Everyone knows I go to “church” on Monday nights.
There’s a reason for using quotation marks to envelope that word “church.” It’s a different kind of church than the one I attend on a Sunday morning. There are no pews. There are no hymns or flashing lights. It’s just a bunch of girls, sitting in a living room, infusing the air with commentary on the latest episode of the Bachelorette.
Someone will be quick to say, “That’s not church! Rar! That’s not church.” But me? I am in the camp of believing that church is wherever you get united with other people who are struggling and fighting. Church is any place where God gets invited in. It takes only hope and a reason for God to be there to build a sanctuary. This world is crawling with sanctuaries that have yet to know God is hanging on the beams and breathing in the hallways.
So church. Monday night. I went there. There wasn’t a new episode of the Bachelorette so we all just came to hang out and catch up. There’s a new girl in the mix named Mattie. She lives in North Carolina but makes a regular pilgrimage to Atlanta for business. When she is here, the girls of Bachelorette night scoop her up and take her in because we want her to stay. Forever.
Mattie and I talked books. It was refreshing to talk about fiction and our lists and how we wish we had more time to sit on beaches, sip drinks, and just lose ourselves in good storytelling. We talked about the struggle we sometimes face to finish a book. It’s like you’re going strong in the beginning and you are jiving with the characters but then life hits you and the book hits a lull. You’re left crawling back to the pages months later because you just couldn’t finish what you started.
I tell her that’s my biggest fear as a writer.
“When I was writing my first book, that was what I was always so afraid of,” I told her as I took a sip of my kombucha because I am drinking kombucha these days. “I was afraid to not be liked as a narrator. You are always afraid that someone is going to leave you at page 55 or 92 and they won’t finish with you.”
Being afraid that someone won’t finish with you is reason enough to never start moving at all. We’re human so I think that means we crave a doubt, an impossibility, that will keep us standing in one place. We can never mourn the loss of losing people if we never fight to keep them.
Whether you are someone who wrangles words and puts them on a page or not, you’ve probably been fearful of the same thing. A lot of us are fearful that we will start this road surrounded and end up alone. We are afraid we won’t get the invitation to the party. We are afraid we won’t get chosen. We are afraid we won’t find love or our loved ones will leave us. The fears are mounting on top of one another. We want someone to stay.
I told Mattie that I basically have one rule for my summer reading: I will finish the book. I will not abandon the characters. I will follow through even if it’s painful or annoying or not turning out to be the literature I wanted it to be. I want to be someone who knows how to get to the finish line. I want to know that I might stagger and fall across that finish line but I intend to finish.
I don’t have every good word of wisdom in the world to keep you from giving up but I can say this: this world needs more people who finish things. We are good at starting but we are weak when it comes to finishing.
There’s no great secret to this life we are living. There isn’t some answer being withheld from us. You don’t need to roam through the racks of a bookstore to get better at being human. Just be there for people. Just try your best to finish what you start. Just know: we are all afraid of being left on page 156. We are all anxious that no one will care to understand pages 1-155.
Don’t abandon your people on page 118.
Don’t walk away on page 71.
Forge through the vallies of pages 60-82.
Stay on page 99 for however long you need to, for however long someone needs you to be there. Camp out. Make a fire. Put stakes in the ground. Someone’s faith is going to fail soon. Their faith will fail and they will need someone— maybe you— to bend down and come close enough to whisper, “Page 99 is not all this world has for you. There is more. There is more for you too."