Sunday, January 30, 2011

Even in suffering...

Viktor Frankl was a survivor of one of the most horrific POW experiences imaginable. He wrote about that experience in a book entitled Man’s Search For Meaning. It is a powerful story. I was on the verge of tears for much of it. Toward the end of the book, he writes about how one sorts through such heart-wrenching suffering. Here is where his writing was at its most profound.

It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think to ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual...

When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.

For the last couple of weeks I have been sorting my own plight of trying to find a publisher for my manuscript. It seems almost absurd to speak of my publishing challenge in the same piece as Frankl’s suffering at Auschwitz.

They are not comparable.

However, I am also aware that when people minimize their own challenges – because they can find someone who is facing harder challenges still – they only circumvent their own progress. In fact, making the most of the learning opportunities given to us through the smaller and less ominous struggles gives us real knowledge and experience for navigating the larger ones.

So, following the advice of Frankl, I have the responsibility at this juncture to find the right answer to this problem. I need to accept that this is where I am. No one can fix this for me. With God’s help and wisdom, I will move forward toward that which gives me the best shot at doing what seems right given what I know at this point in my life. May I have the courage to do that – and not give up.

Lead on Lord!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Getting what you need…

After getting the bad news from the publisher, I decided to give myself 10 full days to feel sorry for myself. During those days, I did what most “wound-lickers” do. I moaned and groaned to my wife. I complained about how “the industry” has forgotten the little guys! I even started watching Glee.

As the 10 days were winding up, I realized licking my wounds wouldn’t be enough. I needed something else to snap myself out of the malaise. I needed a party. I decided it would help to be around people I enjoyed who could help me laugh. My daughter called it a real world “pity party." I liked that and decided to run with it. I invited several couples to come to my very own pity party.

When the five couples arrived, they gathered in my kitchen. I started the festivities with a little speech. I reminded them why they were there and told them that I needed a little cheering up. I was bummed about the loss of the publishing contract and wanted to be around some people who might help me leave my worries behind for an hour or three.

We set out some snacks and a couple bottles of wine, and I made everyone play a bunch of silly games. The objective was achieved. We laughed for hours.

The next day, one of my friends pulled me aside and said, “I just want you to know I really enjoyed myself last night and was impressed by the fact that you were so bold about getting what you needed. You weren’t afraid to admit you needed some help and you planned something you thought might turn things around. That inspired me. AND...thanks for inviting me!”

His comments reminded me of conversations I have had over the years where I complained to my wife about how “nobody noticed” that I needed a pick-me-up. I wanted someone else to get me what I needed. Over time, Carol just started saying, “Look, if you want a party, plan your own! People will come. There are a few people who kinda sorta like you. Get what you need."

For once, I listened to her advice.

I believe many people waste too much time hoping that someone else will recognize they have a need and do something about it. But, doesn’t that always end with dashed expectations? No one notices. Therefore, no one cares. May as well eat some worms. If you need a party throw yourself one.

Even if it’s just a pity party.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's all about God (I think)

When someone decides to do something for God, I think the general assumption made (at the front end) is that this is just for God – especially if it feels sacrificial. Sometimes Christ-followers do something, because it is being asked of them. It is about obedience. It is about faithfulness. It is about doing the right thing.

It is hard to discover that what we think is for God is also often a lot more about us than we care to admit.

When I started writing my book, I believed it was prompted by God’s Spirit. I felt like I was on an assignment for God. There were words and ideas inside of me that had to come out. I believe they were words placed in me by God – not as some kind of weird mystical transaction – but words birthed out of life experiences, personal study and the occasional unexpected “ah-hah” moments (that I believe were essentially grace gifts from the Lord).

The assumption I made was that because these ideas wanted out of me and were also of help to people I spoke to about them, it only made sense that these ideas ought to find a broader audience. That felt right. It seemed logical. I encountered signs along the way that I interpreted as “go ahead signals” from God. I felt like God wanted me to do this for him. I was following his lead.

I still believe all that, but getting dumped (I mean, “delayed”) by my publisher created feelings in me that made it obvious that this project wasn’t just about God.

It was about me.

If it were solely about God, then it wouldn’t matter so much that it wasn’t happening on my time line. I wouldn’t be jealous of other people getting contracts from the “big boys” while mine was being put on the shelf. In short, I wouldn’t be taking it all so personally. If this weren’t about me, it would be less important to me.

I would be more ready to say what John the Baptist said as he watched Jesus’ ministry gain greater notoriety than his own. He said, (of Jesus), “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30). That ain’t easy to say and mean. That is the lesson of my week.

My good friend Dr. Rod Casey has a little saying that I love to share with others.

“Sometimes you are the curriculum.”

Sometimes, what we are experiencing isn’t so much about what we are doing – or hoping to do – sometimes it is more about who we are becoming and what God wants to do on the inside.

I much prefer sharing that idea than having to re-learn it myself.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Facing it myself...

Yesterday, I sent my fourth e-mail to my publisher – with no response. This has been going on for more than a month. I was beginning to feel a bit unsettled.

However, when I got home from work last night, there was a letter on the counter. It was from the publisher. I opened it with some trepidation. It was too thin to include my edits. But, perhaps it held some answers to why I hadn’t heard back from them.

The one page letter began by talking about the challenges facing publishers in these economically difficult times. It also noted that several key staff transitions at Bridge Logos have delayed production on all new authors’ works. My book was now being slatted for 2012-2013. But no guarantees. The letter closed by saying that if I wanted out of the contract (in order to explore other publishing options) I was free to do so.

UGH! My heart sank.

I didn’t want to start over. I just sat there for a few moments. Numb.

Everybody faces disappointing moments. So, I am sure you know the feeling. Your mind races with all kinds of conflicting thoughts. They come out of every part of your life experience. “This isn’t fair!” “Why me?” “But, God, I thought you led me to this place and these people?” “Whenever a door is closed, God opens a window…”

At first, all these thoughts carry equal weight. It is hard to decide where to land – and sometimes it isn’t even a decision at all. Sometimes the strength of the feelings decide for you. I guess that is why it feels so unsettling, because we feel a bit out of control.

Ironically, the working title of my manuscript is “unsettled” and the basic premise of the book is that our unsettledness is a signal that God wants to do a new work in our souls. I still believe that is true. But, I wonder what that means for me here and now. Most of the time when we talk about our seasons of unsettledness we talk about them after the fact...when we know what they mean. But today I am writing from the middle of one. I am not sure what it means. I am being reminded that when life shakes things up it is not fun.

Unsettledness is disconcerting – every time!

So, here I sit Lord, in the middle of what I feel. I need help sorting. I want to be open to what you may be trying to say to me in this. Yet, I have to confess, this feels pretty rotten. I don’t understand it. I wish it were different. I think this is unfair. But, I know I don’t have the full picture. I am working on believing there are things you are doing in the midst of this. You are not surprised by it. You can still do something in the midst of it. Would you help me to believe it and see it?