This post first appeared at Australasian Christian Writers in February 2015.
How do we define success?
I’ve recently read two Christian romance novels which looked completely different on the surface, but ended up both addressing two issues we all have to grapple with. I then read an article on Writer Unboxed which addressed the same issues, although not from a Christian perspective.
This got me thinking … if it came up three times in a day, it must be important.
The first novel was The Doctor’s Return by Narelle Atkins.
In the novel, Megan has to decide between chasing career success by pursuing an advanced degree in the city, or staying in her hometown and marrying her high school sweetheart. Towards the end, Megan says:
I don’t need to chase academic accolades to feel like I’m a success.
I’ve spent twenty years working in a corporate environment, and I’ve seen a lot of people chasing career success, whether measured by the degrees they hold, the promotions they are awarded, the position title they hold, or the salary they earn.
Yes, we all need to work, and many of us are lucky enough to be able to earn a living doing a job we enjoy. But degrees, money or position shouldn’t be our sole source of recognition, our sole measure of success.
As Christians, we have a higher calling.
The second book I read was Too Pretty by Andrea Grigg.
This is the story of Ellie, who meets the gorgeous Nate about ten minutes after declaring a six-month moratorium on dating. She realises that in the absence of her family (serving as missionaries in countries such as Papua New Guinea and Uganda), she has been turning to a succession of loser boyfriends to fill the void inside. She decides:
I want to allow God to fill up those spaces, not boyfriends or even my family.
I’m sure we all remember that girl at high school, the one who always had a boyfriend, and managed to acquire another one within days (hours?) of breaking up with the previous one. We’ve all seen the photographs of the ageing lothario with a beautiful new wife young enough to be his granddaughter.
This is another way of chasing success: instead of searching for identity and success in work, some people seek to find their identity in their partner or spouse. They don’t consider themselves successful without the right man (or woman) on their arm.
Writers (and probably other creative types) have a third issue: the crushing weight of expectation, the temptation:
For our self-worth to become wrapped up in our commercial performance.
For the hope or dream that this will be:
the manuscript that validates me in the eyes of my family, my friends or my peers.
While the writer isn’t a Christian (as far as I know), it strikes me that many Christians experience this same compulsion to seek validation, to chase success.
We know the verses. God has a plan for my life. God shall supply all my needs. God will grant the desires of my heart.
But will He?
Yes. And no.
Whether we are writing as a calling from God or an offering to God, I believe he will honour that sacrifice as long as we are being obedient to Him and to His plan for us. To obey is better than sacrifice. We are deceiving ourselves if we believe anything else.
There can be a fine line between writing (or doing anything else) to serve God, versus writing to serve ourselves, and the emphasis on marketing ourselves can make it hard to see that line (like the log and the splinter).
There is a danger that we can turn our writing into an idol. A danger that we measure “success” by the number of sales or blog comments or website hits or Twitter followers. We look for external validation rather than seeking to obey the author and perfecter of our faith. It’s something I need to remind myself of all the time.
We are called to be His disciples: that means disciplining ourselves to follow His plan. Not our own.
God can’t bless our writing unless it’s His plan for our lives. And His plan for our writing might not be that we sell it for megabucks. It might be that we give it away (like on a free blog!). It might be that the “audience of one” you are writing to help is actually yourself.
Where do we seek validation for our writing? How do we measure success? Through God—or others?