First and foremost, I write because I can’t not write. The process of putting my thoughts and experiences into words is vital to understanding my life. The more an incident confuses me, the more I need to unspool it. The more something guilts or shames, the more I scrub to get at its stain. The more something hurts, the more I probe to understand what makes that spot so sore. I’m impelled to write out a detailed log until seemingly disconnected facts and circumstances make sense, not only in my head, but in my heart. As a believer, this is one way the Lord has redeemed lost and damaged portions of my life.
My first novel based on the true story of teaching in an urban middle school is a vivid example. That experience left me broken in a way I couldn’t name, damaged in a way I couldn’t define except as failure. What started as flaming pages from my prayer journal eventually turned into a self-published Kindle: Broken, 180 Days in the Wilderness of an Urban Middle School. Why did it take ten years of written processing, to get to a finished product? That leads me to my next point, what I hope to achieve through my writing.
In the instance of my first book, quite frankly I wasn’t sure. There were so many conflicting goals. Did I want to vindicate myself as a teacher? To prove to myself and others that I wasn’t a failure? Did I want to indict an education system that harmed not helped the most vulnerable of its students? Could I point to what was wrong? Did I have a plan to fix it? If not, was I just a whiner? Who wants to read a whiner? And where was God in my struggle? Why didn’t He help me? Help my students? If I wrote the truth, would I embarrass myself and dishonor the God I said I wanted to glorify?
I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to glorify God is to write the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the awful truth because He leads us to and through suffering, the only crucible for the soul. It was my emotional agony, coupled with the Truth of God’s Word, that showed me what was really at stake, my self-worth through a positive identity. Up until my collapse as a teacher, I’d relied on my professional competence as the foundation of my identity. The answer to who am I was a good teacher. Ironically, as a failing teacher, I was in the same category as my minority, under-achieving students who were at the bottom of the heap by the world’s standards. I felt their frustration and anger as it mirrored my own. I fought to prove myself in illegitimate ways just as they did. As long as I clung to my accomplishments, I could not rest in my core identity as God’s beloved child. Knowing this in my head, did nothing to extinguish my pride. I persisted in self-reliance until God stripped me of my laurels and all I had was what Jesus accomplished on the cross in my place, until my spotless new persona as his precious daughter was more real than anything I could manufacture on my own.
I’m almost done with the rough draft of my second book, a memoir with the working title: Breadcrumbs, A Baby Boomers Path to Jesus. If I really learned my lesson about my core identity in Christ, and my deepest goal is to glorify God, then what’s keeping me from finishing? For three years I’ve been writing about God’s mercy despite the peccadillos of my youth. It’s a challenge to record unbecoming incidents without refracting some of their foolish glare. And yet without full disclosure, I shrink God’s grace.
When my friend asked me what I wanted from all my efforts, the self-less answer was that others might benefit from my stories. They might find comfort in the fact that they are not alone. They might see there is a living God who cares about them. That his sovereign plans reach far and above any personal disasters large or small.
These virtuous desires are true. But more selfish wishes are also true: I want to accomplish something important. I want whatever talent I possess to be affirmed and applauded. I want to not only be self-published, but also published by a traditional publisher of the highest caliber. I want a skillful editor to help me bring my writing to the level of literature. I want a wonderful agent who will encourage me and teach me how to reach the widest audience. Does that mean I’m not writing for God’s glory but my own? Am I angling for a new professional identity as a writer instead of a teacher? Has acclaim as a writer become my new idol?
Framed in the negative, my hopes are clearly my deepest fears. Either I will succeed and lose my privacy, or conversely, I will be rejected by publishers, and dismissed by the public and critics alike. My tale will miss the mark, too worldly for believers, too Jesusy for readers from the world at large, and none of my efforts will make a whit of difference to anyone. These fears and mixed motives have kept my memoir parked by the side of the road. If I don’t try, I can’t fail. If I’m not vulnerable, I can’t be exposed as less than perfect. Perhaps timidity is another guise for pride.
This then, is my advice to myself: Don’t listen to the voices in your head telling you it’s too risky to be real. You serve an omniscient God who isn’t surprised by your past, present or future, and it’s to Him you must give account. Don’t listen to the voices that say your book isn’t good enough, you’ll be a laughing stock. Who will be laughing? Not your God, not your true friends. If your goals are muddy, so be it. Keep trusting in the process of redemption and the Holy Spirit will reveal anything your heart needs to understand. If you are serving a God who is truly good and truly omnipotent, He can use the worst of you for his best. For nothing, not your worst writing, nor your most excellent writing, can remeasure your worth to the Heavenly Father who adores you. Finally, if you trust that your creator has endowed you with all the abilities you possess, then you are free to run towards your goal, resting in the knowledge that it’s His power that so wondrously works in you—so leave all the results above and write on.