All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.
-Martin Luther King Jr.
In 2010, I was visiting my sister in Atlanta during Mardi Gras week (our little Louisiana school got the whole week off — think two spring breaks a year!). MAY B. had been on submission for several months but so far hadn’t gotten any bites. Over sushi, Chris asked me what it was about writing that was so important to me. What it was I was trying to do with my words and with this little book in particular.
I told her I wrote because I wanted to honor childhood and extend dignity to children through the work I created.
A few months later, when MAY sold to Random House, Chris told me she’d been thinking about what I’d said. That she knew when I’d told her why I wrote that I’d sell this book, that my words were the kind of thing an author could use to build a career.
I’ve held onto that conversation since then, taken it out to examine when the writing’s been hard and rejection’s been constant (because selling a book or four doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing). It has helped me while drafting, while working through revisions, while giving a book away to the world.
It’s given me purpose when things haven’t come together as I’d hoped. When things have disappointed or surprised me in unexpected ways.
My Bible study group is currently reading Tim Keller’s EVERY GOOD ENDEAVOR, a book about what it means to work and how we might honor God through the work* that we do. I loved the story I read there about a man who runs a fruit preserves business and aims to “mak[e] beautiful things of enduring value.”
Just how long does a jar of preserves last? Not as long as a book is displayed on shelves. Even shorter than a title might stay in print. Yet what this man makes is beautiful and is of enduring value because of the way he approaches his work.
Since reading his story, I’ve added to what I want my own work to do. Why do I write? Because I want to honor childhood, extend dignity to children, and make beautiful things of enduring value.
What about you? I would love to hear how you define the purpose of your work.
* Work doesn’t only mean a job or career but any long-term task before us.