[T]here is nothing wrong with being beautiful or being athletic or being smart, but those are some of the pleasures of life, not life’s redemption. — Donald Miller
I spend a lot of time alone. I’m kind of built for that – introspective, analytical, easily made grumpy by people’s use of their own body space (seriously, conversations in the center of the aisle at the grocery store – is that really necessary?). So most days, I love this writing life. Yet, it does come with a price . . . the tendency to spend far too much time having internal conversations with myself. These conversations can quickly become battles inside me, one side coaching me toward self-interest and self-preservation, the other reminding me where my worth rests and from where my help comes. These battles take four forms:
1. The Battle Over Competition. He’s already written a book like mine. She’s better at blogging than I am. How can the world possibly need more editors? I say these things to myself often, particularly if I spend too much time on the internet watching the awesome things other people do. If I’m not careful, these internal whisperings can become actions. I can begin not promoting the work of people who do things that I perceive to be similar to what I do. I can begin to both to myself and to others cut into the work of other people with my words, slicing them down so that I can appear better, wiser, wittier. Competition makes me pretty ugly.
So I try (and fail often) to live with what I think of as the Loaves and Fishes mentality. When I think of Jesus up on a hill with thousands of people low on blood sugar, I am reminded that it doesn’t take much to feed the world – just a willingness to give what we have and let is be used as it is needed. I am reminded that God can do much with little and that if this is the case, surely God can do exactly what is good with much. I don’t need to compete; it’s taken care of by One who knows far better who is good for that moment at that time. Unless I haven’t eaten, then I get grumpy again. Where are MY loaves and fishes?
2. False Humility. I’m not as good as Donald Miller. I can’t blog as well as Shawn Smucker. Tammy Helfrich knows so many more people than I do. These are the false whisperings that come in when I’m trying to build myself up instead of relying on the One to hold me up. These whisperings are lies I tell myself, not because Don Miller and Shawn and Tammy aren’t awesome (they truly are!) but because I know that I write well, I know that I blog well, I know a lot of people. This isn’t a competition, but when I treat life like it is, I start to tell myself lies so that I can refute them and make myself feel better.
There is no end to the hurt this causes. First, it can make me resent people I truly love, whose work I admire, whose friendship I treasure. Secondly – and perhaps this is even more insidious – these lies can make me devalue the gifts I have been given. Soon, I start to believe that I can’t write as well as Donald Miller rather than realizing that Don Miller and I are not the same person and, thus, do not write the same way. OR these lies can make me think far too highly of myself – Don Miller, what a hack! (I can’t believe I wrote that sentence. Good thing Don Miller doesn’t read my blog.) There is a balance here that can only come when I am honest about myself. I am a good writer; I did not earn this talent – it is all gift. I am not the world’s best writer; I am who I was made to be, and I try to become more of that person each day. Perspective is key.
3. Self-Sufficiency. I can do this myself. I don’t need help. I earned this place I have in life. Because I am a person craves a lot of time alone, this voice can sometimes be the loudest. I can convince myself fairly quickly that the fact that I spend many days by myself means that I have, in fact, built this whole life I live entirely on my own back. What a load of crock!
Truth, when I let myself see it, tells me that all I have is gift – the fact that I was born into a family that told me I could do whatever I wanted with my life, the fact that I was born in a country where I had the freedom to choose a career path, the fact that I made friends who text me just to see how the day went, who will fly across the country to see my new home, the fact that online I had met thousands of people who share my work with others and who send me paying jobs on a regular basis. These are not things I earned by some special talent or hard work; they are gift. And my life, my business, my art would fall apart without them. I need people to encourage me, to call me on my own crap, to sit with me when I’m crying. I cannot do this alone. Not for a single day.
4. Fear. You might have work now, but come November, where will the money come from? You’ve spent all this time on this book, and probably no one will buy it except your mom’s best friend because she has to. These voices aren’t whispers; they are screams inside my own mind. They shout at me from the basement of my spirit and try to lure me down with promises of security if I will only get a real job.
These shouts never really go away. If I turn my ears toward them, they are always as loud as ever. So I have learned to not listen most days. Instead, I listen to that quiet place that is in the center of my chest – that place where I always imagined Jesus had knocked when I was seven and where I opened the door – the heart chakra – the place where love emanates, radiates, reminds. I don’t always succeed in tuning out the voices, but when I am reminded that I am loved and safe and always will be, it’s easier to ignore them.
All these battles come from this idea that somehow I have to do this writing life myself, that I am alone and that if I don’t work hard enough, I will fail. And that failing means not only did I fail as a writer but as a person, that I am unloved and discarded. But these are lies, too. My worth is not set on what I do or how well I do it. It is set on the fact that I am redeemed, and I am loved. Always.
And so are you.
What internal battles do you wage over your calling? How do you counter them?