In the early days, to admit that I wanted to be a writer was painfully embarrassing. “What are your hobbies?” someone would ask.
“Um, nothing really.” The asker’s eyebrows would freeze into question marks. But I hated being boring, so desperately I’d cast about for a better answer. “I used to jog, but I have bad knees.” His expression would start to glaze over. “I’ve thought about gardening,” I might stutter. But my husband wouldn’t let it lie.
“That’s not true! You’re a writer! She’s a writer,” he’d proclaim proudly. And the asker would smile and I would turn three shades of pink, throwback to the days when the cute little redheaded boy glanced in my direction.
I’m not sure what was so awful about admitting a desire to write. It felt so presumptuous, like Dwight Schrute, Assistant to the Regional Manager. “And I have a purple belt in ka-ra-té.”
You would think the grip of self-consciousness would lessen, especially as writing became a daily thing. Wrote a novel? Check. Sold a story? Check. But for every accomplishment, a failure. Queried an agent—did she accept me? Um. No. But you sold that book you wrote, right? Um. Nope. Did that story actually appear in print? Yeah… no. And later, when I began to blog, the failures just felt more public—the lack of glory evident for all to see. When I sold a book, there was even further to fall.
I know I’m not the only one. Ryan Pemberton, in his book, Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again, confesses the same agony, both as an aspiring author and as a grad student at Oxford. “Imposter syndrome,” he’s told it’s called, the irrational but consuming fear of being found out.
I don’t really belong here, and if I’m not careful, I’ll be exposed. Not a real writer. Not quite… enough.
The world of writing, publishing, platforms, and sales, is a world rigged to take the tuck right out of a person. You struggle to summon up courage to say all the things, to say them plain, to tell the truth. You labor to birth this helpless but lovable infant onto paper and send that baby out into the world, only to be rejected time and again. And then, at last, the book is accepted, the deal inked onto paper. And you just can’t help but hope against the odds for unholy vindication—maybe this will be the next great sensation. Maybe this one will put the naysayers to shame.
Ah, but you, wise readers, will have caught my fatal flaw there in the sentences above. All that self-pitying shame is really just the flip side of pride.
Is this something you struggle with, too? The “I’m not yet quite good enough but if I try I can be” line? People usually don’t say the complete sentence, I’ve noticed. We chop it in half and throw an ellipsis in: “I’m just not good enough…” But the dangling, unspoken assumption is that we can be. Probably. Someday.
Mostly our strategy to combat this particular little lie is to tackle the first part. “You are enough,” we tell ourselves, kindness sparkling as we talk ourselves down from the ledge. But maybe we need to also confront the second half of the sentence. Fact is, we never will be—and we don’t have to. When a preschooler hands you a crayon family portrait, the point is not that he’s Michelangelo, it’s that you love his goofy stick figures just as they are.
We aren’t spectacular. We’re just spectacularly loved.
As Tim Keller wisely points out, humility isn’t thinking less of ourselves, it’s thinking of ourselves less. That’s not a strategy that plays well in a platform-driven, personality-parading, click-bait culture. We want to sparkle and shine. But what the world needs isn’t more of me, it’s more of Jesus. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Hang on, you say, aren’t we supposed to shine? In fact, wasn’t it Jesus who said “you are the light of the world?” Absolutely. But maybe He wasn’t calling you to be the sun. Maybe He was calling you to be the moon.
So—writers, pastors, speakers, leaders, singers, shiners—how do we live that out? How do we drag our eyes away from our stats, our status, our successes and our failures? I think the answer is to look into the mirror less, to look up at the Son more. I think it’s to be faithful, plodding along in anonymity if necessary. I think we have to to gain strength for that steadfastness not by daydreaming about far-off days of glory to come, but by daydreaming about the glory of God right now, shining, as He does, quietly, softly, in our midst.
Sara Groves sang it:
“I am the moon with no light of my own. Still you have made me to shine. And as I glow in this cold dark night, I know I can’t be a light unless I turn my face to you.” You Are the Sun
Photos on VisualHunt.