Loving Our Reader as Ourselves

We write for so many reasons. As we write, we experience many rewards in the writing process alone, but those personal rewards can sometimes obscure the deepest reason of all to write: to love our neighbors. In our case, our neighbors are our readers, those with faces just inches from our words, their minds and hearts living in the very houses we have built.

How can we love our readers as ourselves? It’s become increasingly difficult to find our way forward here because of our postmodern culture’s obsessions with fame and the self, but here are a few steps forward:

1.     Love your readers by writing beyond yourself.

Write from the self, by all means, but don’t let the primary subject be the self, even if you’re writing memoir. Many of us write to attend to the fragments of our lives and to make something coherent and meaningful from them. It’s a noble enterprise, to pursue wisdom from the chaos of our real lives. We are writing our way home, many of us.  “We are lost in a dark wood and we need stories to help us find our way home,” Scott Russell Sanders writes. But don’t forget that this is also the reason readers read, not to find the way to your house, ultimately, but to find their way to their own true home. Our purpose in writing must be more than self-fulfillment. It must be God-and-neighbor fulfillment.

2.     Love your readers by living a genuine faith-ward life.

God’s truths are not just propositional and communicated by language: they are experiential, relational, incarnational.  Our first job as writers is to write from a faith that we ourselves are trying to live in and live out rather than a faith that is simply pronouncements, words on a page. As Joy Sawyer has written,

“And without an ever-increasing, tangible portrait of our God engraved upon our hearts, we reduce our proclamation of the gospel to the ‘clanging symbol’ of language alone. Maybe that is why our message suffers so much when we rely upon mere rhetoric to communicate our faith: it’s simply bad poetry. . . . .  our deepest joy is experienced when the poetry of our lives begins to be expressed, as the apostle John said, not in words alone, but in deed and in truth.”

 3.    Love your readers by not preaching at them.

We need not tell all the truth about anything at any one time (even if we knew it). Life, issues, experiences, even under the purview of God, are all complex, multi-layered.  Communicating Truth and truths is a process that we engage in over a lifetime, encompassing many possible stages:  plowing, sowing, watering, reaping.  Think of your writing efforts as a lifelong endeavor rather than a tell-it-all right now.

4.     Love your readers by loving the world we’ve been given.

Though I do indeed want all people to know Christ, more, I want Christ to be made known. And because He is found everywhere in life, in all places, in all things, I am not just freed but compelled to discover and then reveal Him through all the lovely, hideous, fascinating and stultifying  things of this world, which are, after all, His. “Love calls us to the things of this world,” Richard Wilbur has written, and our love for our reader will call us out into this God-made world as well.

And so, I end here, out of love for you, dear readers! I want to preach 100 more ways to love our readers—but let us return to the lives and words we’ve been given, aiming toward a poetry of truth, word and deed!

What is one tangible way you will choose to love your readers this week?

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15 thoughts on “Loving Our Reader as Ourselves

  1. Great post. Thanks. However, just to pick up on point 4. Love the world. Doesn’t the bible tell people not to love the world, for if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him?
    I suppose we have to define ‘world’.

    • Yes, exactly. I’m saying love for the world God created. It IS still His. As Abraham Kuyper has written, ““There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!” Thanks for reading—and writing, Mark!

  2. We can love our readers by being the best writers we can be. Learn the craft and develop our creativity to tell stories that will touch their hearts and minister to them without being preachy. When we create characters with a Christian world view and craft plots that challenge them to live out that world view through the problems and difficulties we throw at them, we give readers the opportunity to see Christ in action.

    • Absolutely!! Well said and right on! There’s a book in here–the theology of narrative and language, one of my favorite subjects. How do you say it in 500 words? You start—and then listen in to all that others add! Thank you!!

  3. This was a great post and covers one area I’m struggling in with my memoir – the ending. I was saved and love Christ so much, but my ending sounds too preachy. In the writing class I attended they said my salvation ending was like eye candy for Christians. Since I now teach the Bible, I do find that I write more than I should for my target audience. I have to change the ending to be less preachy – but still tell the truth about Christ. And it is true, point four. We love the sinner, not the sin. We love the world and the people in it but are not addicted to the world – our focus is on the Kingdom. If my pastor had preached at me or condemned me when I first walked into his office and said, “But Pastor Don, I’m a good witch.” I would have run, not walked to the nearest exit. Instead, he helped me to sort out the past, then he showed me the Father. I couldn’t have received Him without getting more information about what a true Father is like.

    Have a blessed day, and thanks for this post.

    Heather

    • HI Heather, thanks for writing. Yeah, I’ve written a couple of memoirs and know the tension … to be true to your experience, which is that Christ really did deliver you!! And yet not to overwhelm your reader. Perhaps if you focused less on your internal state, and communicated your “rescue” in more external ways (you know, “no ideas but in things . . .”) so that it’s shown more than told . .. It’s often less threatening to receive . . Bon chance as you finish, Heather! (And it sounds like your story is amazing!)

  4. Leslie,
    While writing my self-care book, I always went back to one person I know that would benefit from my book. I think. I don’t even know her in real life, but only from Facebook. I constantly had her face in my mind as I wrote.

  5. In writing, as in all things in life, when we focus beyond ourselves our world can grow.Thanks for an inspiring post. This week I’ll continue to blog for writers and readers.

    • HI Janalyn, so true! I write and teach creative nonfiction, which often involves a lot of memoir, so I know the great temptation to focus primarily on the self. Even when writing a memoir, it’s still not about us!! But it’s not necessarily intuitive to arrive there. Thanks for reading—and thanks for the ways that you love your readers so tangibly!!

  6. Beautiful, Leslie, it made me love my readers more. I was pleased to re-post this on my Christian Writers Guild Word Weavers Merrimack Valley Facebook page.

    • Clarice–thanks so much for re-posting!. (And good to hear from the Granite State! I grew up in New Hampshire, from little towns around Concord. My mother and sibs still live there.) BLessings as all of you weave true, beautiful words for your readers!

      • I’m a fairly new resident to NH. I moved here from Cape Cod [Dare I say the “MA” word?] in the fall of 2006 after I was blessed to remarry. I haven’t even been to Concord yet!

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