One of the first exercises I had the students in my Narrative Writing class do this semester is write about their greatest fear. It was hard; I know, because I did it myself. And I will have to admit that I cheated somewhat. I told the class three things I was afraid of, but the story I chose was not about the thing I feared the most.
Because the thing I fear the most–beyond the fear of close places and being buried alive, beyond even my fear of The Devil–is the fear of public humiliation. I will have to admit that it’s something that I have had to deal with my whole life, and its flip side, my insatiable desire for approval. In a way, that’s what drives me to continue to write. I think writers all seek approval. That’s what the seeking of an audience is all about.
But the phobia about public humiliation worries me. Because I have always viewed myself as a rebel, an agitator, someone who lived outside the comfort zone. As I take inventory of myself, I realize that I really haven’t left that comfort zone at all, just moved it to appear that I was taking more risks than I really was.
Thinking about this has led me to two conclusions.
First, as a Christian, I have been mandated by Jesus’ Great Commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19. Jesus wasn’t calling for us to settle down, live comfortable, happy, peaceful lives and be content. Instead, he was calling for the impossible, for us to leave the comfort zones of home and hearth in His Name and spread the revolution of faith and promise that comes with being committed Christians. I think many Christians have lost sight of that fact, and that’s one of the reasons why we haven’t done our part in hastening the Second Coming. Jesus isn’t asking us to be content. He is asking us to take risks, and in doing so learn to depend on Him more and more. This is all in preparation of our total dependence on Him in this and the life to come.
Second, as a writer, I need to challenge myself to take more risks. In Narrative Writing, we’ve been studying a book by Ralph Keyes entitled The Courage to Write. One might think it’s all about getting the courage to put words on paper and then sending those words into a would-be publisher. It does talk about that, but it also talks about what we write. According to Arthur Miller, “The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.” It also talks about the fear that one’s ideas will never live up to our limited abilities to put those ideas on paper. “Hardest of all is to accept that the world one has created won’t be as good as the world one dreamed of writing about. It never is,” writes Keyes.
I’ve tried to make New Year’s resolutions before, and never been successful. So I won’t say that’s what I am going to do. But I do want to challenge myself to step out into the abyss and learn to trust God more, rather than depending on the tried and true comfort zone I have built around myself. That goes for my writing as well as the life I live.
Maybe by doing so, I will turn the corner on living and writing, and break free of much of the complacency that surrounds us so much of the time.