Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Pearl and the Keychain

One of my favorite of Jesus’ parables goes something like this, “There was a man who hunted garage sales looking for treasures. One day, he found one, and he sold all that he owned to get money to buy…a plastic keychain that lit up when you pressed a button on it.”

No, you’re right. That wasn’t it. It was a bobblehead doll of the last American Idol winner.

A magnet from Sea World?

An embossed stationary set?

A toothpick used by Lady Gaga?

Fine. Okay. Apparently no one is going to believe my version of the story. In the real story, the man sold all he had in order to buy a pearl of great price.

Makes sense. Sure, he went a little crazy, but at least he was blowing all his cash on a real treasure, something that mattered. No one would value a plastic trinket that highly, enough to make it worth everything they had.

Except, you know, me.

Last week, I promised a behind-the-scenes explanation of what you learn from having a book published. I decided to focus on just one thing, because it’s something that very few people talk about: the danger of putting your dream for the future and desire to please others above God.

There were lots of little signs that I was doing this. When I had to fill out a worksheet about what my goals were, I talked about all the books I wanted to write without ever asking God what He wanted me to do with my life. Sometimes, I would hear about other writers who published something and feel jealous of them. And when I walked into a bookstore, I would go to the juvenile fiction section, find the “G”s, and see where my name might go someday. I wanted it so badly that sometimes I felt sick.

Basically, I was saying, “God, I love you, but I won’t really be happy until I get a book published.”

But then I realized that there will always be something. If God isn’t enough, the “when” of that phrase will just change. I’d say, “I’ll be happy when I graduate from college” or “I’ll be happy when I can switch to a job that pays more” or “I’ll be happy when I get married” or “I’ll be happy when I retire.” And I’d never actually get there.

God says, “I am the treasure. The only treasure. You don’t need anything else. Stop chasing after other things that aren’t worth it.”

So I finally listened to Him. I prayed, “God, help me be content with just you, even if I never get any books published. Be more important to me than anything else.”

It’s a good thing I learned that lesson early, because I needed it when I got a book contract my sophomore year.

When Paul said he learned the secret of being content in plenty and in want, we think he just stuck the “plenty” in there to contrast with the times when he really struggled with contentment, which was when he didn’t have everything he wanted and needed. But sometimes I wonder—is it just as hard to be grateful in success as failure?

That, at least, is what I experienced. The problem is that this can sound self-pitying. A tale of woe told from a pedestal isn’t particularly convincing. “Poor me, I got a book contract. Everyone feel sorry for the internal struggle that it caused me.”

No. That’s not what I’m saying. If you’re reading this in that tone, stop it, or… I don’t know what I’ll do. But think of the worst baseless threat you could insert and then imagine I actually have the ability to do it. Because I don’t want to come across that way at all.

Cheery thought for the day: no matter what circumstances you’re in, you’re going to have to deal with the fact that you are sinful and our world is messed up. How you decide to process that usually takes the form of some tricky questions. Here were the ones that were new for me after the book contract.

What do you do when you get something that others have always dreamed of but don’t have? How do you respond to being held up as an example and distanced from others because of that? When you already struggle with pride, what can so many words of praise and admiration do to you?

Giving you the answers I decided on for these questions would take way too long. Besides, many of the blog posts in the archives answer these questions in various forms, because that’s one of the main topics on my mind over the past year.

The point, though, is pretty simple. It’s easy to waste all of our money on plastic keychains. We do it all the time. We settle for something less than God as the treasure of our lives, just because it’s shiny and we feel like we need it and other people tell us it’s worth it.

It isn’t.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I don’t want my heart in my writing career. I don’t want it inextricably tied up with the approval of others or my dreams for the future or even a love of creativity. Because those things won’t last, and they can’t satisfy. Only God can. Only God was meant to.

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