When Picking up Your Pen Is Picking up Your Cross

By Janice Lane Palko

How do you regard your writing career? Perhaps you’re like me. I’ve been putting words on paper for more than 20 years, and I’ve always regarded my propensity to write as a being a blessing and as a calling of sorts. I wrote last month how God and, to a lesser extent, we humans can take something meant for harm and turn it into good. My writing has been a blessing wrought from misery.

I’m a natural-born worrier. Some families seem to pass on the proclivity to become addicted to alcohol, drugs, or gambling while others seem to be prone to divorce or commit suicide, but my family’s fatal foible is to fret. We are world-class worriers. After my third and last child was born, now nearly 25 years ago, I began to experience panic attacks. At first, I didn’t know what was happening to me, but as a worrier, I, of course, assumed it had to be something catastrophic like a brain tumor. After consulting my family doctor and a visit to a therapist, it became apparent that I was under too much stress—a lot of which I was putting upon myself. In addition to having three small children at the time and getting no sleep and experiencing several family health crises, I have a vivid imagination. As such, I realized through some introspection and prayer, that I was using my God-given imagination to terrorize myself. For instance, if I saw a carjacking on the news, I would cast myself as a victim and play out the scenario in detail in my mind of what it would be like to be taken captive and held by brutal criminals.

Through prayer, reprioritizing my things in my life, and discovering that I could terrorize people on the page through writing instead of myself, I found a happier, more peaceful, and more productive life. That’s why I’ve always viewed my writing career as a blessing in my life. It refocused my mind on more productive things.

During this Lent, however, I’ve come to another perspective–one that seems contradictory since I love writing so much. I’ve become aware that writing may also be my cross. Not to trivialize Jesus’s passion and death by comparing it to the life of a writer, but when you are a writer, life is not all sunshine and roses. There is suffering. How many of us could paper the walls with rejection slips? How many of us have had a piece you’ve sweated over fall flat? How many of us have looked at a paltry royalty check and wondered if it’s all worth it? How many of us have watched as books like Fifty Shades of Grey soar to the top of the bestseller’s list while our writing attempts to edify and inspire bump along the bottom of the Amazon charts? How many of us have put in a full day’s work or spent all day taking care of a home and children only to use what little “me time” there is to eke out some writing?

In writing this piece, I did some research on what it means for Catholics to “take up their cross.” It seems that passage of scripture is often difficult to define, but I like this thought on it that Saint Pope John Paul II gave during World Youth Day in 2001.

“As the cross can be reduced to being an ornament, ‘to carry the cross’ can become just a manner of speaking. In the teaching of Jesus, however, it does not imply the pre-eminence of mortification and denial. It does not refer primarily to the need to endure patiently the great and small tribulations of life, or, even less, to the exaltation of pain as a means of pleasing God. It is not suffering for its own sake that a Christian seeks, but love. When the cross is embraced, it becomes a sign of love and of total self-giving. To carry it behind Christ means to be united with him in offering the greatest proof of love.”

Like the proverbial double-edge sword, I’ve come to see my writing as both a blessing and a cross much as Jesus’s cross is both a curse as it spelled suffering and death and yet, at the same time, was the greatest sign of His love for us. Suffering and love are always intertwined.

Therefore, as we come to another Easter, I’m going to dwell less on the suffering endured as a writer and strive to be more like Jesus and take up my cross and offer everything I put on the page as a great proof of love.

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4 Responses to When Picking up Your Pen Is Picking up Your Cross

  1. I love this post! Journal writing has long been my personal therapy, a way of sorting out my thoughts and feelings. And, sometimes that panicky stuff, too, as I’ve had that type of anxiety come and go over the years.

    I can so relate to the crosses you mention as well. There’s always that niggling wonder, “Is this really worth it?”

    Thanks for sharing!