Tag Archives: creative work

Why You Must Face Your Shame

“I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom.” – Matthew 18:3-4 MSG

How long it’s taken me to understand this. How I’ve resisted the knowledge that to get what I really want, I’ve got to face my shame of being no one.

And it’s such a common story: I just wanted to be strong, independent, a self-made man. How shameful is that? Somehow despite all I knew about following Jesus, I still resisted this very humility that’d bring what I was really looking for.

Being healed, whole, and fully alive meant trying many things before I could give up trying.

Just how much of the whole struggle does this part of it make up? I don’t know. But based on how hard it is to hear, let alone do something about, I’m betting it’s more than many of us want to admit.

Knowing what you really want tells you how to proceed. If you know what you’re after, you know your deepest passion. Passion is what gets the work done, but few people are deeply aware of what their passion really is.

Because it’s really difficult to know! We want many things, we serve many masters. Our desires are all over the place. But that’s the core why of our passion, and uncovering the source of that drive, the why, is what makes the most compelling stories.

The archetypal hero is always really in search of her why. It’s a story you can never exhaust because we all somehow know the real reason is always deeper, and no amount of struggle will reveal it until we’re ready to give up trying.

And most will never stop trying because they’re too hurt, too bent on justice, too proud to admit their own faults, and too ashamed to admit their impotence. No one wants to see there’s a deep pathos at the core of life.

There was once a man who came to Jesus asking for his help to change his life. He didn’t know what Jesus would do, but he knew he needed help, and he knew Jesus could do something. He didn’t much care how or even what he did exactly. The strength of the desire overwhelmed every other concern.

When he found Jesus and made his request, he got the surprise of his life. Jesus wanted to know what the man was willing to do. Somehow Jesus knew the very thing that ashamed him the most, and it became the test of his worthiness to receive help. Faced with Jesus’ embarrassing request, the man thought and decided if Jesus was willing to help him, it was worth any loss of dignity and the man agreed. He did it. And Jesus healed him.

But as the man was walking home, he began to wonder what had really happened. Somehow he knew despite Jesus’ obvious power and ability to heal, he’d wanted the man to realize something more than that. In turning his request around, Jesus had asked for trust, and when the man agreed, he’d shown him how to be healed. And it wasn’t after he’d done what Jesus asked, but in the process of doing it he received the miracle.

This revelation was the true healing, the man realized, and as he walked, he began laughing. There was a cosmic joke at the core of life. The master had shown him something that could heal everything in his life, if he could only receive it. Maybe it was always a question of whether he could face the shame of what he feared the most–loss of pride. Only then would he be worthy to receive the thing he needed. That was the key, the test, the secret: the doing it anyway.

Facing your shame may not feel like the way to all you dream. It doesn’t excite me to think of where I might be abased or disrespected today. It certainly doesn’t seem like the reason I wrote a book. But in as much as I came looking for hope of something, and realized even faintly the source of that hope was only in one man, I’d be facing a test at some point to accept my deeper reason and his higher purpose.

The vision for any book of passion is in the shame the writer was willing to face for the true Author. And the doing of it, whatever it required, that was the truest test determining the outcome.

“It is essential to practice the walk of the feet in the light of the vision.” – Oswald Chambers

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Living the Art: The Make-Over Edition

This writing thing, it takes so long to learn.

Actually, it takes so long to heal and develop better habits.

Maybe that’s the nature of making art: it has to make you over first.

red flowers

Sometimes I think I’ve figured something out only to realize I haven’t captured the most important part. Sometimes I think I should be more practical and stop pretending and just amusing myself and my family right into poverty.

But here’s what I’m done with: narcissism that passes for authenticity. This pseudo-vulnerable disease I’m prone to. The tell is in the motivation. True honesty can’t be faked. The ego falls away and the humanity shines through, and you feel known and seen and helped.

I want to experience something real in opposition to the undertow of the ever-deepening mire.

white flowers

The higher purpose is in the unfakable connection. It’s fighting to hold to what’s real and learning to avoid the rest. It’s holding to the change we really need and finding the maturity to resist pandering and dismiss more simplistic stuff.

And sure, some days I can’t seem to do it and I forget to set my timer and go AWOL on the ol’ Interwebs. But more and more often, I’m succeeding because I remember that to embrace the mystery of a story is a feeling without parallel and in it, I know I become more fully alive.

But why do we treat those who slow us down to appreciate more of our lives as obstructions rather than the true angels they are? It’s a priceless favor and I’m so grateful to the artists, the poets, the musicians who hold the line against the encroaching chaos, who hold my face up to the smudgy window to see as they’ve seen for a few precious moments with my few remaining breaths fogging up the glass.

See? they ask. See what you could be?

Who can afford to waste one more day in the prison of amusement? A-musement, literally “without thought.” We think of amusement as fun, but what’s fun? Is it fun to escape what’s real? Or is real fun finally escaping into what’s real? What’s ultimately the difference between entertainment and education? Shouldn’t both be for our betterment?

pink

“Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.” – Marshall McLuhan

And yet not everything is equally bettering. I don’t want to make art that amuses because amusement steals the best and replaces it with the good-enough. It panders to provide unhealthy preoccupation and tempt with shadow missions. I know too many of those all too well.

I have no need of amusement. I’ve been called to something better.

Insecurity about this causes me great doubt. And in that compounded self-pity, I accept all the ugliness that forces me to fight still harder for the truth. To write, I must get free of blindness and narrowness to see as Jesus taught with the eyes of compassion, or I’ll only linger at the beginning of this endless journey.

The fearful writers share much in common with the ego-driven—they’re two sides of the same coin.

I know these traps too well.

books

But it matters to get to the root of your issues to improve your own core. That’s the artist who is making the art, doing the thinking, wielding the tools.

“You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.” –Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Okay, I admit it. That’s why it takes so long. That’s what I want. I’m not looking for perfection. I just want to be an engaged artist. I want the higher purpose, to be bettered so I can better. For the work to be the inevitable result that connects me to a community who’s doing that too. For the art not to stand alone but to be the effect of this greater cause.

When the artist is more patient and mature, the art will be simpler and finer as well.

If you’re blocked or worried or jealous of others, you look at that because it points to what you really want. That’s what artists know. It’s an arrow to what you need to face next.

sky

St. Lamott: “better to feel it and talk about it and walk through it than to spend a lifetime being silently poisoned.” Blocks and worries and fears and especially jealousy all reveal your dreams.

That’s a fact. And my jealousy tells me I want to be Neil Gaiman, Markus Zusak, John Green, Madeline L’Engle, Harper Lee. That’s terrifying to admit because I immediately hear laughter. Witness the egomaniac! “Who do you think you are?” I’ve heard that voice a long time and I’ve coached writers for years because I need to hear the truth and learn to follow my own advice. If only I could believe that’s not God’s voice, it’s never God’s voice asking that.

pink2Look deeper. Listen more closely. It’s an accusing voice. The Accuser. And we know the only one who can answer that devil question.

And what does he say? He says, “He’s/She’s MINE!”

As I’m in Christ and he’s in me, to be love by his power, that’s never a pride thing. It’s being humble enough not to fear being so honest. To begin truly helping others rather than merely amusing myself I must be who someone needs.

And that someone is me. I experienced this conviction just this week and had to repent of getting sidetracked yet again. Then a decision to be changed was needed:

Am I his? 

hearts

Throughout my journey I’ve seen Christs in my parents, my wife, my siblings and their wives and my kids. I’ve seen him in friends and other writers and in their characters and they’ve become my story too. Thank God for the lives I’ve known. They show me my own journey and why I want to do this work.

I was first changed by Meg Murray in A Wrinkle in Time 30 years ago.  She was Christ to me. And then so many others too, but I can only contribute if I’ll die to the selfish part that wants approval and realize, as Jennifer Dukes Lee says, I’m already pre-approved (if you struggle with being known and accepted, oh my, get this book).

Do I believe that more than in theory? And does my fear prove that functionally, at least, I really believe the opposite?

So I persevere to preserve the best words I can.

And I write to experience what’s real.