Thursday, October 29, 2015

Can Pleasant Work Be a Nightmare?

A writer (not me) recently asked some of his peers: “Is writing always a pleasant work, or can it become a nightmare sometimes.” This question stirred up a lot of discussion, and I think there are individuals still weighing in on the subject as I write this.

Some responded that for them writing is nothing short of an unrelenting source of endless joy. (I suspect they must have been from Oregon and Colorado, where they’ve legalized those funny cigarettes.) Others argued writing is an arduous, often agonizing task tantamount from squeezing drops of blood from the proverbial turnip. And most who replied fell somewhere in between.

Does your work - or life - sometimes look like this?
It occurred to me that such a question doesn’t apply only to those engaged in the craft of writing and editing. It could be rephrased to apply to any endeavor, ranging from being married and raising children to gardening and participating in a favorite sport: “Is (whatever) always pleasant, or can it be a nightmare sometimes?”

Perhaps the word “nightmare” sounds a bit extreme, but if the question is whether something – any endeavor – is always fun, or whether there are times when it’s difficult, painful, stressful (or whatever adjective you choose to inject), I’d say the realistic answer would be the latter.

When a couple gets married, both groom and bride are starry-eyed. Even though they’ve taken the “better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and in health” vows, in their minds they fully expect Utopia. When a mom and dad greet their newborn, all they can think of is the joy this little one will bring into their lives. They ignore the thousands of messy diapers, spit-up, fevers and crying they’ll have to endure.

Gardens are wonderful when they’re adorned with colorful flowers or ripened vegetables and fruit, but getting those typically requires sweat, dirty hands and achy muscles. And when we watch our favorite college football teams compete on Saturday afternoons, we know little of the countless hours these gridiron gladiators have spent lifting weights, running drills, banging heads and cramming playbook schemes into their minds.

So if someone were to ask me if any worthwhile endeavor was pleasant, or sometimes painful, I’d wholeheartedly reply, “Yes, yes it is!”

The spiritual life is the same. That’s why the apostle James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

And just in case we still didn’t get the message, the apostle Paul also made the declaration, “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5).

For me, writing is one of my passions, my vocational calling, but it’s still hard work. Especially when I’m up against a deadline (or more than one), and it feels like, as one noted author described it, I’m sitting at the keyboard straining until beads of blood appear on my forehead.

Maybe that’s why the cliché, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” endures to this day. Because it’s true. When faced with adversity, when we’re tempted to wonder whether the reward is worthy of the struggle, so many choose to give up. Sadly, for some, when success was standing just around the bend.

So at this time of year, when “nightmares” are brought to our mind by the presence of costumed ghosts and goblins and spooks and witches and zombies, maybe the real “nightmare on Elm Street” is the decision to quit when victory was so close. 

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