About six years ago, I’d just finished a TV series, I was deep in a radio play and toying with the idea of writing my autobiography, leading a happy and busy and messy life. I’d been a writer for half a lifetime and in that time I’d been widowed, gone through surgery, seen my daughter married, become a grandmother…. busy, busy, busy. Razamatazz. But something was missing.
From a standing start, someone who had been to the theatre only once and left school at 16, I’d become a writer and exec producer, and it was a good life because it was always about the thrill of writing, not about success. Starting out, I had been over-awed by meetings full of intellectuals, graduates, execs, Oxbridge types, middle class men with suave confidence, but over the years I had come to realise that I belonged there. Whatever else I was, or wasn’t, I was a dramatist. These clever people were all there because I was there. Without a writer, there would be nothing to make. Without them nothing would be made. Equals. At home in that environment.
But the awareness of that ‘something missing’ persisted and when I wandered into a little red church and heard a challenge “We are called to lead a holy life. Are you leading a holy life?” the question hit me where it hurts. It took my breath away. Stunned.
I knew what I was looking for, a life with God, a life I’d slipped away from when I started writing.
I dutifully finished my current projects but since then I’ve written only radio plays, work that could be done from home, not in pre-production meetings or post-production edit suites, not in studios or on set, just quietly tapping away at my desk and missing nothing of church life. From going to London every few days, rising at four to attend morning meetings, returning at midnight, working and planning and having FUN, driving fast cars too fast, busy, busy, there was suddenly …. stillness. Aloneness.
After such single-minded non-stop writing, I really couldn’t talk about anything other than scripts and film making. I had no small talk. Still don’t. The church was lovely and accepting but we spoke different languages and overnight, like some sort of internal collapse, all my confidence fled. Who was I? A fish out of water, that was me. The church was small so it didn’t take a whole lot of people to make it feel crowded, too many strangers and conversations to navigate so I decided I needed something to do. You know – something to do – a way to be useful, carving out a little niche to hide in when the chatter was going on. I persevered, trying to find a role. I tried this, I tried that. Nothing doing.
One day I mentioned to an established bloke in the church that I was really looking for a role in church life and he said “People always want cakes. You could try baking cakes.” What???? Fortunately I wasn’t holding a gun or a baseball bat. I was speechless. Is this who God wanted, a cake-baking old woman? But my companion didn’t notice my silence – he said that firemen always wanted cakes, and then there’s the ambulance crews, the nurses, the bin collectors…. I managed not to choke the life out of him.
Fast forward a few years to the Covid lockdown, and like many others I’m much more domestic than usual. A couple of days ago I made a cake for friends and drove to their house to deliver it. My granddaughter nipped out and knocked on their door and when she came back to the car she was smiling – she had told our friend ‘Nana has a new ministry – cake making.’
Wow! That sent me back to that day when I could have cheerfully strangled a perfectly nice man for suggesting the very same thing. What I so deplored has come about. Flip me! Is this a lesson? What is God telling me? What is he showing me? He wasn’t finished, the lesson concluded today:
This morning two very different new writers asked me for advice. One is just about to begin drawing together a dozen threads with no clear vision yet of what she’s weaving, and one is preparing for his first commissioning meeting with an embryonic ‘good idea’. Neither of them quite know where their narrative is leading and both are uncertain about how to proceed. The advice I gave them both was “Distill all the ideas you have about this piece, decide where the core truth is, and then chase that core truth and nothing else. You don’t have to know where it’s taking you, truth will find its own ending.”
I didn’t say it that clearly – I write better than I speak. It’s something I’ve come to believe through my work because in any story told with truth, truthful characters, truthful intentions, truthful consequences, light and shade, there will be a natural conclusion. It may not be the neat ending you hoped for or planned at the beginning of the process but it will be true.
A few hours later, as I drove through the beautiful countryside (yes, delivering another cake, weird, eh?) my thoughts came together with startling clarity. I’ve come full circle, from competent writer to inefficient idler and occasional cake maker. I’ve lost myself along the way but I know now that this is what I needed to do all along. And now God has drawn a line under this strange few years, the lesson is learned, and it’s time to move on. How do I know? I know because this narrative has reached a perfectly satisfying conclusion, told in truth. My narrative is that drawing near to God is all about being, not doing. That I don’t have to be the sorter-outer of problems, or the writer who gets an audience of millions, I don’t have to drive across country at dawn to auditions in London (just as well – one pre-dawn I hit a fox and wrote off a Jaguar and nearly killed myself) but neither do I have to be busy and productive in church, because I don’t have to belong there. I don’t have to belong to any group of people. I already belong, to God.
God loves me even when I’m no earthly use to anyone.
I read ‘Shaped by the Word’ a couple of years ago and although I’m not in the habit of marking up books, I underlined one paragraph and drew a great big exclamation mark next to it. I knew then it meant something very pertinent for me but it’s taken a while to grasp it.
‘Are you willing to offer something to God as a discipline and to keep offering it day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year – to continue offering it for God to use in whatever way God wants in your life and have God do absolutely nothing with it? If you are (and don’t answer that too quickly) then you are engaging in a spiritual discipline that will cut to the heart of all those debilitating dynamics of our culture…’
Well, Robert Mulholland Jr, thank you (the emphasis is his). This meant so much to me that today, two years later, I remembered where that passage was, the top of a right hand page, towards the end of the book, and I went straight to it. The paragraph was seared in my mind.
For five years, I’ve offered my service to God day after day, on the beach, at my desk, ankle deep in the Irish Sea, going around Tescos, always asking God to use me whatever I was doing, whether it was worshipping, helping old ladies across the road, or pulling the injured out of blazing buildings (OK, I’m going too far now). I’ve offered and offered and offered and God has done absolutely nothing with those offers. Say that again, Luce….
‘I’ve offered and offered and offered and God has done absolutely nothing with those offers.’
Yes, that’s what I said but ahhh! That’s where I’ve been getting it SO wrong. He’s done a whole load with every day and every prayer, and taught me so much while all that ‘nothing’ was going on; that all he wants from messy old me is messy old me.
So, story told. This chapter in my life is ending. I’m going back to England next year. I don’t know why. I just know that this is where I must go next. The advice I gave to my writer friends is advice God has given to me, “You don’t have to know where it’s taking you, truth will find its own ending.”
I’m here until my granddaughter finishes school next July and then I’ll be off. No regrets, no looking back, just ‘off’ and I know that even if God has nothing in store for me to do over there, his ‘nothing’ will be perfect and exactly what I need. There will be new lessons in that nothing, a closer walk with God. Peace comes when he leads and I follow, even when I don’t seem to be moving at all.
So we are convinced that every detail of our lives is continually woven together to fit into God’s perfect plan of bringing good into our lives, for we are his lovers who have been called to fulfill his designed purpose. For he knew all about us before we were born and he destined us from the beginning to share the likeness of his Son.
Romans 8:28-29 The Passion Translation