Lucky me. I’m back in school again. I get to work on research papers, take tests, write sermons, debate with my fellow classmates and entertain my friend Anxiety, instead of spending time on my blog and other fun stuff. Yippee.
It’s been an interesting class. Last week I was given an assignment that every opinionated, self-righteous Christian would love to do, yours truly included. It was something many Christ followers indulge in after church (although they shouldn’t) – except I got to do it legitimately and not feel guilty afterward.
The assignment? To critique a sermon and then write a five-page review based on what I’d been learning in my textbooks. Sounds easy, right? And fun! I mean, how many times have you wanted to send a note or two to your pastor on how he could improve the weekend services to meet your particular needs? I know I’m guilty of that.
But, back to the paper. It had to be detailed. Thorough. I had to measure his preaching against thirty-seven criteria and expound on each point, in detail, against what my texts had to say, supporting each finding with appropriate scholarly backup and long, fancy words.
Usually, when I write research papers, I begin with a thesis statement and work up a skeletal outline. Then, I begin to fill in the outline until I have a ton of material at my disposal, which makes writing the paper much easier. It simply flows out of the outline.
But this time was different. I was impatient. I wanted to play. And write other things. And eat. I was antsy and didn’t want to bother working on the outline first. After all, it wasn’t really a research paper and it only had to be five pages long.
So I tried to skip it altogether and got down to writing the paper. It didn’t work. I tried a skeletal outline and then tried writing the paper. That didn’t work either. Instead of the text flowing like it normally does, I kept struggling in vain to make that stupid paper come out of me and settle its sweet little self right into my Word document. But the darn thing wouldn’t come. The more I tried, the more frustrated I got until finally, I decided to raise my white flag and surrender to the glorious process of outlining that had never failed me in the past. It won.
As I began conceding, it hit me. I wanted so bad to skip certain parts. The research. The note taking. The outlining. I just wanted to get to the writing without having to deal with all of the other stuff so that I could get to the end result more quickly. And it struck me…
Isn’t that just like us? Wanting the product without the process?
- We want to be sober but we don’t want to work a program.
- We want to lose weight but we don’t want to exercise. Or stop eating animal fries with light spread.
- We want to be strong in our faith but don’t want to put in the time.
- We want to get out of debt but don’t want to walk through making a budget.
- We want to be a better person but we don’t want to have to work on ourselves.
- We want to be an author, a superstar, a great speaker, but we don’t want to do the homework. We want to skip the outline.
The outline is grunt work. Hidden work. Menial work. Nobody sees it and we often feel as if we’re wasting our time when we could be jumping ahead, cutting unnecessary corners that only stand in our way.
But the fact is, I never write a great paper when I try to skip steps and take shortcuts. The end result is mediocre at best. All of the work I do beforehand is an important process that gets me to the finished product.
So for me practically, this means staying the course with my writing. It means writing and writing and writing, even when no one is looking and cheering on my hidden work. It means exercising even if my jeans still seem to be shrinking. It means spending time with God, even on those days when He seems farther away than ever. It means writing an outline for each area of my life that needs working on, line by line, until there is enough material to support the end results I desperately desire.
I pray you find your desired results too. Now start outlining.