The Corrosive Temptation of Being a Creative," since it popped up in my Twitter feed last night. In it, Gary Thomas (author of Sacred Marriage) makes wise points about how our longing to fulfill creative urges--to write, sing, paint, dance for an appreciative audience; to be recognized for our gifts and contributions--often create the ground for narcissism to take root. And narcissism, he points out, ruins everything. "If you're not careful," he warns, "you might succeed at your art at the cost of your soul."
I see enough of this in the writing world to be afraid. It's less common among my mainstream author friends--I guess in traditional publishing it's always so clear how many more books you could be writing (none of us can keep up with Joyce Carol Oates!) that it's tough to stay full of yourself for more than a week and a half before your balloon deflates and you come back down to earth in front of a half-finished draft of your next project.
But in Christian writing circles, this is epidemic. I'm discouraged by the number of authors who started out writing deep thoughts about living in this impossible gap between heaven and earth and had some success...and are now doing some version of "life coaching,"or helping others self-actualize/discover meaning, or teaching classes about taking control of our own stories, writing our own endings, or things like that, just to keep having something to say, to keep producing new books and talks.
I know where this urge come from. I wrestle with it all the time. I'm part of the huge potential audience who longs to believe that I have the power in me to fix the frustrating parts of my life--that it's not up to God, it's up to me. This urge feeds on almost any hint of hope. So if you have some writing skill and an idea, it's not too hard to find yourself caught feeding this cycle.
I keep the manuscript from my first book--200+ pages of beautifully worded drivel called Feminine Magnetic Power--in my office as a warning of this temptation. Thankfully, it was never published. Because as lovely as it was, it had no substance beyond my own conviction that I had something to write and therefore someone ought to read it.
The Bible brings me back to reality. I have no idea what I was created for. I have a few guesses (and a lots of evidence that it does not involve math or preparing gourmet cuisine). God keeps surprising me, and when I try to steer the ship, it stalls. Feminine Magnetic Power was a stall. It was the best of my efforts, forced out because I believed that if God gave me writing talent He had to back up what I wrote--especially if I put a spiritual spin on it. That's not true.
As a writer, there have been two seasons where God has told me specifically, "You don't have your ending yet. The time isn't right to tell this story." Both times, I've kicked against that, flailing about because I felt like I was on a deadline and if I wasn't writing now I'd never write again and I'd fail to make my contribution to the planet. That, my friends, is narcissism. But the good news is, those roots get pulled up & out each time I look around and notice: the planet is still spinning without my pithy words to guide it...and God has some other things for me to do while He directs my stories to their good endings. Then, I suspect, He'll set me free to write. When I wait, it's worth it. But it requires me to believe that God's plan is better than mine, and that's difficult, especially on days when my life isn't shaped by fun and self-actualization, but errands and minutia.
Today, if you have a chance, check your inner landscape for seeds of narcissism. Rip 'em out when you find them, and ask God to help you guard against future infestations. Give your talents, and all the dreams that go with them, to God, trusting that He will show us when & how to invest them for the greatest return--for treasure that has His value, not just ours.
(As I type that, a passage from the Gospel of Matthew comes to mind, where Jesus talks about how our heart dwells where our treasure is, and then tells us not to worry. I'll try to keep all this in mind today :))