Tuesday, March 07, 2006

JSB: Slaying the Monster

I’m reading a book on humility right now, so it’s safe to say I know more about the subject than any of you.

Which brings up the issue of pride.

How do Christian artists take "pride" in what we do, strive to do it well, feel good about results…yet keep pride from leading us to overestimation, envy or some other form of writers’ mental illness?
Anne Lamott, in her book on writing, Bird by Bird, has a hilarious chapter on jealousy. "If you continue to write," she observes, "you are probably going to have to deal with [jealousy] because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you."

This is even (perhaps especially) true when it’s a friend whose "turn it is." Says Lamott: "It can wreak just the tiniest bit of havoc with your self-esteem to find that you are hoping for small bad things to happen to this friend—for, say, her head to blow up."

"Humility," wrote novelist Evelyn Waugh, "is not a virtue propitious to the artist. It is often pride, emulation, avarice, malice—all the odious qualities—which drive a man to compete, elaborate, refine, destroy, renew his work until he has made something that gratifies his pride and envy and greed. And in doing so he enriches the world more than the generous and good, though he may lose his own soul in the process. That is the paradox of artistic achievement."

Is that, then, the only way? To achieve in art, we must lose a little of our soul?

Here is where the Christian artist should claim the greatest victory. For if the promise of God means anything, it is that we are no longer slaves to the old nature. Yes, it still exerts itself in the cellar of our hearts, but we do not have to give it dominion. We have been set free.

So when you feel the monster of pride rooting around, don’t be a victim. Try this instead:
First, recognize that such feelings exist because we are fallen. Just slapping the label "Christian" next to our name doesn’t mean a thing. We are in just as great a need as anyone for salvation from self. The good news of the Gospel is that we have been shown the way.

Then, repent. Have you harbored any ill will toward another writer who has "made it"? Or is further along the road than you are? Give that up immediately. It will do you no earthly good.
Finally, pray it through. Have you ever "prayed the Scripture"? It’s a venerable spiritual discipline. I use Kenneth Boa’s book "Handbook to Prayer" to do it (he has the Scriptures laid out in prayer format). But you can do it easily straight from the Bible.

For example, here is Colossians 1:9-12--

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying
for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all
spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live
a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in
every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all
power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and
patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to
share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

You can pray it this way:

Lord, fill me with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and
understanding, so that I may walk worthy and please you in every way, bearing
fruit in every good work, and growing in the knowledge of you; strengthened with
all power according to your glorious might, so that I may have great endurance
and patience with joy.

Start in the Psalms, and use this spiritual discipline as if your writing life depended on it. It just may.

And by the way, the book I am reading really is called Humility. It’s by the great Scottish preacher of the late 1800’s, Andrew Murray. Bethany House has republished this little gem. It’s a wonderful meditation that will help you keep the green-eyed monster, even if he still snorts on occasion, from eating up your soul.

Then guess what? Writing becomes what it always should be – a joy.

There is nothing James Scott Bell enjoys more than writing. His latest novel is Presumed Guilty (Zondervan). Visit his website at http://www.jamesscottbell.com.
"The Suspense Never Rests"


At 9:06 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Great post. I've been reading through the Bible but maybe I'll take some time off from the read through to focus on Psalms for awhile. I miss them when I'm away too long. And thanks for the laugh.

At 9:44 AM, Blogger Ron Benson said...

I struggle with this. Sometimes I write with the motivation that I'm going to do it better than "XXXXXX."

God knows my motives. He can burn away the wood, hay, and stubble, replacing it with gold - If I'm willing to get warmed by his refiner's fire in the process.

Thanks, Jim. Good preachin'.

At 9:49 AM, Blogger C.J. Darlington said...

"Writing becomes what it always should be – a joy."

Jim, I love this quote. I know I forget this sometimes, and I really need to remember it.

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

snorting...I've heard that sound. Great post...a timely reminder to focus on God and praise...

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

My father-in-law says, "Every dog has his day."

At 11:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post made me laugh. It also made me remember the joy of discovering the "key" for me, when years ago I struggled with consistency in morning devotions. At that time I had a certain person on my heart, and "happened" to be reading Col. 1:9 (which you quote here) and it hit me... hey, this is a PRAYER, and I can pray it for HER.

How simple, and what a moment of revelation. Prayer and reading the Word became a two-way conversation between me and the Lord on a level I hadn't experienced before.

[insert clever segway here]

It's tough for a writer to refrain from comparing herself to other writers. I don't find myself envying another's publishing success, but her mastery of craft, insight into character, her intelligence and use of language. Admiration and appreciation are great motivators. Taken too far, though, it only leads to frustration and loss of focus.

Well, for me it does. *s*

Thanks for another great post, JSB.

Lori B

At 11:48 AM, Blogger ~ Brandilyn Collins said...

"There is nothing James Scott Bell enjoys more than writing."

What? You're ENJOYING writing right now? I'm jealous.

~ Brandilyn

At 12:31 PM, Blogger James Scott Bell said...

LOL, Brandilyn! You can enjoy your marriage, even though you have some tussles with your spouse! There certainly ARE times when I can't wait to get to the "glad I'm finished" part. But it's like climbing a mountain. Once you reach the summit, there's no feeling like it.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger lisa said...

I can fall into the big green pool of slime very easily. It's at those times I try to count the blessings God has given me (if I can surface long enough to think positively) in not just what I've been given writing-wise, but in the rest of my life: for good kids, a loving husband, food on the table, roof over the head, good friends and a wonderful faith community not only here in Lexington but in the writing world, back home, and well, wherever people are who want to follow Jesus.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Deborah Raney said...

Envy is all about comparison. At the risk of straying over into the opposite of envy and becoming prideful, I find it does help me - as long as I'm comparing - to at least compare myself to the right people: those who would be thrilled to be where I am, instead of those who have accomplished so much more than I. Then I find I have much for which to be grateful. And honestly, that's usually very humbling and a nice attitude check.

Great post, Jim. I needed that today.

At 7:40 PM, Blogger Patricia Hickman said...

This is such a beautiful treatise on preserving the mechanism for higher service. The fact is that we cannot both write well and center our thoughts on unhealthy comparisons. You're right, Jim. Humility is the balm for good mental health. Slather me up, Father.


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