Famous Last Words

by Cynthia Ruchti

Two recent news items caught my attention this week. No, not that. Not that one either. I heard about a woman whose cancer returned with a vengeance and is creating video moments to share her heart and key life lessons with her young daughters if the current protocol of treatment is unsuccessful. I also heard about a very well-known music artist whose only hope for retaining her voice and singing career is to go silent for however long it takes for her vocal cords to heal.

In both cases, the concern is that their voices will be silenced.

Our message can’t be completely silenced, even if our voice is stilled. It lives on in the things and people we loved. It keeps speaking through what we preserve, what we cherish, how we lived, what we wrote.

Most writers have considered–at least for a moment–the question, “What if this is the last book I’ll ever write? Have I said enough? Have I said it well enough? Is this a story that makes a difference?”

We’ve known or been writers who have lost contracts or lost publishing houses or had books that lost momentum. We’ve known or been those who have had to set aside their writing for a season or forever due to illness or caring for a loved one or because of a stunning financial setback necessitating a job with a more consistent paycheck. We’ve known writers who have taken a sabbatical from writing for any of a dozen reasons. Some returned to writing. Others didn’t.

It doesn’t have to be a morbid thought to consider, “What if these are my last words, my last story?” It can motivate us to make sure the quality is the best we can give, that we invest everything we can–emotionally, as well as in research, reflection, and the writing craft–for the sake of readers who will dive into its story. 

Considering each letter or blogpost or interview or article or book as worthy of our best effort–could be the last–helps infuse it with an even higher purpose than telling a good story. The words represent what we care about, and will continue to express themselves and that message even if they’re the last words we write.

God did two important things to ensure that His voice would never be silenced. He left us His Word and His Spirit. With these two gifts, we have everything we need to understand His plan and purposes for us. As II Peter 1:3 assures us, He has in fact given us “everything we need for life and godliness.”

The New Living Translation of that verse and following reads this way: “As we know Jesus better, His divine power gives us everything we need for living a godly life. He has called us to receive His own glory and goodness! And by that same mighty power, He has given us all of His rich and wonderful promises. He has promised that you will escape the decadence all around you caused by evil desires and that you will share in His divine nature. So make every effort to apply the benefits of these promises to your life.”

The woman whose cancer returned may not need those videos she’s producing. But I suspect she and her daughters will view them together anyway. The singer may return to the stage more quickly than expected.

But their sobering stories have already accomplished something. They’ve made writers like me consider that every word we write holds the potential to be the last. So we write thoughtfully, prayerfully, aware of the significance of leaving a legacy like the one God gave through His Word and His Spirit.