Recently, when discussing a fellowship I was considering applying for with a friend, I found myself saying, “It can’t hurt to try, right?” It’s one of those clichés you hear all the time, and here I was saying it myself. But the truth of the matter is that actually, it can hurt to try. It can hurt a lot. If you decide to try something, there is obviously at least part of you that wants or cares about what you’re trying, and since trying means the possibility of failing, that means you might fail at something you want/care about. I know there are people out there (and I admire them tremendously) who seem capable of shaking those failures off as no big deal, so perhaps for them it really doesn’t hurt to try. I, however, am not a shaker-offer. I might appear to be on the surface of things, but with every failure there’s a stinging wound inside with a tiny trickle of blood welling out from it. Just think of it as a bleeding heart, only one that pities itself rather than the rest of the world.
This (over) sensitivity is a source of great irritation to me, so lately I’ve been challenging myself to risk more, hoping that with enough bleeding cuts, I’ll eventually grow some scar tissue and toughen up. With each risk and subsequent failure, however, I’m beginning to wonder what the line between necessary persistence and deluded stupidity is. Am I in the process of becoming a better writer with a stronger sense of myself and an ability to shake off disappointment and rejection, or am I slowly whittling myself down to utter hopelessness? One of my favorite rides at Disneyland is the Tower of Terror, which hauls you up to the top and then drops you, hauls you up again and drops you. This past four months, the cycle of submissions/queries and rejections (including the rejections that tell me how much they liked my novel but just not enough to represent it) has felt like that ride, only all of the plunges without any of the thrilling fun.
It’s been a struggle not to throw in the towel and succumb to the idea that my novel is just meh and this is never going to happen. After all, I have a long-instilled habit of maintaining low if not outright negative expectations for things, and over the years it’s worked pretty well at keeping me from being too disappointed or hurt by anything. But, if I’m honest, it’s also kept me from experiencing some things I’ve secretly longed for but was too frightened to go after. To hope for.
This morning my pastor started off his sermon by reminding us that God doesn’t simply tolerate us–he delights in us. That struck a nerve with me. My desire to write, and especially my desire to be published, seems to me like something that God simply (or barely) tolerates in me. I sometimes imagine him shaking his head at me. A lot of this comes from growing up in a church that taught me anything I loved that wasn’t directly ‘spiritual’ (e.g. reading the Bible, praying, attending church functions) was inferior if not straight out bad. We were taught to mistrust our own interests, talents, or anything in this material world that brought us pleasure. Even though my family left that church when I was in high school, it hasn’t quite left me, and I can still find it hard to believe that God might actually care about my writing, unless I’m writing for my church, of course. But novels and poetry? Pshaw!
This, of course, is ridiculous, and I won’t go into the whole discussion of the goodness of writing and stories and words and how they are all deeply part of the Judeo-Christian tradition in the most ancient of ways (screw you, Gnostics!). But what I’m realizing is that this mistrust connects very deeply with the whole risk-taking/rejection/failure thing, because at the heart of all of this is the fear that what I long for and hope for might be wrong altogether, and each rejection/disappointment is more confirmation that I am The World’s Biggest Fool (because negative thoughts like to be all-or-nothing and grandiose). I think, deep down, I’ve been making each risk I take a test of whether I’ve got some kind of divine seal of approval or something, which makes about as much sense as plucking petals off a flower to determine whether or not someone will love you. In other words, a wee bit childish, and certainly a mean and miserly view of God.
So time for a bit of re-orientation: 1. Rejection and failure are simply part of a normal life, not some sort of cosmic litmus test. 2. If I don’t allow for the possibility of rejection and failure, I am also not allowing for the possibility of acceptance and success. 3. While there probably are more than a few things God is shaking his head at in my life, one risk I’m going to have to try taking is to believe and have faith that God is also sometimes nodding yes.