A few weeks before Spiritual Misfit released to the public, I mailed out a bunch of advance copies to people – “influencers,” as they are called in publishing lingo. Some of these people I knew a little bit from the Christian blogging/writing world, some were people I didn’t have a personal connection with at all. Many who received those advance copies didn’t respond. This, I know, is par for the course. People are busy; they have their own books to promote; they have their own close writer friends to support. This is the way the system works.
But here’s the hard part: some of the people who had initially expressed interest in my book ultimately didn’t respond either. I heard nothing from them. Utter silence. No response.
I get it. I do. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. People are busy. We bite off more than we can chew. And frankly, people are allowed to not like a book. Just because you send someone a free copy of your book, even if they’ve told you they want to read it, doesn’t mean they have to like it.
But here’s where it gets ugly (You thought you’d heard all my book-related angst and ugliness, didn’t you? Yeah, no. There’s more. Pour yourself a second cup of coffee.) You know what happens when you put your story into the world and into the hands of people you admire and respect and who you want to like you and respect you back, and you hear nothing?
You assume the worst.
Not only do you assume that your writing didn’t resonate with them; you also begin to assume your story itself didn’t resonate.
And, because you wrote a memoir, a story about your own life, you begin to assume that you, as a human being, didn’t resonate.
Maybe they think my story is baloney, you wonder. Maybe they think I’m a lousy Christian, or a terrible parent or a bad person.
Maybe, you worry, they simply decided they don’t like you.
Once you’re tumbling down this raging river, friends, let me tell you, it’s awfully hard to extricate yourself. I know, because I’ve been caught in the currents of self-doubt, insecurity and, let’s get really real here, self-loathing, for fifteen months now, ever since Spiritual Misfit released a year ago this past April. For fifteen months I haven’t been able to let it go. My brain works overtime, churning out questions, doubts, insecurities, fears. When I can’t sleep, when I’m staring at the shaft of light from the bathroom nightlight, piercing the hallway darkness, I think about those people, the ones who, for whatever reason, didn’t acknowledge my book. I know who they are — believe me, as a first-time author, you know who you send your book to, and who responds and who doesn’t. I obsess over them.
It seems God has had enough of this foolishness, because last Saturday morning, he plunked me into a chair on my back patio and he gave me a stern talking to. God used Isaiah to get right up in my grill. Isaiah is really good at that, I’ve come to realize over the years. When God wants to get all up in your grill, he uses Isaiah. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow. Oh, that you had listened to my commands. Then you would have peace flowing like a gentle river and righteousness rolling over you like waves in the sea.” (Isaiah 47: 17-18)
Did you catch that? Should follow.
That word should is important. God leads us toward the right paths, the paths we should follow, but he also gives us a choice; he allows us to choose whether or not we will follow the paths he has chosen for us. Choose the right way, the way God leads — toward him – and you will float, buoyant and free, in his peace.
Choose the other way, the wrong way – the way of idolatry — and you will be tossed and tumbled about and will ultimately sink like a river-worn rock, straight to the bottom, where you will stay, mired in the muck.
I know how this works first-hand because I’ve chosen wrong for the last fifteen months.
I’ve chosen the approval of people over the approval of God.
I have not listened to his commands, particularly his first one, his most important one.
I’ve chosen the way of not-enough, less-than, why-don’t-they-like-me, why-aren’t-I-good-enough. I haven’t looked toward him, I have looked toward them, toward the approval of my peers, and I have been tossed and tumbled and have sunk, again and again, straight to the bottom, where I’ve settled, stuck, in the muck.
Thankfully, though, that wasn’t all God had to say to me last Saturday morning in the patio chair. He also said this:
“Yet even now, be free from your captivity!” (Isaiah 48:20)
Last Saturday morning as the sun tipped over the top of the white pines, God spoke those words to me, right after he’d gotten all up in my grill. Yet even now, he said, even now. God reminded me that while I may have sunk like a rock to the bottom, into the muck, I am not sunk for good. I am not stuck.
The way to peace, peace like a river, is still open to me.
Even now, after fifteen months of choosing wrong, after fifteen months of choosing the idol of approval over God, even now, it’s not too late to be free from captivity. Let it go, God said. Choose the right path, the one I’ve had for you all along, the path toward peace like a gently flowing river.
I don’t know if you wrestle with this kind of angst like I do. I don’t know if you fight tooth and nail to keep God first in your life, instead of putting the approval of others and the need to be liked and admired — or any idol, for that matter — ahead of him. I don’t know if you have peace flowing like a gentle river, or if you are roiling in tumultuous waters, fighting to keep your head above the swirling current.
If you tend toward the latter, though, if you find yourself sinking under that weight, remember God’s words in Isaiah, spoken to you, spoken to me, right now.
Even now, no matter how many week or months or years you have struggled in that current of despair, you can be free from captivity.
Rise from the bottom, from the murky depths, God says. Rise to the surface, to peace, in me.