Last week Michelle wrote about her frustration with the business of being a writer–with the daily battle to gain and keep readers, to sell enough books to make a living from the work she loves. At times that pursuit has left her emotionally exhausted and spiritually taxed. As she puts it, “I’ve mistaken my work–or really, my success at my work–as the only measure of my worth.”
I can attest to this tendency in Michelle. She’s a number watcher in a number-watching business. She measures success blog subscriber by blog subscriber, book sold by book sold. It’s a concrete approach that is reinforced daily by the publishing houses and agents.
My initial, impulsive reaction to Michelle’s post is to point out how far beyond writing, publishing and selling her worth goes. And of course that’s true. Even if the worst happened for her professionally, even if Oprah dedicated an hour-long television special to how people should NOT read Michelle’s work, even then she would be worthwhile beyond measure.
All I need to do to realize that fact is to imagine our family without her. The physical household would fall apart as would the humor and the energy and the inspiration to be our best. Our boys don’t care that thousands of people have read her work. They only care that she reads with them before bed, tends to them in sickness, and laughs a contagious laugh that changes their whole day. The homeless man down the road doesn’t care about her Amazon rank, but I’m guessing that he does care about the food Michelle hands him or the bag of quarters she offers when she sees him carrying his clothes to the laundromat.
True as all of that may be, I cannot ignore how much energy Michelle invests in her work or the fact that it does, at least in part, define her and her sense of worth. And that’s not an entirely bad thing.
In fact, I happen to know the precise moment when I realized that all of the work that Michelle put into writing her memoir was worthwhile and revealed a great deal about her identity.
It was the afternoon of April 12th, and Michelle was doing a reading/book talk for roughly two hundred women at our church. She had forgotten something at home, so she called to ask me to bring it. When I arrived, the crowd was seated in the fellowship hall, and Michelle was reading from a particularly funny section of the book and discussing her journey toward faith.
The corridor from which I watched was empty, and I had the beautiful privilege of seeing how the crowd responded to her. At times they laughed uproariously; at other times they nodded in recognition; mostly they looked, with the bright eyes and subtle smiles of people who are thankful to be so entertained and edified.
Through the doorway I could see most of the crowd, but I could only hear Michelle. And it was the crowd that most interested me. They were the ones who demonstrated, so clearly, the worth in Michelle’s work. I have rarely understood anything so perfectly, so purely than in that moment of realization. Whatever might become of Michelle’s memoir in terms of sales or professional recognition, it paled in comparison to the joy she brought to that group of listeners in that moment.
We can never really understand our worth or even whether our work is worthwhile, because we can never be the person to stand in the corridor. We’re too weighted down by the disparity between the perfection we envision and the reality for which we must settle.
But once in a while–no, as often as possible–we need to see through God’s eyes. They provide the ultimate corridor perspective, the ultimate vision of one who can see past our imperfections to our big-picture impact and to our boundless potential.
That is true worth.