When I was twelve, my family and I moved to Nicaragua. I had visited every summer prior to the move and had cousins my age already living in Managua, so making friends was relatively easy. But I made one friend that had an interesting effect on me.
This friend is nice. Exceptionally nice. The epitome of nice. Maybe even the definition of nice.
She's the kind of person that knows everyone by name and takes the time to chat no matter what's on her agenda. She walks into a party like a mayor—stopped every two steps for a hug and pleasantries by someone new. Because she's friends with everyone. I joke that making plans with her is as difficult as booking an audience with the Pope.
And all these years, every time I hang out with her, I feel one thing above all:
"I wish I could be that nice..."
I've always wondered why this one friend has this effect on me. I know plenty of nice people—dozens of generous and loving people, actually—but only this one friend makes me aspire to be better, nicer, sweeter. How could a single person plant that seed in me so deeply?
In the book, Fr. James Martin S.J. explains that we feel like emulating people we view as "holy" because holiness is innately attractive to us. It's one way that God calls us to Him. It's why we're drawn to people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, or even Saint Theresa of Calcutta. On a smaller scale, in the new media environment, we could say the same for authors and public personalities like Oprah, Elizabeth Gilbert, or Deepak Chopra (depending on how holy you consider them, of course.)
The holiness in others calls the holiness in us to grow and expand.
And so, it adds up that this friend of mine—the epitome and definition of "nice"—was inadvertently calling me to grow and and expand, too.
Over the years, I've been working on catching up.
* * *
For the life of me, I can't explain why I love to write.
When I think about it, I have no clue why it's words that call to me. Why isn't it a sport or design or clothes or medicine or anything-other-than-writing that I love? I've written before about how I envy people born with strong vocations, but my own is actually becoming crystal clear.
Writing lets my soul out into the world, to reach other souls.
There's just one problem. As I catch up to being as "nice" as my friend, the changes are showing through in my writing.
For instance, I've always dealt with my ego popping up in the work I publish. Whenever things take a downturn or I feel like I'm wasting my efforts writing for "just a few people", I get discouraged and quit for a while. Now that I'm writing more about spirituality instead, I'm more than happy to write to help even just one person. Now, it feels like I must sit down and write for that person, actually.
Another problem is the topics I write about have jumped around probably once a year since I started blogging. That's approximately seven big topic changes, including social media marketing, fitness, entrepreneurship, creativity, and now faith. But when I look back at the trajectory of these changes, I know they've all been leading me here, slowly but surely on a path to helping people alleviate their suffering. (That sounds deep, and it is, but it doesn't have to be dark. More on this some other day.)
Maya Angelou once said:
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
That's exactly how I feel—but about my experiences, thoughts, and insights.
So many "successful" writers focus on one topic: technical marketing writing, or freelancing, or fashion, or whatever. Not my jam. I can't consistently write about one topic for years on end. My personal interests and explorations take up my entire life, and I can't stop sharing what I'm going through and learning.
It's impossible for me to leave stuff locked up in a private journal if it could help someone else, too.
* * *
In the new movie Silence, two Jesuit priests want to travel to Japan to rescue their mentor who was kidnapped and tortured. When they ask their superior to approve their mission, they explain that the desire to go on this quest is in their hearts. Their superior answers:
"Then I must trust God has put it there."
In the same way, I'm trusting that God has put these desires—to be kinder, to write—in my heart.
I'm not becoming a new person overnight. By all means, I'm definitely not the nicest person on the planet, and I'm no best-selling author. (Just ask JJ or my bank account.) But I am trusting there's a reason why I'm changing.
It isn't necessarily easy, either. Change brings its problems, even when it's for the better. Some people drop off, like friends or readers who aren't interested in this part of my journey. Writing about this definitely doesn't make "business sense."
Even when we change for the better, there will always be a squeezing of the sponge, letting out the excess water.
That's okay. While it isn't easy, it does feel natural. Comforting, even.
Have you ever wondered if the desires in your heart were put there for a reason?
PS. If this article spoke to you, you'd enjoy my mini-project: Everyday Salt. Let me know what you think? :-)