by- Posted on Sep 7, 2008
A couple of blogs back a very kind reader posted a compliment about my writing, which is the third best thing you can say to me (the first is a compliment about my wife, Julee, and a close second is a nice word about my dog, Millie). That reader said she particularly enjoyed the devotionals I contribute to our popular annual book, Daily Guideposts, Spirit-Lifting Thoughts for Every Day of the Year.
We sell upwards of a million copies annually for the simple reason that the book is filled with incredibly inspiring—and entertaining—stories by the best devotional writers in the world. The funny thing is, for a long time I resisted writing for it. It took my old friend and dear mentor Van Varner to convince me, and an argument over guacamole.
Van was a taskmaster, and writing for him was like climbing a mountain. You wrote and rewrote and re-rewrote. And if you were lucky, he didn’t completely rewrite what you’d already repeatedly rewritten. It was as if Van had some sort of Platonic ideal of a GUIDEPOSTS story that could never quite be achieved, but must always be striven for almost fanatically.
So I dodged his early invitations to try my hand at devotional writing. Devotionals are short, just a few hundred words, and the shorter the piece the harder Van usually made you work. As Mark Twain—one of Van’s literary idols—once deadpanned, “I apologize for the length of this letter but I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.”
Van kept at me, convincing me to edit some pieces by aspiring devotional writers. I liked the challenge but became even more aware of the difficulty of compacting a strong story and clear spiritual lesson into so relatively few words.
Then one morning I slouched on Van’s office couch, yawning. “I was up late arguing with Julee,” I said. Van was too courtly to ask about what but I knew he was dying to know. “Guacamole,” I finally said, and explained how we’d had a disagreement over a guacamole recipe that metastasized into an argument lasting till the wee hours until we both realized how absurdly pointless the fight was and dissolved into exhausted laughter causing our cocker spaniel to bark hysterically and wake all the neighbors.
“Did you agree to disagree?” Van asked.
“More or less,” I said. Mainly we agreed that it wasn’t worth getting divorced—or annoying our neighbors—over guacamole.
“That’s a devotional!” Van shouted. “You’ve practically written it already. Get to work!”
So I did. And I’ve been writing them ever since, about 10 a year, for the past 15 years or so. Like a lot of devotional writers I go through life with a kind of spiritual sonar, pinging for those moments that might make a devotional. I’ve written devotionals about my dogs, of course, my mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s, my habit of chewing on pens until the ink explodes in my mouth, seeing the Book of Kells in Dublin, hiking the mountains in New England, watching Julee perform on Saturday Night Live, walking the neon streets of Seoul, South Korea, junk email, embarrassing gaffes (too numerous to enumerate), crazy work interruptions, my Down Syndrome brother, growing older (and shorter!), filing my first joint tax return, helping the homeless (all too reluctantly), getting lost in South America, buying a new suit for my first job interview in New York and of course finding a spiritual lesson in guacamole. Often my friends are wary of me, nervous that I will put them in a devotional—and they have reason to be wary.
Thanks to Van Varner, devotionals have not only helped me become a better writer but a better person by compelling me to keep a spiritual lens focused on everyday events that I might otherwise let pass, finding lessons I might never have learned. And that’s what makes a devotional work for the reader too—seeing the divine in the everyday.
The writers at Daily Guideposts are like a family. That’s what the readers say time and again. It’s a family I’m incredibly grateful to be a member of. You should check us out. Who knows, maybe you’ll want to be part of the family too. I bet you will.
Edward Grinnan is Editor-in-Chief and Vice President of GUIDEPOSTS Publications.