One of the toughest things I've ever learned, and am still learning, is how to guard my heart against the comments of others. Rejection in its many forms can wound deeply, especially if what you are expressing comes from deep within you. If you find yourself crying as you write, you've tapped into something that you deeply feel and intensely want to share with others. Rest assured that there will be people who read your work who just won't get it. They can wound you deeply if you let them.
Thanks to the wonders of the Information Age, reviewers are no longer limited to the local newspaper's Sunday book column. Instead, average people using their home computers can now determine the sales of your work and your future as a writer by posting their opinions at blogs and online booksellers.
If you have a thin skin, that is if you are easily offended, then you might not find this form of feedback to be the acclaim you've desired. My major mental defense against written criticism has been a line about life in the big city from that profoundly deep movie, "Muppets take Manhattan," to wit: "Peoples is peoples." I use that phrase to remind myself that you are going to experience both good and ill from critics because "Peoples is peoples." Count on it. It's a fun maxim that stirs a chuckle instead of a sigh.
Criticism, even ill-meant criticism, can contain nuggets of truth that will strengthen you and improve your work, if you are prepared to receive them. Proverbs 17:10 says, "A single rebuke does more for a person of understanding than a hundred lashes on the back of a fool." Therefore, stay humble and teachable without becoming a doormat for everyone who has an opinion.
As for an emotional defense against rejection, I've learned to guard my heart, first by choosing with whom I will share certain things, and secondly by first examining my motivations for sharing deeply felt observations with anyone. Those closest to you may be unprepared to appreciate your work. Even Jesus experienced this in Mark3:21, "When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. "He's out of his mind," they said."
Jesus warns us in Matthew 7:6, "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces." There will be people who won't value what you have to offer them. Simply put, they may not be ready to see the value in your words and may even violently oppose you. Those closest to us though their rejection can hurt us the most. You cannot prove anything to someone who is unprepared to receive it. Give them grace, forgive them, and move on.
Take a deep look at your motivations for wanting to share your work with others. If writing "burns in your bones," then you don't have much of a choice. It can be a bittersweet calling with moments of great loneliness and moments of great joy, especially if your writing reveals the Lord's beauty. However, if you are writing to win the acclaim of others, you can be deeply hurt through the sting of rejection and indifference.
Jeff Gerke in his book, The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction, takes this issue head on in his first section, "The Spiritual Heart of Writing Christian Fiction," Jeff talks about entering a place of fullness in your relationship with God so that you no longer desire the acclaim of others and you are not greedy for success. If you really want to write Christian speculative fiction, it's a necessary place to be.
Should you find the codependent need to earn the love of others, seek counseling to help you find emotional healing. You will be able to help others better and better weather the buffets of a hostile planet. I learned this the hard way and lost years of writing time in the face of even the most feeble criticism. I found I could not articulate my deepest feelings in writing because I was afraid of rejection and hog-tied by it. I found my identity not framed by the opinions of others, but established in my personal relationship with God.
Finally, in experiencing spiritual rejection, take comfort that you will experience rejection because our loving Lord Jesus is daily rejected on many levels. Like Him, we will experience rejection from those opposed to his message of God's love and healing. Like Him, we must also realize that we will be attacked by those under the sway of evil, because as Ephesians 6:12 says, "For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places."
Our work is not only read by humans, but by those beings who have spiritual connections to their unsuspecting mortal hosts. Therefore what we write is transmitted to infernal places where the truth of the Gospel is deeply feared. As James 2:19 says, "You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror."
Our writing as a testimony of our faith will earn on-going spiritual attacks. Revelation 12:11 says, "And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die."
Count on big-time opposition, stand firm, and spend time before God daily in prayer, in His word, in meditation, and in worship. In doing so, you don the whole armor of God found in Ephesians 6:10-20 and like Paul serve as an ambassador of life to a dying planet.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
|American painter John Singer Sargent's portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson|
Today marks the 160th birthday of one of the most widely translated and beloved writers, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). His creative genius gave us Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and the dark speculative novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Though many know him as a novelist, he was also a poet, essayist, and travel writer.
The son of a devout Scottish Presbyterians, Stevenson by turns moved away from Christianity as he saw it practiced. Yet later in life while battling chronic respiratory illness and depression, he showed great courage in standing up for the rights and dignity of native peoples, particularly the Samoans, who he came to know and love through his residence in the South Pacific.
While in Hawaii and following the death of Father Damien DeVeuster, he went with great anticipation to investigate the rumors that the Catholic priest had contracted leprosy though intimate relations with female lepers while ministering at the leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.
Instead, the first-hand accounts of Father Damien's 16-year ministry of selflessness and resourcefulness profoundly affected Stevenson. A former Presbyterian missionary to Molokai, Charle M. Hyde, asserted that the rumors of of the priest's misconduct were true. In a letter to a fellow pastor, Hyde characterized Father Damien as "a coarse, dirty man" whose leprosy should be attributed to his 'carelessness'."
Stevenson hastily wrote a stinging rebuttal that left the author fearing he would be sued for libel. In the open letter, Stevenson condemned Hyde for an anti-Catholic bias that blinded him to the worth of Father Damien's work. He also warned Hyde that his own mission work might well become eclipsed by this condemnation of a true Christian saint. This last warning proved prophetic when the Catholic Church canonized Father Damien on October 11, 2009.
While Stevenson had great respect for Christian missionaries in the South Pacific and counted many as friends, there is some doubt that Stevenson was a Christian. His own pronouncements and family history seem to show that Stevenson who flirted with a good many beliefs and did not have a personal relationship with God.
In the Grace Evangelical Society article, "Robert Louis Stevenson: So Near, Yet So Far," author James Townsend portrays Stevenson's life-long tortured struggle to know God. In the end, the only way we may know for certain if Stevenson knew Jesus is to see him standing among the elect in Heaven. For my part, I hope I get to see him there, shake his hand, and thank him for many wonderful hours of reading his books.
If you have not had the opportunity to read his work, do so. If you haven't had the opportunity to read Treasure Island aloud to a child with all the right pirate voices, visit your local library and offer your services. In doing so, you will be firing the imagination of young minds and encouraging them them to read the work of truly great authors. Discriminating Christian parents can appreciate the Stevenson's unquestioned talent and still discuss with their children any ambiguities that may surface while reading his work.
Stevenson's struggles with Christianity show that Christian speculative writers must have a strong relationship with God so that evil does not eclipse the Gospel message. If you are a writer of Christian speculative fiction, listen to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit as you write and confirm it in the Scriptures so there will be no doubt as to your witness.
As Marcher Lord Press publisher Jeff Gerke says in his book The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction, "But in the end, you must let God be in charge of taking your fish and loves and multiplying them out to the people He knows needs them." That can only happen if you know Him.