i read somewhere that you know you’re a writer if you can’t help but write. If you must write, then you know you are among those word-crafters, those story-spinners, those who take us somewhere other than ourselves into a world of beauty, pain, hope and sometimes grotesque horror and salvation. You know you’re a writer when… and I thought… how sad. i guess i’m not a writer then. i thought this because I hadn’t accomplished what I thought I should – to get published, to be acknowledged as a writer, to have people paying for all the books I put in the world.
Never mind the volumes upon volumes of journals on my shelf filled to capacity with tiny handwritten cursive scrawl. Never mind the folders and folders marked with the years of the past decade in my laptop, filled with the tap tap taping of my fingers on the keys, getting the words out – getting the feelings into a decipherable, manageable form. No. I must not be a writer. But here I sit, tapping away, making the words into sentences, into paragraphs, into a collection of thoughts that could be shared and understood by those who read it. But I’m not a writer. How sad.
What the writer who wrote the words that brought me to this conclusion did not say is – “You know you are a good writer if you can’t help but write. You know your worth and value as someone with a voice and something to say if you can’t help but write words.” And too often I believe that is what we are looking for through the medium that has chosen us. We look at the things we do and wait for it to tell us how worthy we are, how good we are, how deserving we are… and the rub is, if you ever do achieve the accolade and your work ever does tell you you are great, worthy, deserving, it will certainly turn around and stab you in the back at the next turn with your failure to follow up your great success with another one.
I am a writer. These four words do not sum up my entirety, they do not create value or worth for me – these words are merely a description of a fact. I do write. I write and write and write and write and write. These four words say nothing of what I actually have to say. Because being a writer and having something to say are two very different things.
I am a writer. I am a worship leader. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a singer/songwriter. I am a sister. I am a friend. I am a daughter.
None of these statements clarify nuance or meaning or worth. They simply are. As long as I look to these things that are true about me to speak the Truth to me, to define my value, my worth, my deservedness, that is how long I will feel like a worthless failure. The things I do can never tell me my worth, yet isn’t that what we witness? Throngs of humanity, seeking affirmation through their doing?
This is a tough one to learn, I think. It’s hard to get your head and heart around this truth when so much of what we see says our doing is where value comes from. But it isn’t. The value in what we do comes out of who we are. (Selah) Who I am is not defined by anything I do. That is all separate. So nothing I do can change who I am. That’s a hard statement to see in black and white for a girl like me. But it’s true. It’s not what I’ve believed, but it is true, none-the-less. I believed if I did “it” wrong, or missed the mark or just didn’t do it “good enough” – whatever that “it” was, that it made me bad, (and nothing was ever ever EVER good enough) that it separated me from God’s presence, that it disqualified me from being loved and given affection, that it said I was lesser-than, worthless.
I’m pretty sure this belief is what kept me frozen in place, and all my writing and writing and writing, locked safely away in my journals and laptop, it stopped me from writing songs and saying what I meant and pursuing anything fully. The fear that I would do something or say something to devalue who I am, that if I said it and someone thought I was wrong or didn’t think it was up to snuff, that it would make me bad, unlovable, unworthy somehow. It was a real fear. It had me in the bed with debilitating depression and panic attacks, it had me moping around feeling sorry for myself because I could never do anything worthwhile, locked away in sadness I couldn’t escape, too afraid to do anything for fear I would fail. It was a lie.
I remember years ago I asked my sister to read the book I was writing – this book I’ve been writing on and off again for almost half my life now. From the back seat of the car I caught her eyes in the rearview mirror – she paused for a long time and finally said – “What if I don’t like it?” I immediately said never mind and stared out the window my heart sinking into a black pit, and I didn’t write another word on it for three years. Hence, the taking half my life to write it. What if she didn’t like it? What if she hated it? What if she loved it? (Which honestly wasn’t even in my wheelhouse of possibilities) But I knew that I wouldn’t survive her not liking what I had written, that I would possibly burn it if she said it wasn’t good – or worse, if she said nothing, because then I would fill in all the worst things possible to say about it. I couldn’t bear for her to say she didn’t like what I had written because at the time it translated into – I don’t like you. You aren’t good enough and you won’t be any good unless you are a brilliant writer. And I believed in my heart of hearts I would never be able to write a book she would enjoy. She read War and Peace for heaven’s sake. She read Anna Karenina. I don’t write classic literature.
Somewhere deep inside, there is a shadow me that still cringes with this fear. Some part of me still believes what I do or don’t do is where I find worth, but the louder voice in my heart is telling me that I am loved, that I am valuable and that nothing can separate me from the Love of God, (and nothing actually means nothing) A truth I am beginning to believe more than the fear that has held me in silence. I eventually picked up my book and started writing again and maybe one day I will publish it, but only because it brings me joy and not because I look to it to give me something it can never give.
So here is to today, a day to keep moving forward into what is true, away from the heavy chains of fear that bind us, here is to living wholehearted lives, full of the security of the Father’s love – here is to doing the things that make us come alive, not because it’s what we should do – not because we are little worthless turds if we don’t, not for fear that God will withdraw his Love from us if we fail, but because it brings us joy. And may our words, or art, or caregiving, or teaching, or serving, or accounting, or lawyering, or constructing and building reflect the Love and worth we carry inside. (not the other way around)