Writing It Out: Show and Tell

If you read the title and thought, “Here comes another lecture on how we should show rather than tell in our writing,” then clearly you have taken a writing class or read other authors’ blogs. And there is good advice in those considerations. But that’s not what I’m talking about today. For one thing, I’m still not very good at show versus tell. I can’t teach what I don’t know.

Truthfully, showing is (at least as far as I can tell) always more effective than merely telling. And this is coming from someone who is an auditory learner in the extreme.

Learning styles and gender differences DO play a role in how much we process visuals. We all learn best in our own ways; that’s part of what allows for diversity and building on each other’s strengths and weaknesses. But no matter our style or personality or whatever other factors are at play, we all do best when more of our senses are engaged and when something touches us deeply rather than just on the surface.

And that is the dilemma I face.

Have you ever been REALLY passionate about something and wanted to share that passion with others but experienced a lot of resistance? If yes, then you probably have thought or even said something along the lines of, “If you could just see this, you would understand.” So how do you make that happen?

Telling someone about your passion rarely ignites their passion for the same thing. If you are particularly good at word pictures, you might be able to tell stories which will effectively show what you are talking about, but until the person you are trying to convince sees the situation for themselves, they probably won’t be convinced.

I watched an episode of a TV show with my husband last night that gave a classic example of this. One of the characters really wanted his friends to give money to a certain cause that was near and dear to his heart. The group was reluctant but didn’t want to be rude so they each gave. One of the characters accidentally gave a very large sum of money to the cause when he was in a hurry and forgot a decimal point. The character encouraging his friends to give understood and arranged for a meeting with the person who would need to authorize the refund. In going to meet with that person, the donor saw the work to which he gave and he decided he didn’t need a refund after all. Seeing the work first hand sparked in him a desire to be part of what they were doing.

Even the most passionate and engaging of us can’t tell a story well enough to bring it to the level of firsthand knowledge and experience. You want someone to really understand your passion for feeding the homeless, you have to take them with you, let them see and hear and smell and feel and taste your world and work. Until then, they might have a compassionate response that says, “Yes, I know I have more than I need and they have nothing, I’ll give something to the cause,” but they won’t really get it.

I’ve sat in many a service where someone presented a work, be it a mission trip or a camp or a shelter or any of a number of things. There were speakers who by their passion made me go, “Huh, that’s interesting.” And there were speakers that were incredibly dull but I hung on their every word because they were talking about something that I was already excited about. And that’s how it goes with most of us. Few people are going to hop on board a cause just by hearing about it, or even watching a short video about it. It needs to touch on something they are already interested in.

And now I am faced with just wanting people to be excited about something and knowing that telling you about it isn’t going to get you there. I can tell you all of the statistics, but probably the fact that we live in a state where the population of Bible believing Christians is less than 1% is at most going to cause mild shock. I can show you pictures, but that’s just going to show you that we live in a place of dramatic beauty. I can tell you stories of the people we have met and their brokenness, but that’s only going to tell you that there are hurting people here just like anywhere.

Perhaps I can play on your desire to travel; certainly I can convince close friends and family to come see us because they love us. But I still can’t bring anyone to the point of joining in my passion for this place, to share in my heart for spreading the Gospel to my neighbors. If I tell you the stories and this is already something you care about, you’ll be more likely to be interested. But to really give you a taste of why this matters so much to us, I would have to get you here, take you with me to the places where the need is most evident. I’d have to introduce you to people, show you just how prevalent the darkness is. As we go, I would tell you the same things I could tell you writing a blog post about it, but I would be showing you as well as telling.

Recruitment for any cause is one of the hardest things. And that’s especially true when you are recruiting for something that involves asking people to make a sacrifice, to have to give not just time or money but part of themselves. We are stingy enough with our time and money, but if we have to invest our hearts into something, we tend to back away quickly. Investing our hearts opens the door to hurt, and we REALLY don’t like pain. That’s one reason we become apathetic; we know that caring can result in an investment which could really cost us something. And that’s why seeing the need first hand is so much more effective; it requires at least some small investment of self which can open the door for bigger investment.

There’s simply no way to write that out. There’s no way to tell you anything that would be quite as effective as showing you in person where we live and work.

Don’t worry, if I invite you to come see us, it’s not simply a recruitment tactic. I understand that not everyone is meant to be in this spot with us. But if you do visit, be prepared that I will probably try to point out at least some of what is going on around us. I want to share my passion with people, not just because I would love if others were invested in it too, but also because people are more likely to pray and to encourage if they see what we are doing and begin to understand the why behind it. We would not be here if we weren’t certain this is where we are meant to be. This morning, I saw a beautiful house posted for sale for less than we would have to pay for the land it sits on if it was here. It was in a nice area, close to family, and big enough to meet our dreams not just our needs. From a human standpoint, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for us to be here and yet every need we have is met in abundance. We are exactly where we are supposed to be, even down to the place we live. And I want you to be able to see that so you can rejoice with us in what God has done and is doing. To Him be the glory.