“Asking your work to prove anything only invites doom.”
– Art & Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland
I have detractors. It’s good. Everyone needs at least a few. I’ve been saving them up for a while now.
All my life I’ve collected resentment for people who tried to keep me down, tried to control me, tried to use me for their own ends, teachers, principals, administrators, classmates, their parents, church people, playground kids, neighbors, and several so-called Christians in big offices and some who shop in Christian bookstores and some I’ve met in conference halls.
What I’d like to say to them is, You didn’t know me. You didn’t know the first thing. I was foreign to you, younger, smaller and easily misunderstood. Well, now I’ve grown up. And though you aren’t likely to read this, I’ve been secretly writing to you for many years now. Truth is, you’ve controlled my life a bit and made it pretty rough, writing and working to express what’s lived inside me for so many years.
So this is my revenge. Or something.
So many things I’ve written, they’ve had an element of this anger, of getting back at you, of proving myself and showing you how wrong you were about me. Of course, I didn’t realize I was only using this (hobby/habit/obsession/addiction) and I’d have denied it too, but what else could drive someone so much, push them on when they don’t want to keep working, maybe even make them a little bit great?
The true achievers are always a little bit about the revenge, aren’t they?
Sometimes I’ve used other things—work, whiskey, donuts. But for years this book I’ve been writing was my masters degree, my doctorate, my post-doctoral residency in misery. I practiced a low-level rage. And it was my deeper reason for writing because I thought it was my strongest fuel.
But inspiration struck last week while I sat on the deck eating lunch. It was on the head of a bee.
Insects are plentiful this year with all the flowering things. And a few bees are clearly the miscreants of the hive, buzzing around us, shirking their duties while their family does all the work. So I watched this one bee come to the same spot on the same chair and bonk his head over and over again. Eventually, he’d fly off only to come back and conk his cranium on that same spot.
I even got a picture of the little brainiac.
I’d noticed something in one of the several books I’m working on, and the timing of this little illustration couldn’t have been more perfect. I wondered if sometimes it just takes a while until you can see what you’re doing, and how all you’ve been writing has been banging your head against the same old deck chair. Maybe it takes a long time sometimes to see you’re not really succeeding in doing anything but giving yourself a headache. Maybe you even thought if you gave up that fuel for your work, what could possibly replace it?
But there is something else just beyond that stupidity. You won’t make things right by showing them, or proving you’re better, or just making them pay. And when you realize it, you have to give that up now, finally once and for all, and to start really writing for the one true goal: that ever higher purpose.
You’ll write better for a different reason entirely.
Every week, I write knowing I’m not alone in this. So this is what I did and I believe we all must do this, to look at the work clearly, without fear and without need. All the things we need our writing to do for us—to bring us acceptance, approval, understanding. These are universal needs, but they’re horrible task masters. They’re anchoring weights to the work. Instead, “Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen, as a good parent listens to a child.” – Art & Fear, p. 36.
If you carry resentment, this is how you can save yourself. You might say to those enemies,
I will not write another word for you. I give up. You will not get me to respond—you were never the point. You were obstacles in my story, plot points the Writer was using for a greater purpose. That’s right: you were just tools all along! And I don’t need you anymore because I’m done making anyone pay for what they’ve done to me. I’m not angry. I like myself and I’m happy for my struggles, the things I’ve suffered in my life. It’s all taught me and made me who I am. And now I have a job to do.
Without opposition, without injustice, we couldn’t grow. And without seeing that and embracing it, we’d never learn to stop banging our heads against the deck chair and shake it off and laugh at our failures. Without punishing ourselves we’d have been too proud, too defensive, too important to fail.
Would I have found this without that bee? The empathy I needed, the compassion for myself and others? I don’t know. And if I hadn’t been stuck in life like that, would I have any deeper understanding or words of wisdom? If life had been perfect would I even know what it meant to be here, in this place now, this life, with this beautiful, brilliant woman who loves me, these children who think I’m Sir Galahad?
It makes me cry to think of it. Who would I be? Who would I be?
So thank you, God. Thank you, thank you for my sufferings. Thank you for every second of patient learning and suffering you endured as my parent, to watch me fight and kick and argue against you, and allowing all you knew would ultimately grow me. Let the learning never end until that great day I’ve finally become the broken vessel you intended to create, to carry, however poorly, your glorious higher purpose.
This has been, and is now, and always will be forever for you, my freedom from revenge.
In Him is all we need. And He is more than sufficient.
For the Higher Purpose,