I suspect, out of all our blunders, Christians have the hardest time remembering Lesson One: “You are not your own.”
I feel especially guilty of this, calling myself a writer and crafter of stories.
“They’re my stories!” I argue.
Like a gardener planting seeds, I’m tempted to view my “produce” as if it were mine.
“I planted this.”
“Look at the garden I grew.”
As artists or craftsmen of any vocation we seek to perfect our product as if our identity depends on it. And why not? Everything else in life magnifies our imperfections, so why not stick to what we’re good at? Plus, if we call it “our calling,” then does it not justify the pursuit of perfection? Is it not good and right that we excel “for the glory of God”?
For example, being a father of three boys, I know for a fact that I’m not a natural parent. I was not made in a “parent factory.” Every day I’m confronted with my inability to “craft” a child into maturity. So instead of instructing the little goblins in the ways humanity, I’m tempted to retreat to my office–or better, the coffee shop–and perfect my calling to write.
But that is the crux of the lie; it’s not my calling–no matter how much I want to hang on that line. Out of everything I consider to be my skills or talents, writing cannot be one of them.
This stems from a simple mistake: exchanging creation for subcreation, a word coined by J.R.R. Tolkien to describe our relationship to God the Creator. What this means is that our creativity depends on his creativity, just as Earth depends on the sun. We glorify the Creator with our creations–subcreations that inevitably point back to him.
I did not choose to be who I am. I did not choose to write. My desire for Story simply grew out of my life, just as a tomato grows from the vine. I did not decide on my desires any more than a vine decides the path of its runners.
Biologically, humans may be animals, but we’ve been transformed into something more: Image Bearers of God. We’ve been cultivated for communion with the Creator. That, above all else, is our calling.
I don’t need to pigeonhole myself as a writer. If I do, then I’m tempted to linger there and let navel-dwelling fester. The more I strive for perfection and progress, the less peace I find.
That’s why Lesson One haunts me whenever I think I “progress” in life, whether as a parent, writer or anything I deem lesser. I’d love to grasp the good fruits of my life as if they were mine and avoid the bad fruit as if ignoring them could dispose them. Every day, I’m tempted to grab hold of the good fruit as if they were markers of my personal progress, but the more inward I look, the more I wither back into the dirt from which I sprang. I would only over-ripen the fruit in the attempt to keep it to myself, trying to perfect it beyond its limits.
That is why I must depend on something outside, on the Word that says “You are mine.” Only this is able to withstand those barren tracts of life that struggle to produce good fruit.
Competing with this Word is my preference to crawl back into animalism–to do what feels safe; to survive the day’s barrage. But what’s the point of having a mind that knows there’s something better? Why do I long to push through the risk? Why do I feel called to create something that defies the chaos of everything inhuman? Perhaps it’s because the Creator has crafted me to do so as a human–a whole human in Christ.
And if that is true, then how can I resist the call? I am not my own.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:4-8).