Yesterday (Wednesday) I spent some time sulking in the morning as I was trying to get to work on Sky. I did a nonstop, whining to God that the reason I didn’t want to work was because with my writing career “sliding into the toilet” what’s the use? Enclave doesn’t seem to be doing very well from my perspective, The Shadow Within and Return of the Guardian King have gone out of print so what’s the point? Once again I was feeling sorry for myself, feeling like I’d gotten the short end of the stick from God. “All those years of work,” I moaned to Him in the nonstop, “and what was the use? I feel betrayed. I poured out my life for You for decades, and where did it get me?”
Ahem. A still small voice asked me if I was really “pouring my life out” for all those decades writing without publication just for Him, or was it more my desire for approbation (recognition, notice, approval, success) that had driven me?
God always does that. Always knocks the legs of my argument right out from under me.
Yes, He was absolutely right. I was willing to wait and work and wait and work mostly because of the shining goal at the end of the road that would have been glorious success. I was trusting Him to come through, but only as He fulfilled my plan, not His. And my plan was more about having self exalted than Him.
But hey, I’ve got a sick head and a deceitful heart and it ain’t goin’ away until I’m dead. Or raptured. Yesterday I liked the analogy of swimming in the cesspool of my sin nature and its human viewpoint. It seemed especially apt for the grossness of my complaints and the greater grossness of the desires of my flesh that sometimes get the best of me. Pastor would probably say “welcome to the human race.” We all want to elevate ourselves in some way when it comes to the flesh. The best looking, the best writer, the best runner, the best mom, the best home schooler, the best children, the best church, the best, the best, the best. Our society is drunk on best-ness. Numbers. Top Ten. Top Five. Number One. Number two is never good enough. There always has to be improvement…. Rah rah. They make that thinking sound like a good thing.
But it’s Satanic all the way. And full of lies. For one thing, I have had success. The Lord did some wonderful things with Arena, and with the Guardian King books. He gave me four Christy Awards. And was there any doubt that He was the one who had promoted them ALL to publication in the first place? No. But then weirdly, once He’d clearly done it, I took hold of things and began to think I had to do something to maintain it all, even while realizing on some level that I couldn’t. And with that, the fear machine in my flesh chugged and rumbled to life.
Fear of loss meant the approbation I did receive was never enough. There had to be enough sales so the books would not go out of print. But I also know that even if I’d gotten a level of sales that would have prevented the OP problem, it still wouldn’t have been enough. For my flesh anyway. I know that because the Bible says so, and also because I’ve now experienced it. I used to think if only I could get published that would be enough. I wouldn’t even care how many books sold. But it wasn’t long after I had been placed in the status of published author that, as I said, I did begin to care. I checked Amazon rankings daily. I monitored my fan letters. I agonized if there weren’t enough of them on any given day (though how I arrived at an acceptable number is a mystery) and on and on.
It wasn’t happiness. It wasn’t contentment.
Nassim Taleb, in The Black Swan noted that lack of contentment is one of the pitfalls of working in a field governed by extremistan. Where your payoff comes in large, unexpected chunks. He said that our hormonal system does better with a steady stream of small successes. So a stock trader who receives a little bit every day, feels better and more successful than one who receives a huge hunk ever five years, even if the latter gets ten times as much as the former. “It’s better to not to have won anything,” he said, “than to win ten million and lose nine.”
We are such weird creatures. Because I know that statement is true. Left to ourselves we focus on the lost nine instead of the fact that a million is certainly better than nothing.
Another thing Taleb said is that as bad as we are at predicting stock prices, economic futures, and political/national events (and forget predicting the weather!), we are even worse at predicting how much happiness the acquisition of some goal is going to bring us. We lust for a new car, get it and within six months or less, it’s just a car. How long before the new furniture is just furniture? The new job is not as wonderful as you thought it would be? The undying love in a marriage sours? How long before that old phone is no longer anything and now you need the new Apple I-tablet!
Our culture and economy is based on the fact that we’re never satisfied. We’ll always want more, or better or different or newer… Never content with what we have.
True contentment is independent of circumstances. It springs from one’s values and thoughts. It’s something that, according to the Bible (Phil 4:11), has to be learned, and the word for learned there is manthano, which means “to learn by instruction, to be taught” (there’s submitting oneself to one’s pastor teacher to learn bible doctrine), “to learn from experience, often with the implication of reflection – ‘to learn, to come to realize’” (there’s the attempts at application) “and to come to understand as the result of a process of learning” (the final result after many iterations of the cycle).
In other words, contentment is a result of the tranformation of the mind through daily exposure to the teaching of the Word of God. The Word does the transforming and as one’s values and norms and standards change, one’s desires change. Fleshly values and thoughts can only experience the pseudo-contentment of being in good circumstances and even then it won’t satisfy for long as boredom sets in. And should those good circumstances turn bad, the fleshly, pseudo-contentment flies right out the window.
True contentment is something that can’t be shaken. Something that God does, not that we do. I don’t believe we can make ourselves content. All we do is keep exposing ourselves to His thinking and gradually, tiny step by tiny step, His thinking becomes ours and we are changed. I’m not there yet, but way better than I used to be. There was a time I couldn’t even consider the possibility of not being published. Then when I got to the point of truly not caring, God opened those doors. Now, for the most part, I really don’t care what the career does. It’s only when I fall into that cesspool that I start caring again. Get my eyes off the right things and onto the wrong things and I’m miserable. And I do it all to myself.
Fortunately there’s rebound. And daily Bible class, which reinforces the entire process and gets my eyes trained back on the right things.