The further removed I am from the events of last year, the more I see what happened as a gift. I wouldn’t call nearly dying, or nearly losing my infant, a gift. But the fruit that came from it is one. Like Joseph in Genesis, life in a broken world meant our suffering for evil, but God meant it for good (Gen. 50:20). He wastes nothing. It always serves his purposes—even in the darkness.
One of those gifts is seeing the world through new eyes, particularly regarding platform building and the world of self-promotion (especially in Christian publishing).
I know we are supposed to be humble in this whole Christian writer world, but I’ll be honest and lay my cards on the table here—before last year, I secretly obsessed over platform. My second book came out three weeks before I was admitted to the hospital and I spent nearly every day of those three weeks checking Amazon reviews, following up on sales numbers, and driving myself crazy about how the book was doing.
It would have killed me.
Instead God nearly did and saved me from myself
I know it’s murky water to talk about God’s sovereignty in such ways, and I don’t think we can ever make a direct correlation between suffering and sin (unless it’s blatant). And I would never presume to tell someone else the spiritual lessons meant to be learned in his or her suffering. But I do think that the further we are removed from certain seasons of suffering, the more we are given clarity into our own heart. Suffering is a furnace that exposes our hearts and melts away what keeps us from shining brightly for the Lord. But the moment of suffering is never the time to figure out what God is up to in our own hearts (which is why I’m writing about this over a year later, and not in the moment).
In her book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott talks about this struggle that writers face—this struggle to want to succeed and as a result obsess over our own successes and failures. She writes about the jealousy that arises when other writers do better, or the despair that comes when you don’t get the review you are hoping for. I find encouragement in her words because I at least know I am not alone. But the quote that strikes me most from that book is on what frees us from jealousy:
My deepest belief is that to live as if we’re dying can set us free. Dying people teach you to pay attention and forgive and not to sweat the small things.
Last summer gave me these new eyes. It freed me. Once I got it, I started seeing it everywhere. I started seeing the danger that comes with prosperity and platform. I started seeing the danger that comes with comfort and ease. I started seeing how easily my heart is moved by new followers or compliments. I started seeing how dangerous it is for me to feed on these things. And I started seeing it in scripture, too. Whenever prosperity arises in scripture, disaster is not far after—just think of David, Solomon, and all the kings who came after them. It’s dangerous to live in comfort. It’s dangerous to live in a world where everyone is singing your praises. It might feel good, but it rarely ends well
Finding freedom from this obsession requires us to live like we are dying. Sometimes we taste death in order to see it, sometimes we just imagine it, but to know that death is coming (and that even platform of fleeting) is freeing and humbling.
The pattern of scripture is lose yourself and you will find yourself (Matt. 10:39). Smallness equals greatness. Faithfulness is success. Sure, God does appoint some people for incredibly large platforms and revenue. But that’s not the norm, and they usually didn’t seek it out.
And yet, even with these new eyes, I still find myself struggling. I’ll admit it. I don’t like smallness. There is a lot of talk about saying we want that, saying numbers don’t matter, and saying that it’s really about just ministering. But even as I’ve grown to see it as unimportant, I’ll admit in my flesh, I do want it. I want people to like me. I want people to praise me. And boy, do I want those retweets and likes. It’s a battle that I’ll be fighting until I die, I am sure.
I don’t want to live under the guise of “I’m okay with smallness” all the while really longing for something better. I want to get to the place where I truly am content if no one ever reads another word I write or if the speaking requests dry up. Am I there yet? I don’t think so, but I really want to be. Last year changed my perspective on the world, and began the process of caring less about popularity and more about people (and living). It’s still a process. But I hope I’m moving in the right direction.
As I’ve struggled with this over the year, I have also started thinking that I’m probably not alone. We all face temptations, many are common to us all. Sometimes I feel like if I just say it out loud maybe I will find some others who struggle with the same things. So here is honesty. I don’t want to be like this. I am, but I’m not okay with it. I’m growing in it, but I’m not there yet. The process has started, but I have a long way to go. Maybe you do, too.
I want there to be a sense of transparency without celebration, honesty with repentance. It’s not funny that I struggle with sin. But it’s also not helping anyone to pretend like I don’t. It’s a balance, one I’m not sure I have yet.
Death (or the prospect of death) is a great leveler for the self-sufficient person because death is the one thing we can’t avoid. To nearly die and then go on living is a hard providence. It’s sobering to know the fragility of life, but also comforting to finally have eyes to see what really matters. As one friend put it, “it’s like seeing the world for the first time.” It’s scary, but it’s freeing.
So here’s to fighting my fleshly desire with the truth that I can’t take any of it with me. Platform, popularity, and even book contracts will all fade away. Christ is all, everything else is extra. Sometimes it takes nearly dying to see what really matters.