Best sellers don’t get written in a day: they get written in a life.
Take The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls or Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Then there’s Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom and A Child Called “It” by David Pelzer. (Full confession: I’ve never read Anne Frank. I’m annoying that way.)
There’s a part of each of us–even the most politically correct and morally upright–that think we’d kind of like the gold seal on our covers, the endless income, the name. But do we really?
I remember the moment I realized that a shadow part of me wanted to be who everyone was reading and the only one they were reading, and it startled me. I don’t chase fame. I don’t want people to curry false favour with me. I don’t want the responsibility of an entire world hanging onto my every word. (I’m not funny. Go someplace else for laughs.) I don’t even want the glory or the money or the name.
I certainly don’t want the life.
If you look at every human behind those best-selling memoirs, you’ll see tragedy. You’d read of a woman who never really got to be a child, because her parents never grew up. You’d read of a youth who spent her days in hiding from the Nazis and died at their hands anyway. You’d sit with a young man as his mentor handed out wisdom, yes, but you’d also watch that mentor fade away from a terminal illness. You’d hover helpless, looking in the window, as a mother heaped unspeakable abuses on her son.
I thought When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr was fiction, but when I looked to find the author’s name, I realized this, too, was semi-autobiographical, which explains the ironic truth she writes into the story. Close to the beginning, the protagonist bemoans her easy and ordinary life. She’s noticed that, historically, people who become famous had a difficult childhood. And while she faces displacement at the hands of the Nazis and losing a favourite stuffed animal Pink Rabbit, it doesn’t occur to her (as the child) that she now has a difficult childhood. The author would grow up to leave her mark on the world, writing dozens of books for children.
To leave one’s mark on the world means letting the world leave its mark on you.
This sounds menacing.
I’m slowly meandering through the book of Job, one of the oldest stories in recorded history. It’s a story of tragedy on every level. Job loses his wealth, his children, his health, and the respect of his wife, friends and community. He loses faith in his own faithfulness. He comes to doubt the God he thought he knew.
We remember the herds of camels and double-sized family and the profound blessing of having God talk directly to him. But given the choice, would any of us actually choose to live Job’s life?
Who would dare to lose everything to gain more?
Human history bears testament that many of us have. Our bestseller lists reveal a deeper reality. We read these stories, because we hope. Whatever our sob story, our loss, our life challenge, we all dream of looking back some day and saying, “It was all worth it. I survived. I’ve made a pearl of my problems.”
As a Christian, my reality is deeper still. I don’t need to make a name for myself, because I have a name waiting in eternity. I read these stories to trace the hope, but I also read these stories to trace the hand of redemption–“Beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3, KJV). I follow the One who promised, “He that loses his life for My sake, will find it” (Matthew 10:39, KJV). I don’t need to make a pearl of my problems, because He already has.
The Author of the perennial bestseller lived the ultimate death so we could have eternal life.
Go. Hang onto His every Word: they’ve already held galaxies for millennia.
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And for those of you who’ve been around here a while, I added a Portfolio page which basically includes links to things I’ve written that were published in other online spaces. You can check it out here.