Maybe ten years ago, I participated in a small playwriting workshop led by a man who’d directed a number of Broadway plays in the 1960′s and 1970′s. (For the life of me, I can not remember his name at this moment.) Each workshop participant read the short scene he or she had brought to the class. I was feeling pretty great about the script I’d created, frankly.
The workshop leader smiled and nodded appreciatively as I read. Obviously my positive feelings about my own work were being mirrored by this experienced, respected director.
I smiled back at him, but my smile was frozen by the next words he spoke to the group. “Now, outline a new ending to your script.”
“Gilding the lily,” I thought to myself. “The script is already pretty darn good. But, OK. I’ll try.”
I did what he asked, quickly jotting an alternative outline to what I’d already written. As he sensed the group had finished scratching some thoughts on paper, the teacher spoke again. “Now, outline a different ending than the two you’ve already created.”
No one wrote a word for several minutes. We each sat there, searching our minds, searching our drafted scripts, searching for clues out the window or inside a jagged piece of hangnail. Tentatively, I wrote a few words. Scratched them out. Drew daisies on the top margin of my blank page. Then finally pushed out a possible alternative ending onto the page. I was exhausted.
When he sensed each of us had completed the task, he smiled and said, “Now, do it again.” Though I had a moment of panic – how was I supposed to come up with a fourth possible ending to a script that already had a finished feel when I brought it to the class? – I groaned with groanings too deep for words until the words came at last. My imagination had been unleashed.
I think every person in the group was quaking a bit when he spoke again. Would he ask us to go for five? “You’ve gotten rid of all the easy endings and cliches,” he said. “Now. This fourth version is the ending I want you to write.”
He was right. The fourth ending was exactly where my script needed to go.
As the writer of Ecclesiastes noted, there is a time and a season for everything in our lives. There is a time to open the gate, drop the leash, tell my imagination to run for the hills, then follow it wherever it goes. And there is a time to stop dreaming of new possible endings, and stick like glue to the words already on the page. I am in the season of the latter.
Some really hard stuff has gone on in my extended family lately. Long-standing chronic crisis flared to acute in recent months, and a lot of significant changes are happening to people I love more than I love my own life. And here’s the thing. I don’t get to write the script for any of it, save my small walk-on role in the drama. I find myself sorely tempted to come up with fifty-eight possible terrifying endings to the story. Anxiety keeps telling me she wants to help me write all fifty-eight versions, and she never seems to have a happy ending up her sleeve.
The Apostle Paul told his friends at Corinth that the crises and conflicts they faced were a battle, then urged them, using military language, to learn to wield kingdom weapons. He told them, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
This means laying down my playwright’s imagination about a hundred times a day, and leaning hard into this prayer:
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who’ve trespassed against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
“This day.” Of all the words in that prayer, it is those two that have burned themselves into my will. They’ve called me to put my imagination about how this story might end on a very, very short leash, then place that leash in the hand of the true, trustworthy and faithful Author of the story.
When you are in a time of crisis, what Scripture passages have shaped your prayers?