By Henry McLaughlin
I’m a writer. Been at it for a while now. And I’m still amazed at the power of words. Words make us laugh and cry. They make us feel emotions we may not experience in our normal life. Words introduce us to new worlds and new people. They inspire us to seek more of who we are called to be, whatever that calling is. Words comfort us and strengthen us. A Bible verse can soothe my troubled soul. Another verse can strengthen me to keep going when challenges arise.
Recently, I became more aware of three words—six actually—that can alter how I approach life and all the things I want to accomplish.
One set of words I would utter on those dreary New England winter mornings: I have to go to work; or I have to go to the store in this miserable weather; or I have to cook dinner and all we have is old rice and Brussel sprouts and finicky kids.
I have to says a lot about our attitude in any situation. I have to are words of drudgery, of slogging through the day with a hundred pounds strapped to my back. I have to implies there are at least twenty things I’d rather do but I can’t because this has to be done first.
I want to go to the beach, but I have to mow the lawn or babysit my snotty baby brothers (and why are all baby brothers snotty?).
I could go on…but I won’t. I know you’ve got your own examples.
When we use words like I have to, we’re displaying an attitude. And it’s not a good one. It’s an attitude of bitterness or irritation. Pride may also be operating. There are more important things to do than this. More important to me anyway.
As writers, especially Christian writers, the words we choose express our attitudes and they are our witness to others.
What are we saying to others when we say things like:
“I can’t go to the movies with you. I have to finish my blog.”
“I can’t go to dinner with you because I have to prepare my book proposal.”
“I’d love to go to the ballgame, but I have to finish the curriculum for the Bible study class.”
Yes, there are things that must be done. Laundry. Dinner. Let’s not forget showers and brushing our teeth. Paying our bills. At times, it can be hard to work up any enthusiasm about doing them. They’re routines that are necessary for living. Sometimes they interfere with other things we’d rather be doing.
On the Other Hand…
There are three other words we can use, words that portray a more positive mindset, words that change how we approach life. These words are I get to.
For example, on a cold, rainy, gray Texas morning when all I want to do is burrow deeper under the covers, I can say, “I get to write this morning.” Writing is my passion and desire. My dream. Even if it’s a blog or a book proposal. Or the dread of all writers—a synopsis.
All too often, I look at the calendar and say, “I have to write a blog today.” I drag my feet into the writing office and stare at the screen praying and begging for an idea. And the screen stays blank.
Or I can say, “I get to write a blog today.” I get to communicate with readers and friends. Something I write may inspire someone or minister to them or give them an insight into the craft. I’ve received comments that say, “Thank you for writing your blog. It’s just what I needed to get back into writing.”
I get to helps me to keep my priorities straight and lighten the burden. I get to reminds me that while lunch with friends is nice and enjoyable, pursuing my dream and God’s purpose are primary. It’s not always a black and white choice. When I get to work on my novel, I can still get to have lunch with my friends. Schedule it for another day. Set it as a reward for completing my writing goals for the week.
There are times when the good things in life seem inconvenient and I have to can creep in, poisoning my attitude.
I have to work on this story becomes I get to work on this story God gave me.
I get to prepare for this opportunity God gave to speak at a conference.
Keep It in Balance
There are things we have to do. We have to go to the doctor to stay healthy. We have to eat. And shower (please!). And clean the house. And rush to help a family member or friend in crisis.
Just don’t use I have to as an excuse to avoid things or people or obligations.
I’d love to drive six hours to the family reunion with Crazy Aunt Jane in the back seat, but I have to…
I’d really like to help you paint your ceilings, but I have to…
I know I said we’d go to Chuck E. Cheese, but I have to…
Many times our I have to is really I choose to.
To really walk in the fullness of all God has for us, we have to honor the blessings he’s given us and be responsible for our choices.
God’s called me to be a writer. If you’re reading this, he’s probably called you to be a writer as well. We all have a calling. His callings and purposes are as varied as his people. When we pursue his purpose, we are partnering with him to do things, sometimes incredible things, for his kingdom. We need to be truthful in this relationship. Be honest with our words. Don’t say I have to when I get to or I choose to is the more honest statement. Then he can transform us and our writing. He can’t do much with I have to. He can do miracles with I get to.
Are there some places in your life where your attitude is I have to_______________?
Can you identify ways to turn that attitude around to I get to________________?
May our Father in heaven bless you and prosper you on your writing journey.
Tagged as “one to watch” by Publishers Weekly, award-winning author Henry McLaughlin takes his readers on adventures into the hearts and souls of his characters as they battle inner conflicts while seeking to bring restoration and justice in a dark world. His writing explores these themes of restoration, reconciliation, and redemption.
Besides his writing, Henry treasures working with other writers and helping them on their own writing journeys. He is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. He regularly teaches at conferences and workshops, leads writing groups, edits, and mentors and coaches.