is not like this, and hers is a sincere question I often hear echoed when I talk to people. Still, my answer remains the same.

To change your life, you simply need to change it.

Most of us fear change, we fear uncertainty. Some of us believe things will happen eventually, and get stuck in their daily routine. But those who wish to change their life do not wait, but begin the process by doing something differently today that they did not do yesterday. We place a high value on intelligence and social standing in our world, but for those who would change their life, the opportunity is always there. Why? Because most people lack the will to do ANYTHING different. Most of us travel the same path upon which we have been headed since we were seventeen. Any changes in our life are largely incidental.

There is a great myth in Western society that the void in our lives can be filled by increasing the pleasure content. That is, we work hard during the day, and buy a bigger van or house or TV to watch at night to help 'even things out'. Only things never quite work that way, do they? We get stuck in a trap of increasing our income and workload to afford a life of pleasure and sensuality, a dishonest and shallow life we've created to overcome the loss of passion and purpose. We read self-help books and listen to inspiring talks and movies, hopeful for the next list or set of 'keys' that will help us achieve a breakthrough. And yet, the only thing we need to know is this:

Those who wish to change their life, need simply to change it.

We in the West are lucky, as we are so rich as to be able to even consider change. But the message of who we are and who we strive to be is translatable. It is the gospel message. It is not about power and income; it is about passion and purpose, the same passions and purposes that God gives to all His children. Poor or rich, our goal in life is not to follow a list of rules or ideas from some commentator, no matter how encouraging they may seem, but to tune into the echo of our own heart, and the heart of the One who created us, and learn to walk in step with that rhythm.

It is an extraordinary thing to change your life, but it is easy enough to do. One need only take a step in another direction, and with the occasional glance into the heavens and the reassurance of God's love, keep moving towards the thing that beckons us forward. We do not need to fill our lives with the melodramatics of what was or what can never be. Better to walk towards what could be, and go from there. Chances are, so long as you keep moving, you will change your life. And with it, begin to realize some of the dreams you buried so long ago.

-Steve