Tag Archives: pride

Imagination

You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.

— Mark Twain

 

It’s probably time for an update.

A lot has been happening around here. The end of the school year kept me hopping for a couple of weeks. Not only were we swamped with school programs, field trips, and end-of-year parties, but we also had to fit in a fundraiser, an award ceremony for my AHG troop, and a birthday party.

And the garden still languishes.

I’m digging out, slowly but surely. And it feels like it will probably just always be that way, at least until I can finally let go of some of my volunteer duties.

But that’s not the most significant update, nor is it the reason I was prompted to finally write a blog post.

The biggest update I have to share is . . .

I put my books back on Amazon about a week or so ago.

I’m still not sure how I feel about that.

And this is where I don’t know what to say next.

[An hour later . . . .]

I’m ambivalent and anxious and stuck. I have the books up there, and with that act comes the implicit promise of at least a sequel for the novel. But when I try to re-read the novel, I am only struck by how amateurish and poorly written it is. I can only hear the whispers of negative reviews and the criticisms of readers past and future who think the story is too dull, too traditional, too . . .

[fill in the blank]

It’s hard for me to remember that self-flagellation is a form of pride. This has dawned on me before. Many of us–especially women, I’ve noticed–mistakenly equate humility with self-deprecation, scolding, reminding ourselves and others of all the things were bad at, etc. We somehow mistakenly got the idea that humility means thinking less of ourselves.

As the great C. S. Lewis reminds us:

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

So I stand again at the gate of pride, beating myself bloody over perceived mistakes, imperfections, flaws, etc. that may or may not even be in my work. And it is pride, because yesterday, I found myself in a spiral of “this sucks–I hate this–my work is hideous–who would like this” and on and on.

That’s not thinking of myself less. Indeed, it’s thinking of myself more.

My eyes were on the wrong place. Once again, they were back on me–my work, my writing, my stories. Even my pronouns are wrong.

Where should my eyes and heart be?

On Jesus, the great Author and Storyteller Who asked me to write these stories in the first place.

I have no idea what He wants to do with this stuff. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe the entire point of having my stories out there is to grow me for some future task. Maybe this is just about building my obedience muscle.

But the point is, that’s not up to me. That’s up to Him.

I ran across this Mark Twain quote earlier: You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.

My imagination was out of focus yesterday. Not my creativity–not my ability to put words together or create worlds or envision what happens next.

No, what was out of focus was my perspective on Who I belong to, Who owns my talent, and Who I’m writing for in the first place.

Dictionary.com says that imagination is “the faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present tthe senses.”

It’s not my creativity that was out of whack. It was my imagination–my ability to form a mental image or concept of my Heavenly Father’s delight in my obedience, or of the moment when He says “well done, good and faithful servant,” or of the glory of Heaven itself. My imagination was conjuring mental images and concepts that were not heavenly, but earthly–and more than earthly, they were so earth-bound that they kept me from doing what God has asked me to do.

That’s pride. And more than pride, that’s allowing the Enemy to hijack my usefulness and my joy and my strength.

I won’t give him that power any longer.

And so when my imagination is out of focus, I can’t trust my eyes. Yesterday, my eyes were telling me that my work was amateurish, unsophisticated, boring, ugly, and all the rest.

But if my imagination had been properly focused, my eyes might have said, “yes, it’s imperfect, but that’s okay. Some of the imperfections can be fixed. Some can’t. Some make it more beautiful. Some are just subjective. The point is, you wrote the story you were supposed to write. And whether you were obedient then or not, you’re being obedient now. That’s the point. That’s what counts.”

This is not a clean, tidy, perfect journey, but then, what journey is? And isn’t that the point of my stories–that none of us have perfect journeys? That redemption is a messy, uncomfortable, beautiful process of fits and starts and loss and gain? That sanctification doesn’t happen overnight?

Well, most of you probably don’t know the point of my stories. But let me tell you that yes, that’s pretty much the point of most of my stories.

I have no time at all to devote to writing or editing fiction right now, and yet, here I am–staring down the gaping maw of a sequel that I promised years ago, a sequel that, apparently, a dozen or twenty people still want to read.

So I take a deep breath, and I repeat to myself the verse that took me through the last year as a first-year Troop Coordinator: “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NASB)

Till next we meet . . .

J M

Resolved

I surrender all, I surrender all,

All to Thee, my blessed Savior,

I surrender all.

— I Surrender All, Judson W. Van DeVenter

Once again, I find myself driven to my knees before the Throne of Grace, begging for forgiveness. This time, though, it’s different from the last time–the time when God pried my writing out of my clenched fists.

This time, I have begged forgiveness for depriving the Body of Christ from something I am uniquely qualified to give.

Once again, I have been prideful and arrogant. I thought I knew best. I thought God was a fool for giving me the desire to write and the gift of the written word. I thought He made a mistake. I thought I could stifle this gift (or curse, as I often considered it) and these stories by serving, by engaging in other hobbies, by focusing on any one of a hundred other things.

But this week–this time–I have realized that I was wrong.

So, here I am with open hands and heart, resolved to take and to give whatever He wishes. I am tired of fighting Him. I am tired of giving the enemy a toehold in my heart–a way to keep me distracted and unfocused on the Savior. I am tired of my pride, fear, busy-ness, and all the rest coming between me and what my Lord wants me to do–how He wants to use me.

Only a fool would fight the Living God and assume she could win the argument.

I have been meditating this week on how often the Bible mentions fear and exhorts the members of God’s kingdom to put aside fear and trust that God is for us. God knew how weak-willed we would be–how fearful we are. I asked myself this week–what is it that I fear in God’s Kingdom?

Death? No. I don’t fear death.

Missions? No. I intend to participating in some kind of foreign mission at some point–just waiting for the right open doors.

Serving? No. I serve Him daily, weekly, at American Heritage Girls. While my position was terrifying at first, I’ve sort of settled into it–and indeed, have rested upon the assurance all along that His strength is made perfect in weakness.

Being called a fool, a bigot, a liar, a moralizing prude? Yes, a bit. But while such words sting, they are only words. Christ was called worse. I can stand it, given a bit of time.

Failure? Now we’re getting closer to home. Yes, I fear failure. But if I am obedient, then am I ever really a failure? If I trust God with the outcome, then I have to trust that His outcome is the successful one, whatever form that takes.

Sharing my writing? This is the fear that paralyzes me. And this is where I had to open my hands and realize that I was still clinging to my writing.

Still. After all this time. After all this pain. I was still holding onto it.

A hard truth.

So, this week, I am resolved.

I am resolved to trust God. Right now, He’s only asking me to write. I can write. I can be faithful with the gift He has given me. And if I am faithful in this small thing, then perhaps I will eventually be trusted with bigger things.

I am resolved to ignore the whispers of the enemy in regard to current literary trends. It does not matter that much of modern fantasy is trending dark with dark antiheroes. It does not matter that the self-publishing trend has flooded the market with a plethora of truly awful, yet successful, books. It does not matter that editors at major publishing houses said my work wasn’t worth buying. The publishing trends don’t matter. They don’t affect what I write. I will just write the stories God has given me to write.

I am resolved to make good art–to write the best stories I can write, using all of the tools at my disposal, and actively work to improve my craft.

I am resolved to move forward with a spirit of courage, putting aside a spirit of fear and kindling afresh the gifts that God has given me. As Craig Groeschel recently reminded in his sermon series on Fear, we are responsible to be obedient; God is responsible for the outcome. I can be obedient.

I am resolved to believe, actively, on a daily basis, that God has given me a gift, and that to squander it is as disobedient as idolizing it.

My hands are open, Lord. Place in them the story you want me to tell, and I will give it back to You daily as a sacrifice. Do with it as You will. And when it is ready–when it is told to Your satisfaction–I will share it, if that’s what You ask of me.

I surrender all, Lord.

Gifts

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

— 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, NASB

I have a friend who is struggling right now with a sudden physical ailment that, if it turns out to be chronic, will affect her ability to do a lot of things that she is very gifted at doing–namely, speaking and teaching. She is a woman of deep spiritual conviction, a woman who lives her faith unapologetically in a thousand different ways on a daily basis, a woman who walks in obedience to God in every facet of her life while still maintaining a degree of humility that makes her approachable and open.

In short, she’s not the type of person one would think of as needing to be disciplined by God.

Sometimes, stuff just happens–I realize that. This is a fallen and cursed world, and sometimes people get sick or injured just because.

Because nothing is perfect.

Because our bodies are fragile.

Because life isn’t certain, even when we live and walk in obedience.

I saw my friend this morning, and in a group of women who all prayed for her healing, I could only think one thing: “I need to tell her that this isn’t her only gift.”

I don’t know why that came to mind. I don’t know if God put it there, or if it was just a rare dollop of wisdom hard-won through my own painful journey of the last year and a half, or if it was just . . . coincidence or a random thought.

I fought it, but it didn’t leave. In fact, it crystallized into a more complete thought.

“This is not your only gift. You are a communicator and a teacher and a leader. Those things are internal. They aren’t dependent on your ability to physically speak.”

(Physician, heal thyself.)

I don’t like saying these kinds of things in front of others, and I hesitated to say it to her at all, because I didn’t want to sound like I was giving prescriptive advice or telling her, without saying, that the struggle would make her strong. But the idea wouldn’t leave, so when our group broke up, I approached her and told her what would not leave my heart or mind. “I don’t know why I’m supposed to tell you this, and it will probably come out wrong, but . . . ”

And I told her.

“Your gifts are inside. They aren’t dependent on the external things. As someone who had her “gift” wrested from her pried-shut fists, I have to say that this isn’t the only thing you are. You aren’t a speaker; you’re a communicator and a teacher, and those things are internal. Those things won’t leave.”

She thanked me, and we shared a hug. I have no idea if what I said was meaningful to her, but maybe I wasn’t supposed to say it to her.

Maybe it was for me.

Most of the time, I feel like a very ungifted person. I belittle the gifts I do have, and assume that whatever I am capable of doing could be done by someone else in a far more competent way. And when it comes to spiritual gifts and the work of the Body of Christ, I am always willing to say what I’m not good at: “I’m not good at prayer. I’m not good at joy. I don’t have gifts of hospitality or teaching or shepherding. I’m not an encourager.”

In all honesty, sometimes I wonder exactly why God wanted me in His kingdom.

So, here it is:

Writing was not my only “gift.”

And even if it was, and even if God did take it from me (which I firmly believe He did), it doesn’t mean it was forever. Like my friend’s illness, it may just be for a season.

If God truly did give me an ability to communicate through the written word, then that’s something that’s inside. It’s not dependent on the specific outward expression of that gift. It doesn’t mean that I can only use that gift through writing and publishing fiction.

God’s vision is so much bigger than mine. His Kingdom is so much larger than I can see. I get focused on my little world, my little brick in His big plan, and I can’t see how that brick might be vital to something else. The truth is that my brick might be a foundation, or a keystone, or part of a support column.

I have been so fixated on the “me” of my work that I have neglected the “Who” of my abilities.

There’s that prideful spirit again.

I don’t know what God wants me to do with my work. I don’t know if He wants me to write fiction, or maybe just to keep this blog going, or find some other . . . thing.

C. S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

The psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

All I can do is be faithful, and take the next step down the road, and know that God will illuminate my journey one step at a time.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

Little Faith Stew

I find myself in the predicament of having to rely on God to provide a lot of things right now. In addition to needing several things for our American Heritage Girls troop, Mr. P and I also find ourselves in a less-than-ideal financial situation. It’s not dire–we have everything we need and many things we want–but his income has been down over the last several months, and we’ve definitely noticed. With two kids in private school (and yes, they need to be there, and yes, it’s a very reasonably priced school), one needing orthodontic work ASAP, and several housing projects that really need to be tackled soon, I find myself looking at the budget and the savings account and . . . well, I find myself stressed out.

Anxiety has always plagued me. I’ve worried myself into stomach troubles, weight loss, neck pain, headaches, and a veritable ocean of tears at various points in my life. Trusting in God’s provision has never been easy for me.

Mr. P and I are both rabidly independent people. We both hate to rely on anyone else for anything material. At the points in our marriage where we have struggled financially, no one has ever really known about it. We tend to fight those battles ourselves, eschewing even the idea of asking for assistance.

We’re also GenXers. As such, I have always had the ringing voices of those women a generation ahead of me on non-stop replay in my head: “You can be anything you want to be. You should work–you don’t want to be caught depending on a man for your survival. What about your kids? All women have to work nowadays, anyway. Besides, you can have it all.”

Add to all of this my own particular sin of pride and the aftermath of emotions that still flood my spirit as a result of shutting down all of my income earning opportunities, and you have a particularly savory recipe for Little Faith Stew.

I thought about not posting this. I thought about waiting until I saw the provision come through. I thought, “perhaps that’s what God wants from me–to see me wait this out, to see me be faithful in the little things while I wait on Him for the big things.”

But that wouldn’t be very honest of me.

Truth be told, I get scared. I worry that we won’t have enough to give the kids everything they need. I panic that our AHG troop won’t have what it needs in the right time. I consider re-opening my commercial writing business, even though taking on work is probably the very LAST thing I need to burden myself with right now. I think about cutting our household budget, and while there is definitely fat there, it’s not much. I toss around the idea of homeschooling, and then I remember that Boy Patriot is as disinclined to look at math as I am, and I think, “yes, he probably should be somewhere that they’ll make sure he does math.”

So here I am, being honest.

Here I am, walking by faith, trying take that one step, that one foot forward each moment, even though I can’t see very far down the path.

Here I am, trusting, because I don’t know what else to do.

Here I am, being faithful in the little things–making the phone calls for AHG, trimming the budget, planning the homemade gifts for Christmas–because the big things are not mine to control.

Here I am, waiting on the Lord to do His piece, the part that’s His job.

“Oh ye of little faith,” Jesus said. If I cannot trust these little things to the One I’ve entrusted my very eternal soul to, then who can I trust?

Myself? Mr. P? Family and friends? The government?

No.

Sometimes, the difference between a stew full of tough meat, crunchy vegetables, and unsavory flavors is just time and heat. It just needs a little more time over the fire, a little more tumult from the spoon, a little more pressure from beneath.

My Little Faith Stew is sitting over the fire, waiting, being turned around and around by a faithful Savior who already knows exactly what I need and when I need it.

And in good time, Little Faith Stew will become Big Provision Stew.

So for now . . . For now, I wait.

Till next we meet . . .

J M

Before a Fall

Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.

— C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I am reading Mere Christianity for the first time. I’m ashamed to admit that I am in my mid-40s and am only now getting around to reading this book. I read the chapter on pride yesterday, and I experienced that rare sensation of epiphany.

You see, gentle reader, I have a problem: I have never found my “besetting sin.” I would go to small groups or Bible studies and hear others discuss their “besetting sins”–those things which they find so easily entangle them–and I was always at a loss. I would mumble something about gluttony or the way I can say mean, cutting things, but I never really felt like I was being honest with myself or them. I became a Christian at a young age, and I never experienced a terrestrial sin that really entangled me for long. I am not saying I never sinned–that would be foolish and, more importantly, a bald-faced lie. But I never really had that thing–that one temptation that I always struggled with, that I just couldn’t leave, that lured me back to it.

Until yesterday, that is.

It started during my morning Bible time. My reading was in 2 Chronicles, and once again, a king of Judah or Israel (I forget–they blur together at 5:30 a.m. by the time you get to 2 Chronicles) was brought low by his pride. And deep inside, in that little secret part of the heart that only the Spirit can see, I heard it–I heard that voice–the one that said to me, “what a fool that king was. I would never be so presumptuous.”

I stopped short. I realized–pride. Pride is my besetting sin. And how quickly it sneaks in, so subtle and seductive, like the sweet whisper of a lover. My pride takes great satisfaction in knowing not only how I wouldn’t sin, but also in justifying how I would sin.

Later, I happened to come on the chapter on pride in Mere Christianity. I was struck so many times in reading that chapter. I need to re-read it, I think. But for a start, here were my realizations:

Pride is what led me to struggle for so long before leaving my career to devote myself to my family. Please understand–I am not condemning any woman for choosing to have a career or a job while raising a family. I am condemning myself. There were many issues with the career I was pursuing and why it didn’t work with my family. Perhaps someday I will explain some of them, but for now, suffice to say that I thought I knew better than God. I thought I had better perspective than he did. I thought I could make it work, when he and my family were very clearly showing me that it wouldn’t.

Pride has made me noxious in the face of non-believers and believers alike. I have taken a great deal of satisfaction in my own ability to overcome temptation and live a morally straight life. Do not misunderstand–it is good and right to live in obedience to God’s word, and while I have managed to break every single one of the Ten Commandments in thought and heart even if not in deed, I have still managed to be mostly a “good Christian girl.”

The problem I have, and that I think many of us who have grown up in the church also have, is that I have been very proud of my own ability to resist temptation. Listen, brothers and sisters: if you think you are resisting temptation by your own strength, you are deluding yourself, and you are in a very precarious spot. When that temptation comes that you cannot resist, you will fall far more painfully than someone who understands that only God can provide the strength to stand up under temptation.

And this is the issue. Pride in moral, intellectual, ministerial, social, financial, or other superiority gives our Christian culture a very off-putting odor–and not just to the world, but to other Christians as well! Cough medicine may be good for you when you have bronchitis, but who wants to drink it as an aperitif?

Pride is envy’s twin brother. This brings me to the quote above. I think I figured out why pride and envy go hand in hand–they’re twins. Lewis says pride creeps in when you have more than the other person. I discovered that when I have less than someone, envy creeps in. This is not just a financial thing–in fact, it rarely is for me, and in that also, I have some kind of morally superior perspective and find myself quoting things like “love of money is the root of every kind of evil.” In my envy, pride creeps in. They walk together, inseparable. When someone acts morally superior to me, I tend to envy such discipline or fortitude, which then somehow turns into a morally superior attitude that says, “look at that Pharisee!” or “this is one of those ‘freedom in Christ’ issues, and I guess I just don’t stumble in that area like that other person.”

Oh, how very full of pride and envy my heart is! Is this level of pride not the very same one that led Adam and Eve to think they knew better than God? Is this envy not the same thing that led David to commit adultery and murder?

I am brought low by this realization. It is today that I recall the words of Psalm 51 and ask my Lord and Redeemer to “create in me a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” But I also ask him something else: I ask him to keep my heart broken, soft, tilled until he has planted all that he needs to plant there. I offer him my broken spirit and contrite heart, knowing that he alone can make use of it.

Till next we meet . . .

J M