Looking through some catalogs the other day, I came across the fourth volume in a five-volume systematic theology series being written by my PhD mentor, Veli-Matti Kärrkäinen. It’s a massive 520-page tome that only represents one fifth of the entire work. Besides these works, he has also written and edited more than twenty other books, over one hundred articles and chapters in collected works, and shows no signs of diminishing his voluminous output. He does all of this on top of a full-time seminary teaching position that includes not only regular class responsibilities but also the mentoring of several PhD mentees. He is also a part-time pastor of a Finnish church in Southern California since Finnish (not English!) is his native tongue. In addition, he is docent of ecumenics at the University of Helsinki and is active in the World Council of Churches. I’m assuming he also finds time to spend with his wife and children since he is happily married and the father of two.
I share this to make a point. There are some people in this world who are not only exceptionally brilliant, they are exceptionally energetic and disciplined as well. I know this because it takes much more than intelligence and energy to write books and articles. It takes discipline and a lot of hard work.
As a writer, I have a folder in my computer entitled, “Thoughts on Files.” When an idea or sudden flash of insight strikes me, I take a few moments to write down the beginnings of what I want to say about the issue, event, or idea. As of this writing, besides numerous (bad and amateurish) poems, I have sixty blog posts (two of which are poems) and over a hundred and forty other “thoughts on files” saved for future development. There are also sketches and outlines for at least three major books and several articles. The fact is, I have tons of ideas I want to develop and communicate to others with more coming all the time.
If I am honest, however, it seems likely the vast majority will never be developed into even short works of writing, let alone a fully developed feature-length articles or full-blown books. I could live another lifetime or two and never have enough time to write all I want to write. Doubtless, additional lifetimes would only produce additional ideas that would continue to pile up in the “to be developed someday” folder.
When I think about it, it drives me to lament. It does not bother me much that I may never engender a widespread readership or that my blogs will never go “viral.” What vexes me more is the great likelihood that I will never have the satisfaction of taking all these scraps and pieces and weave them into a coherent and helpful whole that might be used by God for His glory and the edification of Christ’s body, the church.
Between the daily responsibilities of my teaching and mentoring ministry coupled with my family life and other interests, it is unlikely I have the intelligence, energy, or discipline to bring these thoughts to any semblance of full fruition. Like the journals, letters, books, essays, memos, and poems of countless other average writers through the corridors of time, they will all turn to dust and be forgotten to the world in a relatively short span of time.
My lament, then, is not so much a lament of frustration or anger: “Why did you make me this way, God?” Rather, it is a lament that my time and energy keep running out. I think in my heart of hearts, I did want to make a larger and broader contribution to the body of Christ, perhaps by leaving behind a bestseller or two. But in the end, the impact I have, though felt in much smaller ways, will be no less significant, so long as I am faithful to gifts and abilities God has given me.
They may not be gifts on a level with the exceptional whom we can certainly appreciate and admire. Nevertheless, His gifts to me are still precious, and He only asks me to offer them up and use them for His glory. I raise, therefore, not merely a lament, but also a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise to God for all I have been given, be it much or little when compared to other writers.
As writer-extraordinaire John Lennox puts it in Against the Flow, “We must learn to be content with the significance that God gives us . . . and contentment comes when we understand that it has pleased God to make us just as we are” (81-82).
Thank you, Lord, for gifting Your church with exceptional writers. And thank You, too, for making me just as I am and helping me use my gifts for Your greater glory and honor.