Today’s post is by Prasanta Verma, a member of The Contemplative Writer team.
“It is clear we must embrace struggle. Every living thing conforms to it. Everything in nature grows and struggles in its own way, establishing its own identity, insisting on it at all cost, against all resistance. We can be sure of very little, but the need to court struggle is a surety that will not leave us.” – Rainer Marie Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet
No one can see the internal dialogue while I sit at my desk and gaze out the window or while I sit at a coffee shop, quietly sipping a cup of coffee, while others bustle about, my laptop on the table with an empty screen facing me.
“I have this deadline—and the article isn’t coming together.”
“How should I rearrange these particular paragraphs?”
“I’m too distracted.”
“This is digging up too much emotion.”
“Can I even do this? Why did I say yes?”
“Why didn’t they accept my submission?”
“What do I even write about?”
Based on what I have read from other writers, I believe I am not the only one who has said the above; I am sure you could add your own statements to the list.
For many of us, we are sure to encounter a season of struggle in our writing at one time or another. Maybe we even find ourselves in longer seasons of dry spells, struggling to put something of value and beauty onto the page.
Perhaps the struggle is against a deadline. Perhaps a struggle ensues in seeking the exact word or phrase, or the overarching purpose and length of a particular piece. Perhaps the struggle arises from within—a struggle with ourselves—of willpower or motivation or something else.
If struggle is inevitable, how can the writer “embrace struggle” as Rilke describes it? Must we?
I came across something recently that gave me some hope in those times of struggling and digging.
In Luke 5, Jesus was speaking to a crowd of people near the Sea of Galilee. He spotted two boats on the shore, climbed into Simon’s boat, and continued speaking to the crowd from the boat. After he finished speaking to the crowd, Jesus told Simon to go into the lake and do some fishing.
Trouble was, Simon had been fishing all night long, and had come up empty, and was even cleaning his nets. He says, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” (Luke 5:5, NIV). He pretty much says, “Been there, done that, Jesus.”Furthermore, it is not just any place in the water that Jesus is asking Simon to fish: he tells him to fish in a deep part of the lake (Luke 5:4).
Jesus asks Simon to take the nets he’d just cleaned, and go out try again. I don’t know about you, but I’m usually tired after I’ve been out fishing all night! (I’m joking, of course; I have never been fishing all night.)
Presumably, experienced fishermen already know where the fish bite, when to fish, what parts of the lake are best, etc. I wonder if it felt somewhat insulting to be told where to fish and to go out again.
I can’t say I blame Simon. When Jesus, a carpenter and not a fisherman, tells them to go out again and drop their nets in the deep part of a lake, it must have sounded like a strange, fruitless, and unnecessary request.
Sometimes, writing (or service, or a job, or ministry, or some other activity requiring long-term diligent focus and attention) can feel like a long night of fishing with no catch. Maybe it can feel fruitless.
Yet, Simon and the others, already tired from the long night of fishing, do what Jesus asked: “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5).
When they pulled up their nets, the nets were overflowing with such an abundance of fish they had to summon the other boat to come and assist them.
I do not know how long the particular obedience has been for each one of us. I do not know how many times we have dipped down our nets and come up empty-handed.
Rilke says, “embrace struggle”, and “everything in nature grows and struggles…establishing its own identity.” If the need for struggle is a “surety”, instead of fighting these seasons, viewing them as blockages, perhaps we are meant to embrace them. Perhaps the struggle is part of the formula needed to forge our own identity, the part that takes us to a deeper, truer level while also resulting in an astonishingly abundant net. Perhaps the growth occurs as we struggle; that one cannot occur without the other.
This little passage reminds me that no matter how many long nights have yielded nothing, that words and hope-filled stories are swimming and breathing underneath. A treasure is stirring in the deep, waiting for its time to surface. The next net pulled up may contain tender morsels of light and love for a reader who needs them.
Prasanta Verma is a writer, poet, and artist. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, Prasanta currently lives in the Midwest, is a mom of three, and also coaches high school debate. You can find her on Twitter @ pathoftreasure, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.