The Author and Finisher of our Faith: Reflections On #NaNoWriMo

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” – George Orwell

November 30th marked the end of #NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, an online write-athon where writers all over the internet attempt to finish a novel in November. The word-count goal is 50k, which in 2019 came out to 1,667 words a day. There’s a whole website dedicated to helping motivate writers through the slog that is putting words on a page, and a whole other website called Twitter where writers go to complain about how hard writing is. (George Orwell would have had plenty to add.) 

I decided to participate in #NaNoWriMo this year, even though I knew mine would be a feeble effort. I am 37 weeks pregnant and in the busiest month of my job and yes these are the excuses I gave myself each time I did not reach my daily goal. But my purpose in joining was simply to finish a novel I have been co-writing with a friend for a few years now. I knew my draft would come out terribly, but quality is not the point of #NaNoWriMo — finishing is.

I’ve been so fixated on the pains of authoring this month, I couldn’t help but be delighted when Hebrews 12:2 showed up as part of November’s Come Follow Me material: 

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

I have often envisioned Christ as a creator, but in my mind He’s usually a visual artist — something glamorous like a sculptor or painter, who molds the Grand Canyon from a lump of clay in a casual afternoon. But thinking of Him as an author conjures images of creative struggle I find much easier to relate to. 

At the risk of creating God in my own image, I would like to explore the idea of Jesus as an author, the creator of our stories. 

Our Author

One connotation within the word ‘author’ is ‘authority.’ I’m thinking of this less as an authority figure, more as the authority on a topic — the all-knowing expert. 

J.R.R. Tolkien knew his characters so well, he wrote them their own languages, not to mention an entire creation story! J.K. Rowling has delighted (and upset) fans by revealing backstory on Pottermore — details that never made their way into the books but were true in her mind all along. 

An author shows devotion to her characters by how well she knows them, and who knows us better than our Savior?

Possibly the most poignant aspect of Christ’s atonement in my mind is that He felt all I will ever feel. Where an author draws from personal experiences and relationships to create her characters, Christ might actually know everything about his, having spent time in our shoes. 

He knows how we would react in a certain situation. He knows when we say or do something out of character. Maybe that is why we are urged to keep a connection with him — to get back to who we are, using the only source who truly knows. 

Jesus as our author would also mean he decides what pains our stories will subject us to. 

I am fascinated by this excerpt from Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped:

“I knew the boys in my first novel . . . weren’t as raw as they could be, weren’t real. I knew they were failing as characters because I wasn’t pushing them to assume the reality that my real-life boys . . . experienced every day. I loved them too much: as an author, I was a benevolent God. . . . I couldn’t figure out how to love my characters less. How to look squarely at what was happening to the young Black people I knew in the South and to write honestly about that. How to be an Old Testament God.”

Jesmyn’s words suggest that part of an author’s responsibility is to write into her stories the hells that will shape her characters. Here, Job comes to mind. As does Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, when he cries out in suffering and is told by God that all these things will “give him experience.”

I am a weakling who hates the idea that when I suffer it’s for my good. I dislike how we sometimes use Job or Liberty Jail as versions of “cheer up!” when those around us are struggling. But it’s all for your good! we tell each other, when perhaps an “I’m sorry” would suffice. I don’t typically buy the idea that God has specific trials intended for me, but when I think of him as an author, I start to see it differently. Whether he caters trials to us personally or lets the inevitable befall us, I think he knows how the things we suffer will deepen the arc of our stories. 

We all like happy endings, but what makes the best stories are often the worst villains. Even in my own writing I can’t deny that the best stuff often comes out of bouts with pain or loneliness or heartache. Jesus as author would possess the perspective of both Old and New Testament God; an author whose love for his characters is perhaps the very thing that allows him to write suffering into their stories. 

Our Finisher

There is a reason #NaNoWriMo prioritizes finished novels over great ones — finishing is the only road to a writer’s progress.

You can’t really start editing a manuscript until you’ve got a finished product to work with. And unless you’re J.K. Rowling, you likely won’t get published until you’ve finished your fifth book. So finishing work, much more than any natural ability required to start it, is what sets successful writers apart. 

It seems to me that whoever wrote Hebrews 12:2 understood this, because it was not enough for them to paint Jesus as an author only, but a finisher. 

Christ’s last words included, “it is finished.” He understood the importance of not only starting his mortal task, but seeing it through to its bitter end. Despite a plea to his father to let the cup pass, He endured the cross for the eventual joy that was set before him. 

Hebrews also says He “despised the shame,” a thing any creative type will feel acute kinship with. Christ was not mortal but He was human, and I feel closer to Him when I imagine he finished his task even given all the pain of criticism and rejection that came with it. 

The difference between an author and a finisher is dedication. Because starting is easy — it’s quitting your day job in pursuit of some imagined creative life. Finishing is getting said day job back and waking up before it starts to write yet another terrible 1,667 words. 

Finishing is steady, calm, and loyal. It isn’t flashy but it is devotion, and in that sense may be the truest form of love. 

The Author and Finisher of our Faith

When I scrolled the #NaNoWriMo hashtag on Twitter last month, the at-a-glance takeaway was that writing = pain. I wondered, why do so many of us do it? What makes such a fruitless pursuit worth the effort? George Orwell seems to think a writer’s motivation comes from some demon, but I would argue it’s love.

Imagining Jesus as the author and finisher of my faith (as presumptuous, or even narcissistic, an exercise as it may be) helps me reconsider the way he loves me and each of his characters. It is the love of fully seeing and knowing. It is a love shown not by passionate outbursts but through steady, simple devotion. 

It’s a love powerful enough to motivate one inexplicably through the horrible, exhausting struggle that is wrestling with characters long enough to see their stories through — not until they’re perfect, because no story is, but perhaps until they are complete. 

Comments

  1. anitawells says:

    The underlying Greek of these words includes the idea of captain/prince and perfecter, which add additional dimensions to the title for Christ. I love that this phrase is echoed in Moroni 6:4. Since Moroni was also an author and finisher of the Book of Mormon, he could connect well to this concept.

  2. This is one of my favorite posts. I felt hope through the entire message. Thank you. We can look to Christ and his example as a reason to hold on when our personal lives get tough. “He endured the cross for the eventual joy that was set before him”, is my favorite sentence. I also like the thought of devotion being the truest form of love.
    The theme of the post reminded me of President Monson’s talk, “Finishers Wanted”.

  3. I love that insight about Moroni, Anita. Had not made that connection but it’s such a good one.

    And thanks Amy! I don’t remember that Monson talk, but I’m going to look it up now and give it a listen.

  4. I love this post, thank you for your thoughtful writing :) I am almost to my year mark getting baptized, and I wish to pursue writing. It is writing like this that inspires me and gives me motivation to keep going. I love your insights about Christ being the author of our lives, it is a thought that I have had many times before! After all, I would never have developed my testimony without the story that came before my conversion. Thank you for this thought!

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