On September 8, I gave up.
I told God, “I’m done. If writing isn’t what You want me to do, I won’t do it. I’ll let it go. I do let it go.”
And I did. I dropped it on the floor. There wasn’t much left of it—I’d crushed it nearly to dust with all my clutching and clinging—and the wind blew it away.
It took the better part of two years for me to get to that point.
Two years of wrestling with God, who was gently trying to pry my fingers off this idol. Two years of clinging to the broken fragments of a broken dream as if they were a lifeline. Two years of trying to piece them back together in any way at all.
When I finally opened my hands and let the shards fall, the letting go was not as hard as I’d feared. The sense of loss was negligible. Instead I felt immeasurably lighter, freer.
For 30 hours I thought I was done writing. I thought my fears of the past two years were being realized—only I wasn’t afraid. I mostly felt relieved. I wasn’t going to write….Think how much freer my days would be! Think how I’d have time to learn to draw or play the piano or get a job—one that paid money! I would no longer be a financial drain on my family. My work would finally pay.
And then, driving home the next evening, I realized God was not asking me to give up words. He was only asking me to give up all the idols I’d built with them—the idol of love (when I am famous, I will be loved), the idol of productivity (when I have written enough words that have been read by enough people, my existence will be justified), the idol of performance (when I have written well enough, I will have proved my worth).
Then too there was the codependence, the desire for approval and acclaim, the habitual placing of judgment in other people’s hands, allowing myself to be defined by what they said and thought (or what I thought they thought) rather than by what God says and thinks. Or even by what I say and think without reference to them.
It wasn’t writing that was the problem. It was the way I had turned it into an idol to satisfy desires only God could satisfy. It had long (always?) been a means to an end. And it was this using of words for my own idolatrous ends that God had been so long and so gently trying to pry from my hands.
All those months that I’d been fighting and floundering, God was simply asking me to surrender all the muck that I’d mixed in with the words so that He could give the words back to me purified.
As I drove home into the setting sun, I sensed Him say, “I give them back to you.”
I was not sure I could be trusted with them. I am still not sure I can be trusted with them. I am horrified by the ways I tried to use them. But even so He seemed to be offering them back to me.
Two years! Two years it took me to give the words to God…only to have Him breathe away all the idolatrous dross and give them back. Oh the laughable irony! But I don’t think I’d have wanted them back purified before now. It was the dross I wanted. Now I want the words. I had to get to the place of realizing that—of that being true—before I was willing to let them go.
That old saw is really true: if you love something, you’ll be willing to let it go. When the words were finally what I loved, I let them go. And God gave them back. So here I sit with this incredible gift in my hands. For two months I’ve sat staring at this gift with no idea what to do with it.
I have been afraid I would sully it again. I know I still harbor codependent habits of thought and that I still want, every time I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb.
I also know what I did not know two years ago, which is that I am not as great a writer as I used to think. In the past four years I’ve read a steady diet of excellent books which have slowly revealed to me the lack in my own writing. Given the fact of my relative mediocrity, I have wondered these past months how I can continue to write?
And can I publish what I write? Can I humbly offer my words, aware that they are not what they ought to be? Can I risk looking like a fool? Can I risk actually being a fool?
Slowly, the answers to those questions have come back: yes, yes, yes, and yes. If it is for Christ, in obedience to Him—yes.
As I’ve looked at this gift in my hand and pondered whether I will receive it and offer it humbly and to the best of my ability to others, these words of Elizabeth Goudge have come again and again to my mind:
As to results he tried not to worry. He would have liked to have been in the first class but that was beyond one’s control. If one’s intellectual equipment was not great, one’s spiritual experience not deep, the result of doing one’s very best could only seem lightweight in comparison with the effort involved. But perhaps that was not important. The mysterious power that commanded men appeared to him to ask of them only obedience and the maximum of effort and to remain curiously indifferent as to results.
—Elizabeth Goudge, The Scent of Water
The truth is, I do know what to do with this gift. I have known since the day it was placed back in my hands. I have only been afraid to do it. (Fear is always at the root of things for me.) But I am learning to face my fear and do the work anyway. I am learning to say yes even when I’m afraid.
And today, I finally did.