I needed time to be productive on projects, so I excused myself from my blog while I worked on them. I’ve also done fresh personal growth work that was significant, precious, and powerful. I’m thankful for the time.
Did you miss me? *wink*
Warning: Behemoth Crossing! I’ve saved up a few too many words!
The First Time I Tried…
In high school, li’l old, five-foot-nothing me was a frenetic minnow in the big, busy pond. Sports was my happy place all four years. Core academics were mainly endured. I kept afloat in most, and my GPA took a few hits without sinking completely out of sight. One subject seemed to buoy up some of the others. English Composition. I rocked it fairly solidly.
The most encouraging words in high school came from my favorite, cheerful English teacher. She continually pointed out strengths, taught me well, and even I could see improvement. When a writing contest was mentioned, she made sure to encourage me personally. Reluctant and a little unnerved, I decided to enter.
This tiny, frenetic minnow found time to write the essay between classes, sports practices and games, and everything else. I squeaked in under the deadline, and I was confident my crisp, final essay was no embarrassment. The wait was horribly long. Yet, I had hope. Maybe expectation?
“The results of the essay contest are in,” she said,”and the winner is from another school.”
The words landed much heavier than I thought they would, or even could.
“Jen, your essay was excellent! I’m so sorry,” she said privately after class.
The problem was not my topic, writing, conventions, or style. It was format. The format didn’t meet the contest criteria, and I was disqualified for, basically, “not following directions.”
The First Time I Ran…
Emily P. Freeman in A Million Little Ways asks, “When did you first run from your art?” The contest failure was the first time I ran away from writing. The words seared. Disqualified. Incorrect format. I didn’t follow the directions. It’s not that the essay didn’t win or place in the contest. It was rejected at first glance. I was embarrassed.
Many rejections would come after that one, but not in writing classes. I played it safe for years, turning in the occasional college paper heavily spiced with devil’s advocacy for entertainment. I just didn’t go to risky, competitive places anymore. I knew I was capable, handily cranking out quality “safe” work for the next six years. I eventually landed a B.A. in English Literature.
The point is, I was easily defeated. Oh, I learned a valuable lesson from the experience; I followed directions much more closely after that. But, something ugly happened in that moment, too. The words in connection with my work suddenly described me. They put me in a little shame-filled box and defined me. For years. It started with a writing contest, but it didn’t stay there. It flowed into other areas. No matter what shape or form any rejection or failure took, it was nearly always became an identity crisis.
National Karate tournament. Near perfect in Form. Disqualified for “excessive force” in Sparring. My last tournament drowned in plenty of hot, furious tears.
A temp job placement in an interesting environment. Fired, disqualified, for not having the proper skill set. Never mind the hiring and communication failures. I was devastated! That would be the last time I’d work in that field. More tears flowed.
See the pattern? Maybe I’m not the only one. Can you relate to this, too? I’d call it risk management.
The truth is, sometimes failure is merely honest evaluation with feedback. There is no malice, just simple facts. How we hear it, and ultimately how we respond, is critical. My response was to avoid risk or anything I wasn’t certainly good at. (This makes for a very small and fragile existence. I can’t say that strongly enough!)
Where is the grace, you ask? It’s a great story, and all, but why tell it?
I tell it because it matters. I was easily defeated by words. I was crushed by the very power I assigned to them. For innumerable reasons, I couldn’t hear the unbiased truth and move on.
“I’m sensitive to language,” I joked. Then I managed my failures to the nth degree.
Sensitive or Something More?
It was more than that then, and now. It may be more than that for you. Something in the fabric of our created soul is wonderful, unique, and precious. A good number of us will be mid-stream on our finest horse—creating, doing what we do, thriving. We will be so alive!
Rejection poisons the flow. What do you do?
I personally have urged the horse on, forcing something that perhaps never should have been. I’ve tried to carry him, only spotlighting my weakness. I’ve tried trading him for another, as fast water rushed by, threatening to sweep me away from both horses. And I’m not sure, but I may have even shot the horse a time or two. Eventually, I caught myself standing at the stream’s edge, taking a long look, and tearfully walking away. That was desperately sad!
I had forgotten a truth Freeman reminded me of: I am art, and I make art. God’s glory is in the art. My job is to reveal God’s glory in my life labor (whatever it is I do). If I’m honest, I want to partner with God and lean into that work with all I’ve got.
But what if all the struggles—the times I’ve done everything imaginable to manage the failure and avoid pain—what if it is something more than sensitivity…
Eyes for the Spiritual
Could this whole thing be more than weakness or failure sensitivity? More than painful wounds from the hits we take during the critical evaluation and feedback process? Could it be a calculated ambush on our very soul?
The “work of our hands” and the work of God’s is a recurring biblical theme. Leanne Payne writes
Man is a maker. This is part of what it means to be in the image of our Creator God. As we learn to collaborate with Him, He confirms and mightily blesses the work of our hands. The following prayer of Moses is one that blesses me, even as I pray it, whether for myself or another. It’s as if our Heavenly Father eagerly awaits this prayer so He can pour forth His power to bless us in our making.
May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us: establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90:17
(The Healing Presence, p. 75)
This may be oversimplified, but a sort of nested If-Then statement might be made. Here’s my line of reasoning. If I show the hallmark of creativity, then I am partially an image-bearer of my Creator. If I am in harmony and partnership with what he is already doing, then his favor rests on me. If am a favored image-bearer of my Abba, then the collaborative work displays something amazing.
Powerful! Doesn’t that just make you want to look for what God is doing and those works he has prepared in advance for you, specifically, to do (Ephesians 2:10)? I’m not sure there is a more inspired and fully alive place to be!
This is the lovely, fragrant grace offered to us: to partner with him in his amazing inspiration, capability, significance, and influence.
The Flip Side…
If we are inspired and empowered in our collaborative creativity with God, that’s the safest place to be. But, it’s never safe, as far as I can tell. Opposition is waiting for us.
Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
I like this translation. It refers to the enemy as the “accuser,” which speaks to me when I’m thinking about critical feedback and rejection. Other translations use adversary, the Evil One, enemy, the Devil, and opponent. ¹ Someone seeks our demise, but he can’t have us. A child of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit, cannot be destroyed by the enemy. Period. (See John 1:12; Philippians 2:15; Ephesians 1:13.) We are sealed for redemption (Ephesians 4:30).
So, what is our enemy’s goal, if not final triumph over us? I think he harasses us while he can. He can’t have us, but perhaps he targets our creations in hopes of transforming a beautiful thing into some kind of flaming boomerang back as us. In our weakness, we may fall to the lies about us or the work of our hands. Is it biblical? Our devious, underhanded opponent would stop at nothing to shred anything good. Targeting and resisting our creative efforts seems apropos.
How long has he managed to stifle the creative parts of my life? Has he been strategically targeting yours? Will we continue to allow him sneak into our minds and encourage us think risk management is the way to go? Our counter attack is rooted in our true identity as children of the Living God. We have close relationship with our Creator God, and the firmly established trust in our Abba who loves us, his Son who saved us, and the Spirit who preserves us is our strength and courage.
There’s more to say. I think I’m leaving this here. Wouldn’t this be an excellent personal reflection opportunity? Maybe as we noodle it a bit, we will find courage and freedom to boldly examine the areas we’ve shied away from. Perhaps our eyes will catch a few more glimpses of what our Creator is already doing—and we’ll lean in close, hear whispers of encouragement, and join our hands with his. This is what it means to really be alive, I think.
I hope this was an encouragement to you. I’ll be turning this one over for some time….
Questions to Think About:
Have you ever run from a wonderful talent, skill, or gifting?
What is it about you that is creative, the hallmark of “a maker,” that reflects the Creator and reveals your identity as he has made you?
What is the “work of your hands” you might recognize as “good works prepared in advance for you to do” in partnership with your Creator?
Where have you noticed Creator God alive and active in ways you could join him?
When was the last time you joined him in something like that? What was that like?
A Million Little Ways. Emily P. Freeman. Revell: Grand Rapids. 2013.
The Healing Presence. Leanne Payne. Hamewith Books: Grand Rapids. 2001.
¹ Scripture translations sourced from www.biblestudytools.com.