Write Something Meaningful

I love writing. It’s rewarding to transform an idea into words that offer inspiration or clarity, or both. Certainly, no one’s writings will be the bee’s knees to one and all, but they might empower two or three. I think the odds of making a difference are in my favor when I collect the gifts given to me by Jesus and faithfully steward them. It can’t be about your name’s enshrinement in the annals of the literati. It shouldn’t be about the number of Twitter followers adoring your every muse. When everybody doesn’t know your name and the masses could truly care less about your comings and goings, will you still honor God with your gifts? We all have our niche or calling and I suppose mine involves equipping and challenging those oddballs who dare to follow Jesus.

Writing brings me joy and though I’d happily make a living from it one day if I can, I don’t want to idolize it. It isn’t “the air I breathe.” I wouldn’t shrivel up and die without it. I don’t journal as if my life depended on it. But I am a better connected to God and others when I make time to write. However, it doesn’t come without sacrifice. My senior year of high school I was one of the captains of our undefeated, state record-breaking football team. I was also voted most shy. I was always reading something, which led to an interest in writing. These days I write a lot: e-mails, doctoral research papers, text-messages, sermon manuscripts, prayers, letters, even book proposals. All of it, I’ve come to see, promotes thoughtfulness within me. It sounds goofy, I know, but I take pride in what and how I write. I don’t know if I’m an old, odd soul or an otherwise uncool nonentity, but it’s not often I encounter writing that appears to have been rubbed by much mental elbow-grease.

And I get it. People are busy, taxed with this and that responsibility. They don’t have time to eat a decent meal in peace and quiet, let alone to think deeply about life and their place in it, let alone to engage others meaningfully in writing. After all, face-to-face interaction can be annoying and social media’s voyeurism, where everyone can be quasi-famous, is all the rage. Technology connects us on a grander scale, faster and more substantively, someone other than me might argue. Still, I understand that the struggle is palpable, finding its inauguration deep in human marrow. To survive in this topsy-turvy world of ours, we’ve begun to outsource some of what makes us extraordinary and endearing. In a sense, in how we write to one another, or avoid the process altogether, we are normalizing thoughtlessness and I doubt that the consequences will bode well for us. We simply cannot be too busy to, well…be fully human.

I’m not implying that we must all be top-tier writers or else we’re “going to hell in a handbasket,” whatever that means. Nor am I oblivious to the reality that writing “well” comes easier to some and not so easy to many others. I remain convicted, however, that overwork and busyness leads to a culture of thoughtlessness, in this case where people lack the time, interest, or skill to engage one another in what nowadays frankly feels like a long-lost mode of communication: writing. I’m a better pastor and chaplain, husband, and friend, and a better witness to the power of Jesus in the world when I choose to invest in words and employ them to make a positive impact, which is only possible if I slow down long enough to take stock of what matters most.

Last summer around this time, my wife and I exchanged life in the District of Columbia for a small town in the Mid-West. Although both gainfully employed with multiple graduate degrees in our back pockets, we were getting trampled by the high cost-of-living. Spending $2,000 per month for a 700-square-foot apartment will do that to you; at least it did to us. And there were a bunch of other stressors, such as the scandalous rush-hour traffic, which by the way I think is straight from the devil! On top of all of that, for various reasons, our marriage was on life support. Relocating 670-miles to someplace that values family and moving more unhurriedly than we experienced back East, where I am from, was a conscious decision. My new job, no longer “running” a church but being a chaplain to college students, led the way for sure, but context was key. It became pretty clear that God was giving us an opportunity to recalibrate ourselves to him and one another with this move.

But even here, a place where, when more than two cars idle at a traffic light, people posit that the Armageddon of metropolitan gridlock has arrived, I still must be a conscientious objector to disorder. I force myself, in the midst of busyness, to stop and evaluate what of the chaos I may be encountering can be jettisoned. I smell the flowers, visit Lake Michigan (even during winter because, although ungodly cold, it is quite beautiful), let off stress at the gym, and find ways to be both silly and serious with my wife. I’m indebted to theologian Richard Lints for this sage reflection: “Our lives move at such a pace we can barely remember what is actually important any longer…If our lives are a story, the story seems to have much filler and too little real plot.”


It’s awesome to watch Usain Bolt’s fast-twitch prowess when he sprints. It makes for exciting, sporty entertainment, but it’s no way to live.

Is there any chance that today’s as good a day as any for you to read a book or article; not to skim it, but to really read it and wrestle with it? If that suggestion hasn’t scared you away, then go a step further and write something. Write about something, anything that actually matters in life. Address it to God, a dear friend, a beloved mentor or teacher from way back when, or your child—it doesn’t matter to whom, so long as it’s from a place of candid introspection. Rest assured, the word count doesn’t count, but our ability to use words to reclaim our humanity does.

Make your words count. Write something meaningful.

James Ellis III serves as a chaplain of discipleship at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. He’s ordained in the Baptist tradition, working on a doctoral degree at Western Theological Seminary, and is the proud editor of Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil: Stories about the Challenges of Young Pastors, a book of essays from pastors, mostly under the age of 35, reflecting on their toughest vocational moments. When not chauffeuring his wife around to feed her ice cream addiction, he’s an occasional participant in obstacle course races.

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