Swimming in Troubled Waters: Writing about Faith

I started another essay a month or so ago that is about (or will be about) swimming, obedience, and faith.  It starts with Elvis jumping into the pool at swimming lessons after his floatation device was off and nearly drowning.  I want to return to working on the thing but I just haven’t had the time to do it, and to be honest, I’m a little intimidated by the project.

After reading lots of Christian nonfiction and Christian self-help-ish kind of books, I have this mental block about faith writing.  I’m so afraid that I’m going to come across cliche and shallow in my attempts to write about faith that so far, I’ve avoided it in any in-depth way, outside of peripheral references to church.  I’d rather not write about God at all than to do so in a way that would be off-putting to readers.

I don’t have as difficult a time with poetry because I can write about God or my relationship with God in metaphor.  I can talk about God without talking about God.  I can meditate on the things of this world and the things of Christ without using Christianese to do it, without using direct references to scripture except maybe in an epigraph.  When I begin to try to write about my faith in essays, I fall right into devotional and didactic language, reference Bible verses and start writing as if my audience has been regularly attending church for the last decade. 

I don’t want to write to a strictly Christian audience.  I like y’all, but I want to write something with  universal truth, something that is good and true and real and beautiful, well-written, layered, accessible, and moving, something that doesn’t rely on the premonition that the person reading already buys into my ideologies.  I don’t want to write persuasive arguments to convince someone to follow Jesus.  I want to write about events in life that have caused me to see God in the every day, to see how he intersects, overlaps, and infiltrates every area, the spiritual colliding with the physical and emotional world in such a way as to be inseparable, and how that has changed me and the way I relate to the world.  No big thing.

The added challenge is that in order to write convincingly and authentically about faith, I need more time.  Honestly, it is easy for me to sit down, blather on this blog about some spiritual flicker that caught my eye during the day, pull out a corresponding Bible verse, and call it a night.  I can do that with relative ease — and I’m grateful for that gift.  But to develop something with greater substance and length takes time and extra meditation.  I need to write and write and write, and then read and edit and revise and write some more and think while I’m not able to write and then write again.  Yeah, that’s just about the way it goes, so you can see the barrier.

There’s no doubt that I love the life that Brandon and I have made, with our three children, our careers, our home, our church, our hobbies, etc., which makes it very hard to choose into writing time at this stage of life.  Something’s gotta give, after all, so what’s it going to be?

I keep reminding myself that Christmas break is just a few days away, and then maybe, maybe I’ll be able to sit down and do the work that good writing requires.

With regard to the topics– faith and swimming and obedience, and why not throw in some fear– I think I just need to do it, without inhibitions, and fish out the cliches and didactic language later.  I just need to employ the same skills I use when I write about other topics and hope that it holds water.  Literally and figuratively.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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