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  • Writer's picturePaige

We Don’t Belong in a Box

We see it in dystopian fiction societies like Divergent and fantasy realms like Avatar: The Last Airbender. We see it in Buzzfeed “Which Hogwarts House Are You?” quizzes and Dungeons and Dragons character alignment charts. But even outside of our favorite fictional universes, society has become more and more obsessed with categorizing – both ourselves and others.

There are ongoing debates over whether someone is more Gen-Z or Millennial. We are fixated on Enneagrams and Myers-Briggs personality typing. We can even quickly decide whether or not we will get along with someone based on their political ideology or astrological sign. Everyone wants to be a part of a group they can identify with, somewhere that they belong. At the same time, we all want to be our own individual selves, to be unique from the rest of the world. So how can we try to categorize ourselves when these two wants are in complete opposition to one another?

The short answer is: we can’t.

Remember that viral image of the dress? Was it blue and black, or white and gold? The answer is actually based on the sensory input our minds process with respect to surrounding colors and lighting. Our brains have evolved to group, categorize, summarize, and make assumptions about everything we encounter in the world, and to do this efficiently. This survival strategy helped us to identify predators versus prey, and even now our mental shortcuts help us filter out unnecessary data in a world of information overload. These assumptions are hard-wired into our brains, and happen so quickly that we hardly realize when we’re being duped.

So what does all this have to do with writing? As writers, we want our stories to be unique, but they have to fit in a specific genre in order to sell. We want our characters to be different from any other, but they still fall into archetypes. Recently a lot of published fiction has embraced the blending of genres to an extent we have not seen before. Instead of the main categories of novels, we can find specifically spliced genres to fit exactly what we want to read. Not only can we find Fantasy or Sci-Fi books, but we can also search the shelves for low-fantasy political dramas, dystopian thrillers, and supernatural romances. Even our genres have genres, but still, we cannot be categorized. Not as writers, and not as people. That’s why no MBTI fits perfectly, and no Hogwarts house can fully capture our values and personalities.

This dilemma stems from our innate desire to be part of God’s family. There is only one answer that satisfies both our want to belong and our desire to be individuals: Jesus! (Yes, Jesus is always the answer.) Wanting to belong or wanting to be different is not a bad thing. God designed us each uniquely, that we might bring glory to Him. In fact, His entire plan for creation includes the diversification of species, and the evolution of our minds to be able to make these assumptions and categorizations. He has given each of us a unique set of talents and gifts, and as we draw closer to who God has created us to be, we also become more of ourselves.

As St. Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”

He mentions the same idea again in a few verses. “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another.”

We were not created to fit inside one box or another, and so we are arguably at our most creative when we embrace the uniqueness God has given us, and use those gifts to fulfill His will for our lives.

C.S. Lewis captures this sentiment beautifully in Mere Christianity. He writes, “even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two pence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

We don’t belong in boxes, and we shouldn’t try to force ourselves into them, either. As Christian writers, we must seek God first, and allow His divine inspiration to help us create our unique stories. When we draw nearer to Him, we become more perfectly ourselves, and more capable of crafting the story that only we can tell.

No one can write your story like you can, so let’s get to work!

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