When I was a kid, I avoided team sports at all costs. At one point in elementary school, I worked myself up to a real – not phantom – stomachache in the days preceding softball week during gym class. I begged my mom for a doctor’s excuse not to play, but of course, it was a fruitless effort. Therefore, I made myself sick so that I could be excused to go to the nurse’s station once physical education class began.
As a lifelong perfectionist, I’ve never wanted to be compared to anyone else. I hated the societal cues that, in order to be successful, a person had to be number one at everything s/he attempted in life. That message only exacerbated my low self-confidence, and I convinced myself that, if I couldn’t be perfect in everything I tried, then it wasn’t worth trying at all.
That was, in part, why I dismantled my childhood dream of becoming a published author. At the time, I had no interior gumption to accept the criticism, whether hardcore or constructive, that would inevitably be a part of the journey. In truth, I had no humility. I wasn’t in a place where I was willing to risk humiliation.
When God called me to pursue writing as a second career, I was petrified at first. I didn’t want to be in the spotlight, but there was a part of me that desired to be lauded for my accomplishments. Living quietly and unpretentiously was more preferable, but I recalled my childhood dream and decided to allow God to lead.
Now that I’m a published author, I realize the need for humility now more than ever. There are so many layers of competition, even unspoken, in the publishing industry, and I almost succumb to the pressure at times. More than once I’ve seriously considered giving up altogether. Seeing the national and international accolades that many of my colleagues earn for their writing achievements often makes my spirits sink, not because I’m unhappy for their achievements, but because I feel as if I could never measure up to the standards they set.
While I want to authentically support and encourage my author friends, I also want to be acknowledged for my own efforts. Putting in years of writing – while exhausted, depleted, sometimes ill, caring for two girls with special needs, and bereft of adult conversation – I’ve worked my way to gaining the acceptance and respect of a few professionals in Catholic media. I’ve often worked for pennies or gratis, all with the end in mind – a professionally published book.
Now that my book is available to the public, that age-old fear has crept back into the forefront of my psyche. With this new level of vulnerability, I feel exposed. It’s almost as if I have reverted to that little girl who was afraid of criticism and hated being in the limelight. With much trepidation, I’ve said yes to God’s prompting and lead, but I still carry remnant fear.
What if my book isn’t successful by societal or publishing standards? What if I get less-than-stellar reviews from my colleagues and friends? How do I handle rejection? All of these possibilities leave me feeling exposed, naked, and open to attack like I was as a kid.
It’s so easy to allow my mind to wander far from the original confidence of my fiat to God, which was, quite simply, to fulfill His will for my life. Perhaps that means I’ll never receive an award for my work or that my books will never reach number one status for downloads or purchase. Maybe God wants my writing to be hidden and reach people in a small but profound way, a way to which I will not be privy in this life.
Part of growing in humility is allowing oneself to be vulnerable in the way God asks of us, which may include a violent stripping of the ego. Consider the humiliation of Jesus as He was stripped of His garments, spat on, and mocked. Yet He said nothing in retort. What temptations He must have faced in the Garden of Gethsemane to flee from such treatment, knowing His perfect and noble intention to fulfill the Father’s will.
God asks the same of us at times. It doesn’t mean we will never achieve worldly success, but it does mean that we cannot define our work based on awards and recognition. In fact, the brutal failures that embarrass us may very well be necessary for us to continually surrender our work to the Lord, so that the results are due to His movements in and through us.
Surrender is never easy, but I know that, whether or not my writing becomes an international phenomenon, if I keep opening my arms and my heart to God with the willingness for Him to use me as His instrument, then He will one day say to me, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Text Copyright 2016 Jeannie Ewing
Image Copyright 2015 by skeeze on Pixabay and edited in Canva by Jeannie Ewing.