I wonder why some people write memoirs and some do not. Recently I have been considering the possibility of writing a memoir.
You are likely thinking, “Why would he even consider writing a memoir?” That is a fair question. As a preacher for more than 60 years, I have done a lot of writing. I have written countless sermons, numerous articles for various publications and chapters in various books.
I wrote a book with the title, The Best of Hard Times. It was the story of my own family dating back to the 1800s. I wrote a self-published book called Stories for Small Angels. I even did a book signing for that book at the local Barnes and Noble. I am still getting phone calls asking if I would be interested in republishing that book. I tell them I am honored they are asking. They tell me everything they will do and then admit, “You will need to help us by paying this nominal cost.” This is “ego trap” marketing. All of us are susceptible to this trap, but it would seem we preachers are particularly susceptible.
Preachers have written sermons for their entire ministries. When I started preaching, I would scribble a few notes on whatever paper I had available. Eventually, I started writing outlines. I used a method with the headings, exegete, illustrate and apply that was taught by Clyde Fant, my preaching professor at Southwestern Seminary. Later in my ministry, I went to Southern Seminary for my doctor of ministry degree. It was then I started writing manuscripts.
Writing a sermon manuscript is hard work. But the interesting thing is you begin to appreciate the craftsmanship and that turns hard work into something enjoyable. It is very much like jogging or any other kind of exercise. You do not enjoy it until you are doing it or until you have finished it.
“What do writing and working in the yard have in common?”
All my ministry and even into retirement I have enjoyed working in the yard, especially in the spring. That is true for a lot of pastors. A pastor’s work is never done. Visiting hospitals and homes, counseling folks who are hurting or perhaps their marriage is falling apart, church administration and leadership, listening to complaints and criticism and a myriad of other tasks wears you out. You come home exhausted, yet working in the yard is relaxing.
So, what do writing and working in the yard have in common? The answer is you can see what you have done. Both provide a sense of completion that makes you feel good almost like a narcotic.
Perhaps that is the reason I have been struggling with the question of writing a memoir. I need my fix.
I was up very early one morning thinking about all this. I was wondering what I will do in these mornings in the future if I don’t write a memoir and more immediately what I would do that particular morning. My answer was if I can’t write I will read. I reached over and grabbed a book I don’t remember having read before.
The book was Time to Remember written by Lloyd C. Douglas, the most widely read novelist of his time. Before he was a novelist, he was the pastor of Saint James United Church in Quebec, Canada.
In the foreword of his book, he tells that after he wrote The Magnificent Obsession he wanted to retire. However, his doctor in essence told him, “If you don’t get back to work writing, writing anything, it will hasten your death.” Douglas then wrote his memoir.
He made the right decision. However, Lloyd Douglas was a world-renowned writer. I am grateful to friends who have put in the work to write their memoirs. I have decided not to write mine. I will just keep working in the yard.
Gary Cook serves as pastor of Gaston Oaks Baptist Church in Dallas and previously was executive director of Gaston Christian Center. He has been a pastor and denominational leader for six decades.