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I'm so frustrated and discouraged with my writing right now.
One rejection after another. Is it the formatting? Is it the enigma of the wrong match, the wrong editor for this specific piece, is the magic fit still out there, one submission away, three more submissions away?
Is it just because those few pieces were poor quality? Should I have rewritten them one more time, changed the ending, tried a new genre/stayed in a familiar one?
Am I just one of those countless nameless wannabes who ten years down the road will be smiling wryly and shaking my head at the naive me who was so convinced that this was "my field"--?
Am I just lazy? There's no concrete definition for "hard enough." You could always work harder. You could always be more disciplined. You could always push yourself further. You could always write more, edit more, polish more. Kafka and Kenneth Graham worked fulltime bank jobs which they hated and then came home and wrote into the wee hours of the morning; I don't even come close to that level of dedication, do I deserve to have expectations then?
Was I, all these years, simply deceiving myself?
Scribbled on my phone notes, just a few months ago, these bleakly honest questions came at a moment when I was struggling with despair--to be more accurate, tired of struggling with discouragement, tired of trying to be hopeful, optimistic, tired of trying hard when there didn't seem to be any success. Tired of trying again, for the third time--for the tenth time.
I think we're all familiar with the cliche of the aspiring writer, sending submissions desperately in hopes of finding that one-in-a-million-editor who will see potential in their work. I myself grew up accepting that these horror stories (that's really how they seemed to come across) as the inevitable reality of being a writer. After all, it seemed like every single famous writer had to be able to boast of ignominious beginnings. How many rejections. How many failures. How many editors turned them down. All the writing help books and advice for writers I read without fail included a section explaining to you that it was absolutely necessary to be turned down a hundred times, and I cheerfully accepted this as a formula almost. Hit one hundred rejection letters and you'd be bound to get accepted, somehow! With this mindset, I thought I was well prepared to take the leap and join the hordes of wistful aspiring writers trying to find takers for their armfuls of manuscripts.
All the same, discouragement was inevitable, and I should have known it. The year is drawing to a close, the year which I had so confidently intended to be the first year I could *really* focus on writing, without school to distract me (hahaha I somehow never thought that work could be distracting too??) and I find myself without any clear indications of progress, no open doors--not even a toehold--no shadow of opportunities. Seemingly, I haven't moved forward since the beginning of this year, despite multiple submissions, new work, and different strategies.
I thought I was mentally prepared for this, but the reality is that discouragement still hits. Hard. An editor sends a rejection email without knowing that it could be the tenth one you've received for that particular piece, or the second one you've gotten within a week. It's hard not to take it as an unequivocal judgment of your worth, and to maintain perspective.
And for a while, I struggled with despair. Panic. I've been thinking of this, dreaming of this, working towards this, heck, building my whole identity on this--for my whole life. Now that it doesn't seem to be working out, what do I do?
I prayed urgently, desperately, pleadingly. Please God, grant me some encouragement. Please give me some sign that yes, this is where I belong, this is what I ought to be doing. Please let me achieve this dream. Please give this to me--please. And in the wretchedness of my hurt dreams, like so many of us when we're conflicted, I questioned His goodness.
A fragment of a sermon I heard recently spoke gently to me, right when restlessness and discouragement threatened to turn into bitterness.
We were all born with desires. Many of them. This isn't necessary a bad thing either, contrary to what some people assume. But what we need to be careful of is when we turn these desires into needs. When we think we can't live without it. When we believe that our happiness and well-being is dependent on achieving it. When we feel that God cannot be good without first granting it to us. Though it varies between individuals and circumstances, the line between desires and needs is one that perhaps we haven't thought of examining more closely.
Are our desires dictating our lives as if they were needs? Uncontrolled or excessive desires lead us to sin, though we may not like to think of it--or to acknowledge to ourselves that that's what it is.
Instead, our real needs should be what we prioritize, what we plan our lives around, what we consider when we think of fulfilment, contentment, happiness. Our real needs--the most significant one of which is our need for God...
...to be continued
As I read verse 5, I started wondering why David emphasized the concept of God being his inheritance.
An interesting idea. I'd never really thought of 'inheriting' God (other than as the Christian heritage of a Christian family background); it seemed strange quantifying God, so to speak. At any rate, I agreed wholeheartedly with David--He was a good inheritance.
The idea of goodness immediately brought to my mind all the things that I find myself thanking God for almost every day: life; family; love; comfort; work; passion; beauty. The small things like the morning cup of tea or the hug of a child, or the extension of a deadline (which actually is not a small thing at all but ranks close behind the parting of the Red Sea and deserves its own psalm of praise!)
Goodness. That wordless, subtle feeling that presses against your ribs like a swelling breath of warm air--it's contentment. There's another feeling--a sharp, brilliant tingle, a mental gasp of joy that makes you feel like a Youtube video suddenly switched from 720p to 2160p. That's delight. Both these feelings stem from the experience of goodness. Yes, life was full of goodness from God's hand.
But I realized suddenly, in the midst of all these nice warm fuzzy thoughts, that these were God's gifts reflecting His goodness. David wasn't just thanking God for the glorious view from his palace window, he was thanking God for being Who He was, and for being his.
God, not His gifts, was David's inheritance.
There's a difference between a gift and an inheritance. Gifts can be large and inheritances can be small, but gifts are typically uncertain, one-off; in contrast, inheritances are both expected and meant to be effective in the long-term.
Our portion in life, our inheritance, is not any of these wonderful gifts which we can see God in; it is God Himself. David knew to enjoy the goodness of God, not just in His gifts but in His Person; to rely on, to be empowered by, to be satisfied in that alone.
When he was on the run, hiding in the wilderness from Saul, he found comfort in that inheritance.
When he was in the wilderness and weary with the grief of Absalom's treachery, he found comfort in that inheritance.
When seemingly all the gifts were taken from him, David's joy remained in his inheritance: the person of their Giver.
As Sheldon Vanauken said: 'God gives us many gifts, but not permanence: that we must seek in His arms.'
Our inheritance--which we can rely, enjoy, and draw strength from for our every day life, which we know we can count on to last us for the long term--is none other than God Himself.
You are the portion of my inheritance, and my cup; You maintain my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Yes, I have a good inheritance.
Have you ever realized that enjoyment has a spectrum?
Some time ago I wrote about my inspiration from Jonathan Edwards to keep my own Shadows of Divine Things, a journal which recorded observations of beauty as reflections of God's goodness, as the 'language of God.'
(Looking at the number of entries I've made since then shows me that I've still got a long way to go in learning to appreciate, to truly see the Source within the goodness manifested all around me. All the same, it's been an exciting and empowering process; rubbing my soul's eyes, learning to see clearer and better, learning to enjoy and wonder at the world around me so much more. Unless we stop seeing things as existent only in themselves, or in relation to us, and start to see them as what they are--creations and reflections of a beauty-loving God--we are blind to the wonder they possess, and can only see their external beauty, incomplete without the beauty of their origin.)
On the other hand, looking back at my entries was delightful--they captured the fleeting, wordless charm of the moment when I learnt to wonder. I realized, as I glanced from one to another, that though all those moments dwelt on similar experiences, they encapsulated different shades of delight.
The eye's enjoyment in color, design, shape--the gorgeous rich deep purple of freshly-opened carnations; the riotous harmony of Timberland boots on display, a rainbow of colors so warm and vibrant they seemed alive, 'soul-feeding hues', as I tried to describe them.
Sound--beautiful acapella that made my soul feel like it had grown wings, birthed in the exquisite anguish of extreme beauty, emotions only music could express revealing the fascinating complexity of beauty and passion and pain. It is hard to describe when you're only limited to the dimension of words, vast as that is. As Victor Hugo said: Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot be silent.
Sense--this one took me by surprise; I'd forgotten that God's goodness extended even to those seemingly small, superficial things we take for granted. I may sound hedonistic here, but a dash of hedonism--if hedonism it is--is fine if you've never intentionally appreciated or savored these little blessings before. A deliciously cold shower, the prickle of cool water on your skin. The tenderness of your bed, so overwhelmingly comforting after a draining day. I kid you not; I remember lying on my bed limp with thankfulness and worship.
There was even one entry where I incredulously noted that I'd found this reflection of God's goodness in food. Yes, food. (Interestingly enough, I found that it takes even greater insight and sensitivity for me to really appreciate insignificant blessings like food this way. It's much easier to trace the reflection of God in breathtaking scenery or starry skies, where the beauty is obviously transcendent and points to Something, a Source greater than ourselves.
But food? We take food so much for granted today that sometimes we actually treat it more like a curse--complaining about leftovers, vegetables, calories.)
I'd had a long day teaching and had neglected to bring a snack to keep myself going. Seven hours after lunch I felt positively faint and murderous. Thankfully I got to dinner before anything serious happened, and as if I wasn't hungry enough to appreciate anything which was edible, it was a Good dinner. Good food. Wonderful, wonderful calories. Praise God for calories and flavors and textures. I thought of Jonathan ben Saul when he tasted the honeycomb in the woods, and understood why the Bible said his 'countenance brightened.' Previously I'd felt like I was fading out of sight; now the color and outlines were back in high definition and I was a new person again, mood, energy, ambitions, everything.
Hopefully I didn't just bore you with that long rabbit trail on excerpts from my Shadows book.
What struck me on looking back was the realization that all these experiences of beauty, of inherent goodness, were so varied--a wide scope of delight in different shades and aspects; a whole spectrum of delight, in fact.
And these are just the delights we feel shallowly through our physical senses. Imagine the vastly more complex and deep spectrum of JOY. This vague, sensory happiness doesn't even touch the surface of the power of emotions.
And I suddenly realized in the midst of marveling that this exactly reflected the goodness of God.
His goodness and beauty is so multi-faceted, is such an enormous spectrum of delight to experience, that we can only continue to discover how wide it is. We start by discovering our planet, and our solar system, and then the galaxy, and then that there are countless galaxies out there, that the universe is so enormous we can't even imagine its scope, but can only continue to make our small discoveries step by step in its vastness.
God's goodness is like that. On an enormous spectrum we can't see the end of.
And our spiritual walk is our exploration of that spectrum; discovering new shades and new depths, step by step.
'Human beings carry the unique ability to not merely please God through their existence, but to do so through conscious joy in their Creator.'
~Sweeney and Strachan
Along my one hour bus route to college, almost half of the time is pure highway with hardly any buildings, bridges, or people--fairly rare for Singapore. Instead, I get treated to a gloriously long vista of trees; rain trees, gentle giants whose lacy canopies are so high above that their wispy beauty often goes unnoticed...plump bushy trees like marshmallows , their green sides frosted with feathery orange...slim sad-looking trees...young bare-branched ones with a few brave leaves...choruses of vibrant, happy red leaves gleaming in the sun...
I am so thankful for the trees along my prayer route. They make it so easy to see God. They make His goodness so simple to understand, and so real to feel. Looking at them, absorbing their beauty, loosens my mind and heart from all the busyness and distractions that have tied them into hard knots of efficiency, and my heart naturally turns to God--not, for once, because I need His help, but simply because He is the source of all this beauty.
As Steve DeWitt said: Beauty is God's invitation to delight in Him.
And in that lovely restful frame of mind I slip into prayer as easily as falling asleep (which is an apt analogy since it's on a bus)--specifically, the first stage of prayer, Adoration; it takes on a new meaning after your soul has been steeped in vivid awareness of the goodness of God.
I wish I could reflect God's glory as purely and consistently as the trees do, I thought once.
I may have more potential to do so in a greater scale, but I am a lot more likely NOT to actually maximize that potential.
This lovely quote, however, was a comforting and uplifting reminder to counter-balance that otherwise possibly depressing thought (I say possibly because I couldn't actually feel depressed in the face of all those glorious trees; just humbled in a wholesome, good sort of way.) It was from the short book Jonathan Edwards: Lover of God by Sweeney and Strachan. (I started reading this book mainly for an overview of Edwards' life, work, and impact; but along the way I discovered it had little gems of its own tucked away obscurely, in the middle of a prosaic paragraph of factual autobiographical narration.)
Human beings carry the unique ability to not merely please God through their existence, but to do so through conscious joy in their Creator.
Yes, the trees are pleasing God--and man--simply by being, by existing, by quivering under the load of beauty that they bear. I sense the joy God has in them when I look at them, the delight in His creation which made Him say 'It is good.'
And as for us--we flawed, weak, selfish, foolish humans--we can be this, and even more. When we consciously delight in God, we glorify Him even more than the tree in all its beauty. I don't even have to do something great and splendid before I can glorify Him. I can glorify God through something as simple and natural and desirable as being happy in Him.
To seek joy in Him--because it is joy; because I need it; because it enables me to understand Him; and because it glorifies Him.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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