• Jenna Van Mourik

In the Quiet Moments: How I Became a Writer

When I was a senior in high school, I had a very lovely conversation with the mother of a friend of mine. She had been kind enough to invite me to ride with her and her daughter to the homecoming game, and with traffic, it was a long drive. We talked about the usual things: school, fashion, teachers, and college applications. By and by, the subject of career choices came up as it so often does when your graduation is impending. The mere question sent pure, unadulterated fear straight into the center of my heart. Why that question is so popular, I’ll never understand. How was I supposed to know exactly what I would want to be doing in five, ten, or fifteen years? I could barely decide what I wanted to eat for dinner. Perhaps the reason that this question was so terrifying for me; I hadn’t yet decided. All I knew was that I wasn’t like any of my friends. I didn’t want to be a doctor, accountant, engineer, or business manager. In fact, I abhorred every aspect of each of those career choices. I was a creative soul and from the first moments I can remember, I was always creating something. Whether it was writing a play, painting a picture, or capturing a moment through the art of photography, creating was in my blood. When I told her that I was interested in the more creative fields, she was a bit taken aback. I'll never forget her words: "How interesting then, that God would call you to a field where you would face so much rejection and so many unknowns, when you deal so heavily with anxiety!" That response set in motion several events that changed the course of my life forever.

The mother of my friend was right. By my own admission, I had mentioned my previous struggles with anxiety. The gripping worries that seemed to rob me of rest and steal my joy. As a Christian, I understood that God might have been calling me to something more. As a teenager, I rolled my eyes cynically and silently told myself God didn’t care what I did. After all, I was just one girl. Surely, he could fulfill His plans with someone better suited to the role. Her words stuck with me, because I had never thought about them before. It had never once occurred to me, in all my years, that my anxiety and my dreams would be literally forced to come head to head against each other. Due to my worries, I bounced back and forth every other day between "I can do this! I feel so inspired and motivated! God has a definite plan for my life!" and the radically different, "I can't do this. It's too much of an uphill battle, and I'm not even sure God wants me to do this.” I spent most of the time in the negative headspace associated with the latter, especially whenever college majors and careers were brought up. Having to stutter out an answer made my heart palpitate, my palms sweat, and my head ache with unanswered questions of my own. Not everyone thought like my friend’s mother; that my talents were both a gift from God and a challenge set before me to draw myself closer to Him. Most people told me I was being unwise, and that I needed to just settle into a “normal” or “sensible” field. I didn’t have to like it, and whatever “hobbies” I might have enjoyed, I could make time for on the side.

When the time came to choose a college to attend, I picked the college that my family wanted me to pick, and I enrolled in the major that I felt society wanted me to pursue. Business. Now, I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype that creative types aren’t mathematically inclined, but in my case it has never been more true. Equations and I harmonize about as well as nails on a chalkboard. If I were to tell you about all of the events that occurred during my first year of college, it would probably sound about the same. Just one long screech. I don’t think I’d ever been more drained, both emotionally because I was miserable and unfulfilled, and physically because I was seriously losing sleep over that math homework. In hindsight, I don’t think I was quite yet ready to move away to an out of state college. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. Moving away from everything I had ever known only made that decision and transition more difficult.

Living in a dorm suite with five other girls, three to a room, I had little time to myself. There was also very little space for that matter. Anything I did was confined to my bunk or the tiny desk that I used for storage more than for anything else. There was no room for canvases and no closets to keep sewing supplies or crochet materials in. There was only space for the essentials, which, for a college student, is clothes, ramen, and a laptop. For the most part, I used the laptop to binge-watch videos and movies in an effort to distract myself from my sadness and lack of clarity. I was truly unfulfilled by everything I was doing, and every person I tried to talk to about it told me that college wasn’t about fulfillment; college was just about getting through it. One day I suppose I got tired of binge-watching all the latest shows from underneath my mounds of mismatched blankets. I had so much creative energy pent up inside of me, and nothing to do with it. I needed to do something, I needed to create. The only supply at hand was my laptop, I opened up my word processor and I started writing.

I wrote quite literally as if my life depended on it, because for a while it did. As soon as I was finished with my homework, I would start writing. I would do homework ahead of time so that I could spend more time writing. I would get up even earlier in the morning before classes so that I could write. It brought me joy, and it brought me the fulfillment that I so desperately needed. I’m not sure what I would have become if I hadn’t started writing. There’s no telling how deep I could have sunk into depression and self-pity. However, once I started writing, I wrote everything from short stories to 80,000 word novels. I wrote personal essays, research papers (for fun, I promise), journals - I even started editing other people’s papers for them free of charge just because I loved the craft so much. It gave me life and literally filled my cup when I thought my business classes would kill me. It made me feel free when I had otherwise felt suffocated by the mold that society was pressing me into.

My suite mates and I never really bonded the way I had hoped. We were very different types of people, so when they went out all night to go to parties, I didn’t mind having the entire apartment to myself. I would go wild with ideas, jotting things down in notebooks and typing them up again in my laptops. I welcomed the quiet, because it allowed for my mind to relax and for my imagination to take control. It was in those quiet moments that I began to feel God’s presence. College classes stressed me out, and the thought of dropping out or failing stressed me even more. Whenever I was writing however, I had a peaceful feeling. It felt so good to let my soul rest and stop trying to fit it into a mold that God hadn’t designed for me. My heart would beat to the rhythm of my keyboard as my fingers worked quickly to type up all the thoughts in my head. With each new page, I would feel a little bit lighter and a little bit more joyful. It made no sense - I wrote mostly fiction. It wasn’t real, and yet it had such an impact on me. Writing had this impact on me. The Bible talks about this feeling and explains in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (ESV). I think I was able to connect so well to God when I was writing because I was creating, and God is the ultimate Creator. In creating art, in pouring a part of myself into what I was writing, I was connecting with God, and I was finally given peace. I was letting go of my burdens and enjoying doing what God had created me for: to create even more.

Although with that peace, I became even more disconnected from my business classes. I started to realize that it was not where God wanted me to be, and when I tried to figure out where He did want me to be, the answer scared me. I was right back in high school. Scared, confused, and having no idea what to do next. Except this time, the answer was far more clear. To go back to the creative fields. I wanted to be a writer. That one revelation set off a whirlwind of questions that rivaled any of the self-inflicted interrogations my prior panic attacks had put me through. What would I write? Would I ever be able to get a job? How would I tell people I was switching my major? What if people judged me? And the worst of all… What if I never wrote anything worth reading?

Then again came that strange feeling of peace. God spoke to me, perhaps not audibly, but he spoke to me all the same. As I laid down in my bunkbed, a verse came to my mind. A verse that I had studied time and time again in Sunday school, and that was a part of one of my favorite Biblical stories: the story of the Exodus. I had always loved the idea of God setting His people free. I suppose it was because I so desperately wanted to be free from anxiety. I had never wondered though what it must have been like for Moses, their leader, who literally begged God to send anyone but himself. Moses was just like me. God had called him to do something, but he struggled with anxiety and nearly allowed fear to get in the way of fulfilling God’s ultimate plan for his life and for the nation of Israel. He begged God to send someone else, just as I had tried and failed to find a new calling in life. When I realized this, I was overwhelmed. Exodus 4:11-12 tells us, “Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (ESV). I know that in that particular passage God was talking to Moses, but in that moment it felt as though the words were meant only for me. I was meant to go, and once I did, God would teach me what to say. He would help me write something worth reading. He would be with me always. In one of those quiet moments, when I allowed myself to just be creative and to explore all the possibilities without a single bit of fear getting in the way, I had found my own burning bush.

It was only in my head and my heart but it was a miraculous sign all the same. It excited me and even frightened me, but I couldn’t ignore it. In fact, I wanted more of it. More of God’s presence in my life, more opportunities to write and use the gift he had given me. Soon after that realization, I transferred to a new school, switched my major, and started my new life.

To my surprise, my family supported me wholeheartedly. I don’t think I ever truly doubted that they would. It was the rest of the world I was afraid of. But that’s alright. I don’t need everyone to understand why I do what I do; that’s between me and God. Of course, as confident as that may seem, I do still have my moments of panic. Of worry. Of uncertainty. I sometimes feel as if I will always be waging this internal war, this struggle between God's plan, and Satan's schemes. As a person who struggles with anxiety, I often have to remind myself to have faith over fear. That God would not have given me the stories in my head, the passion for the written word, and this ability to write if He did not already have a divine plan in mind, however, the waiting period can be excruciatingly difficult. There are still times I am upset with myself, and I ask God why must my hopes and dreams continually come into opposition with the inner workings of my mind? If I wasn't so timid, scared, fearful, and doubting I might actually have a half-chance of being successful! But each time that happens, I come back to one of those quiet moments. I find myself praying, reading the Bible, reading the same verses in Exodus over and over again if I have to. I allow myself to be creative and to express my love and adoration for God by appreciating His creation. When I do that, I find myself in His presence again, and it brings about a literal peace "that surpasses all understanding” every single time. The world can be frightening, the future can be terrifying, but in those quiet moments I am reminded why I am here: to fulfill the purpose for which God called and created me. I hear God tell me, “Now therefore go.”