I believe I am undergoing a paradigm shift.
The difference is choosing to love God over loving what I can do for Him, and it is a difficult change.
It started, as it always does, with God, and through his providence, my nightmare dream and novel, Machine. It was really the perfect storm. I was already shaken and frustrated with my work, comparing, stressing, and worst of all trying to patch things in a flustered state. My confidence in my ability to write at all had dwindled to a new low (or at least not one I had experienced in a long time), and having finally come out of my saggy middle, now stitched and sewn into a new and tighter form, I was pleased at last to be able to wipe the sweat and tears from my face and finally get on with the process, to move on to the chapters I’ve always been most fond of, the final curve and stretch of the track. Finally, I had something good. Finally I had a chapter of which I could be proud.
And I do have that, I really do, but, as is so often the case, there was still more work to be done, including, as it turns out, a rather definitive plot point which may yet need to be entirely changed.
To say the least, I was crushed. To put it more accurately, I hit a wall, one from which I wasn’t entirely sure I would ever recover. It’s hard to imagine even now, only days after making a rather spontaneous recovery, how hard I crashed. This was the last nail in the coffin, the last straw on the camel’s back. Ten years I had poured my heart and soul into this novel, ten years I had slaved to grow this thing, and now, even after all this time, it still wasn’t good enough. Perhaps, I started thinking, it never would be. How many times can you fail before it becomes clear you can’t win, after all? How many times can you be kicked before you learn to stay down?
Prayer is a funny thing. Many times I have prayed for humility, and yet I am always surprised when these kinds of things happen. “Ten years of my life, God!” I raged, “How much of my life has been poured into this for nothing?” Even lies I knew were not true started having their appeal, even lies I knew were not true started finding a home on my lips. “I have failed at the only thing I have ever tried to do. My work is awful. Machine will never be ready.”
I am not ashamed or perhaps even prideful to say that I have an iron will (though I will say praise be to God for it!). You can speak with anyone who knows me well, and they will tell you that if I want something, if it is really something I feel is right, I will give no ground until God Himself tells me otherwise. And Machine is something I want, Machine is something I have always felt, on the whole, is right. Which is why I was so surprised to find myself suffering such anguish at the hands of this setback. Sure it brought up subsequent questions that further proved my work unready, sure it threw all of the chapters I liked most into unsteady balance, but such questions had come up before, such obstacles had been challenged and overcome even recently with my middle. But this, for some reason this tripped an emotional trigger, a door or wall I could not pass no matter how many times I banged my bleeding head against the unyielding stones. “What was the true problem?” I wondered. What was making this particular issue so much worse than the ones before it? It wasn’t even describable. I wasn’t exactly angry with my book, I wasn’t quite sad. I still loved it deeply, and knew even at the worst of it I wouldn’t and couldn’t give up…I was just…something, something I couldn’t describe.
After several days of brooding self-examination and unhealthy and relentless tearing down of self (thank you Holy Spirit for defending me against the lies I spoke or thought about myself in that time, for helping me to know them as lies, and also thanks to my family and friends who put up with my angst and loved me anyway), I realized.
I was disappointed.
And it wasn’t just with my work. Sure I couldn’t even bear to look at it, but I was also disappointed in me, my inability to write something good even after all this time (a lie), and ultimately, I think, with God. If this book was supposed to be something, was supposed to mean anything, why was it still so bad (a lie)? Why did my friends and family have so much success at everything they turned their hands and hearts to while I still floundered alone in the dark (also untrue)? Why was I still failing so hard (another lie) at the only thing I’d ever wanted?
Which brought about another realization.
I was loving Machine more than I was loving God, and also, I was basing my understanding of my work (and the identity I had so much tied up in it) on my current, wordly success.
This is a failing (more accurately, perhaps, a mistake) in several different directions. First, in allowing myself to be in a position in my life where I could even become disappointed with my savior, whose grace goes so far beyond any words I could even express. Secondly, to love anything more than that same God. Thirdly, to put my value in what I could do for God, when in reality, He does not need me at all. And fourth, though probably not last of all, to assume that the fact I have not succeeded yet means my efforts have been for nothing, that success will not come with time, or that God does not have a plan for this work, especially when the Holy Spirit tells me (I think) there is something to this, though I don’t know what that is.
I said in a previous post that Rick and Cog (the main characters of Machine for the uninitiated) are like twin halves of myself, and sometimes, that’s very true. Rick and I often share very similar desires and Cog’s mindset it still the one I rebound to when things get very hard, but I am also learning that they are not all that I am (nor are they me), and neither is my writing. After hitting my wall, I was so discouraged I was about to give up. Never before had I come so close to throwing in the towel, and the despair was like a tide.
And yet, I survived. I didn’t cease to exist simply because I was no longer being useful, I didn’t burst into flames because I wasn’t obsessively typing away.
No, in fact, despite my grief, what I found was taking a step back was healthy, and important. I had a lot of really good times in the midst of it, finding joy in even simple things that my writing time does not always afford, in being a normal person. Even more importantly, I was reminded of where my real value lies, my real strength, and perhaps most importantly, what I really want. I drew closer to God and spent time with Him just His sake.
I still think Machine will go somewhere. I still know it can become something better.
But now I know, and have been reminded, that even if it doesn’t, I still know where I stand, and that God, God himself, not the works I can do for him or his blessings, is who I really want.
I am a writer, and I love my work, but I am not my writing.