I have always loved writing and find it easy to put pen to paper. When I was still at school, one of the hardest tasks I had to learn was called ‘precis’, learning how to summarise longer passages of writing in relatively few words. I struggled to do this, finding that being succinct and clear was not as easy as I had imagined. At the time, I also found this a pointless exercise, but over the years I have come to see this as possibly the most valuable lesson I ever learned. It taught a verbose child the importance of constraint.
Just recently I accepted the challenge of writing a story in no more than a thousand words. I found that challenging, requiring ruthless editing and a paring skill I did not grasp easily. But I also found it exhilarating to have to construct a story within the contraint of that word count.
Freedom and constraint seem to me to be a double-sided coin. We think of freedom as licence, the go-ahead to do as we please, and in some ways it is. But true freedom means accepting – and even relishing – constraint and limitations. Freedom is not anarchy, but involves consideration of and care for others.
Many of us chafe at constraint, viewing it as a straitjacket of limitations. I prefer to view it as a corset enabling the flow of a beautifully-cut dress to enhance a woman’s figure. Choosing to live in obedience to God does not mean we are not free. Rather, we choose to live within the boundaries and find within these constraints great joy. Just as the story-writer or poet expresses deep thoughts within the constraint of those literary forms, so we too can find great freedom as we live within the boundaries of God’s vast love and care.