Consider these two really odd “Sayings of the Desert Fathers.”
They said of one hermit that he sometimes longed to eat a cucumber. So he took one and hung it in front of him where he could see it. He was not overcome by his longing, and he did not eat it, but tamed himself, and repented that he had wanted it at all. (no. 60)
A hermit made a resolution not to drink anything. If ever he was thirsty he washed a vessel and filled it with water and hung it in front of his eyes. When the brothers asked him why he was doing this, he replied, ‘So that if I do not taste what I long for although I can see it, my devotion will be greater and I shall be granted a greater reward by the Lord.’ ( p. 31, no. 67)
The stories are wacky in a couple of ways.
First, what the heck is wrong with eating a cucumber? And isn’t fasting from even water a recipe for—well—death?
Second, what’s up with these guys setting up these little challenges for for themselves? Isn’t being a monk in the desert (or an ordinary Christian in the world) hard enough?
Well yes, it is hard enough.
Setting Yourself a Challenge
But the whole idea of going to the desert was to create a challenge. It wasn’t an escape. It was a training ground.
These folks looked at the Christian life the way athletes look at their participation in a sport. They wanted to get better.
When a particular temptation needed attention, they set themselves a challenge.
Spiritual life, and creative work, are both like sports in this way. You want to make progress? You have to set yourself a challenge.
I suppose the third question is “What on earth does this have to do with the writer’s inner life?”
Well I’ve been comparing holing up to write in my home office to the life of a monk in a desert cell.
Now I think it is time to set myself a very specific exercise to improve my game. As I go pro in this I need a jump start to my writing discipline.
As I’ve pondered the particular kind of exercise I need to give a listen to some urgings that have been banging around in my head for a while and write some fiction.
I’m hoping to develop my storytelling abilities, which will benefit my non-fiction writing no matter what happens with the fiction.
Every November, established and aspiring writers commit themselves to writing the first draft of a new novel in 31 days. The actual goal is 50,000 words — rather short for a novel, but a good solid draft of a full-sized story.
So now you know about it. That feels kind of vulnerable. I hope you’ll pray for me.
Tune in to this blog for progress reports — or kvetching and lamentation! We’ll see…
And if you are doing NaNoWriMo yourself, I would absolutely LOVE to hear from you!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on setting yourself a personal challenge, whether in Christian living or creative work. Just scroll down and leave a comment…
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