I just had a moment where I thought, “If I’m not a writer, am I anything?” meaning “anything of value.” I have an attachment to being a writer, or being a something, and attaining my idea of life. If I am not a writer, a thinker, an artist, a good father, someone who can control his addictions and his time, someone who can think without worry, who can find what he “should do,” who can understand, who has some unique skill or calling or benefit, who succeeds and is known for it, who doesn’t care about success or praise, who has useful and profound and beautiful thoughts, who hasn’t been found out as a failure in all these things—
I wish I could find it, but I read a meme earlier with a pic of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer that said something like, “Standing out only leads to benefit if it can also benefit other persons, in which case it becomes extortion.” And that’s quite like the idea of the story, though from a cynical slant.
And while I think the idea needs some counterbalancing to be true, I think there’s something to be said about how worldly success works. Every person is intrinsically out for his own good. Such was the effect of the fall.
If artistic success, and indeed Christian success, is not measured in dollars, then what is success? What would success be for my pursuit of writing?
A life of love is a success. A life spent, poured out, in service to God and others. And what does that look like? It looks like quality relationships. Dialogue. Humility. A corporate and cooperative search for truth. It looks like learning, like recognizing failures and doing what I can to make up for them. It looks like depending upon grace and extending that same grace to others.
Writing is just living. Trying to do what I can to love others. Its success, if it can be called that, is not in how many people respond well to it. Its success is the same as asking “Is it a successful life?” And what is a successful life but a good life, and a good life but one that comes from the life giver, from God? One that lives for God and for others? That is a good life. And thus, that is good writing. To write for God and others. To write with them.
I’m frustrated because I did nothing “worthwhile,” but upon considering what is worthwhile, I find that even those things that I would do if I could do it over again do not have as their motive anything more wholesome than what led to my wasted day. And when I fear the waste of a day when I see it on the horizon, I wonder if I fear not that the Lord loses me but that I lose productivity or growth or whatever idol it is that I worship. If it’s what I think it is, I wonder how many days I have that aren’t wasted.
Of course, I have to qualify this with what Dr. Svigel said. We’re at all times both sinner and saint. When we sin, we don’t wholly sin. When we do good, we don’t wholly do good.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m worried about being a good writer. Or really even just being “a writer,” as if it’s some special breed of human. Indeed, it seems like most articles raise them up, along with other artists, to a pseudo-deity, much the same as celebrities. It draws all my ambition.
A godly man would view fame and wealth as all but worthless—at least for the normal reasons I pursue them. Tolstoy did, but only after discerning their worthlessness from experience. They are utility. Reach more people. Help more people. They carry the responsibility of the Talents,
The thing about the tower of Babel is that they probably would have finished it. The issue wasn’t that God was stopping them from failure. He was stopping them from success, lest they succeed in what would have been a small thing, in reality, but that would have convinced them of their greatness. God stopped them and scattered them lest they convince themselves that they didn’t need him.
Connect this with my own towers. I may actually be able to do these things.
Madeleine L’Engle says to serve the work first and then serve the audience. One does not serve himself. I would prepend this with “serve God.”
Don’t want to write? This is the work that God has given to you. Serve God. Serve the work. Serve those who will read it. Serve with all the effort and intelligence and stubbornness you have.
I read a compliment someone gave a friend of mine’s piece.
Blackbeard in an Armani
His cross-bone skibbies ride over a sharkskin belt
A white-and-red mint hides his Gehenna breath
Clean-shaven scars swath his cheeks and chin
And his sword arm waves against the sky