Five years ago I stood in the bracing wind and watched my then-four-year-old son, Rowan, hunt for plastic eggs hidden in the grass. It was the day before Easter, and behind my sunglasses my eyes burned from crying. An hour earlier a literary agent had emailed to tell me that despite his initial interest, he’d decided not to represent my book. I remember the weight of defeat that sat heavy in the pit of my stomach all weekend, even as the organ thundered the final notes of Handel’s “Messiah” on Easter morning.
A couple weeks ago, just before we left for Easter service, I opened my laptop and clicked on Amazon.com. I typed in the title of my recently published book and scrolled down the page until I found the all-important number: the book’s rank. I saw the number had skyrocketed (the lower the number the better) since the book’s release five days earlier. Tears pricked my eyes, and my stomach clenched in defeat.
The irony is not lost on me. Five years ago, I would have relinquished a lifetime’s supply of Jelly Bellies to have my first book for sale on Amazon.com and stacked on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. Yet there I was, disappointed and discontented, a mere five days after the culmination of my dream.
I’ve always been a Triple-Type-A overachiever. As a kid I strove to earn enough badges to decorate my Girl Scout sash top to bottom, front to back. As an adult in the corporate workforce I aimed to achieve a perfect annual review and regular promotions. Ambition and the drive to succeed are stamped on my DNA.
My zest for success is not the problem though. The real issue, it turns out, is my idolatry of ambition and achievement. I’ve made an idol out of the success of my book.
My intentions for the book began honorably. One of the reasons I wrote my memoir was to offer hope to others like myself who were fumbling toward faith. Perseverance enabled me to write the book over two years while working part-time and mothering two young kids. Ambition fueled my relentless pursuit of an agent and publisher.
But along the way, my honorable ambition morphed into something else. My ambition became less and less focused on God and others, until finally, on Easter Sunday morning, I found myself in tears. They weren’t tears of joy that my book had finally been published after seven long years. They weren’t tears of gratitude for the God who saw that process through. I cried because the book wasn’t ranked to my satisfaction on Amazon.com.
I’ve been down this idolatry road before, and I admit it’s disappointing to find myself there again. Like I’ve done in the past, I turned once again to Paul’s words in his Letter to the Romans:
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world,” Paul advised, “but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (Romans 12:2)
It sounds lovely in theory, doesn’t it? In reality, though, letting God transform you by changing the way you think isn’t easy, because that kind of transformation isn’t a one-time, snap-your-fingers-and-it’s-done occurrence. It’s a life-long process of surrendering and re-surrendering; two steps forward, one step back; beginning again and again.
On Easter Sunday morning, I threw myself a pity party. On Monday morning I read Paul’s words, took a deep breath, and began the process of letting God transform me. Again.
This is a repost of the April Lincoln Journal Star column.