Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sabbath Reflections: Compass Hearts

I didn’t really like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. It probably had a little bit to do with the fact that I was overloaded with gross, half-sea-creature villains growling and sliming all over the place. Mostly, though, it was because there wasn’t anyone I could cheer for.

The scene where all of the main characters are pointing their guns at everyone else, constantly shifting them, sums up the entire movie. No one trusts anyone, there aren’t clear distinctions between good and evil, and betrayal happens about every five minutes.

It reminds me of Jack’s compass, the one that points to whatever he wants most. In this movie, for the first time, he can’t find a heading, other than “Set sail in a general…that way direction.” He doesn’t know what he wants, or what he’s willing to do to get it.

I have the tendency to be like the Pirates of the Caribbean characters. Sometimes I don’t know what I want. Sometimes I’m afraid of what I want. Sometimes my compass seems to point in a hundred different directions, spinning around wildly as I try to ground myself in something, anything, and chart a course.

I don’t want Jack Sparrow’s compass, crazily swinging from one goal to the next, swayed by deception and manipulation and greed. I am fallen, and by now I can clearly see that what I want is not always good. My desires can’t give me a heading.

So what I have to do is make God true north. Every day, when I find my heart wanting something more than God, I have to stop and pray what I call a compass prayer: “God, I love (the approval of others, this relationship, my dreams for my future, etc.) more than I love You. Help me to love you more than anything else.”

This is especially relevant around Valentine’s Day, because our culture tells us in so many ways that we’re supposed to put our true North in a relationship. As it says in an Owl City song sung by a man in love, “Circle me and the needle moves gracefully / Back and forth / If my heart was a compass, you’d be North.”

Those in a relationship can obsess over it and find their identity in it. Those not in a relationship can obsess over having one and want it so badly that it hurts. But, no matter how many chick flicks and Top 40 songs and Disney princesses say otherwise, romance doesn’t complete us. If what I want most is true love, I’ll always be disappointed when people fail me or don’t notice me or break my heart.

I’ve been taught to center my compass on a guy, or the idea of love, or a list of qualities and characteristics. A relationship with God comes into play, of course, but only under the vague promise that “if you focus on pursuing God, you’ll turn around and find a guy trying to catch up” or other happy-shiny-Christian-clichés like that.

Recently I realized something: No. That is wrong. My relationship with God is not the bait in a trap to catch a godly guy. It’s not an afterthought. It’s not a means to an end. It is the end itself, the end for which my very beginning was made, the sum of all things, my purpose.
It is true north.

BONUS: Since this is a writing blog, I was originally going to talk about characters and knowing what they want. Instead, I took it in this direction, because I think it applies to more people.

But, if you’re interested, here are few tips on compass-driven characters:

There’s nothing wrong with a little inner conflict in a character. You can have a protagonist who is torn between two things that mean a lot to him, and that can actually increase the tension.

I would argue, though, that it would be a mistake to make all the characters in a story this indecisive and conflicted, because you end up with enough drama to fill a jr. high locker room. Someone in the story has to know what he wants.

Personally, with a few exceptions, I think most, if not all, of the main characters should have a defined goal. There might be something that enters the story that distracts them or causes them to change their minds. But if you can’t write out in one sentence what your character is trying to achieve, most of the time, your story will feel loose, drawn-out, and rambling. The main characters’ wants give unity to the conflict.

Give your characters a compass and ask a few questions: what is North for them? What are they willing to do to get there? What aren’t they willing to do to get there? Why do they want what they do? Would they identify this as their true goal, or would they reply with something else…and why?

1 comment:

  1. Very true. I've often been bothered by the "follow God and Mr. Perfect will come along" promise. Placing your sights on God while something else is constantly in the back of your mind isn't loving God with your heart, soul, mind, and strength. In fact, it's not loving God at all. It's giving your "like" to God, while handing your love over to something else entirely.