i’ve been fasting from facebook for the last 6 weeks, and in that time, i’ve recovered enough lost hours from my life to learn a foreign language, raise a secret family, or discover a cure for polio …not that i’ve done any of those. instead, i devoted much of that time to writing. i was actually working on publishing a book about church planting and carol’s fight against cancer, a story that is obviously very close to my heart and was an encouragement to many people that we interacted with. i have written close to 60,000 words over the past couple of months, and have only covered half of our story. the publisher i was working with was a great guy from a well known publishing house, both clear and encouraging (a rare combination), and was very interested in both the narrative i had to tell as well as the way in which i told it.
now for me, the idea of writing a book is hugely exciting, not so much because i would be a published author (which has never been a dream of mine), but more because the life of a writer fits me in so many way. i often communicate more clearly in writing than i do in speech, and to be frank, big crowds are very intimidating for me. if i can encourage people in some way, i would rather do it in a way that is less public than preaching. also, because writing is not so 9-5, it would allow me to spend more time at home with my family, something that i have come to realize is my favorite thing in the world. so if i could become a writer, i could continue to teach and encourage people, while spending time at home supporting my wife and family – WOW! the prospect honestly made me giddy at moments, and buoyed my spirits through some difficult situations over the past couple of months: “well, this isn’t going well, and that’s crap too…but at least i might be able to write a book! YEAH!” and the publisher sent me an email that he would bring up my book idea in a couple of meetings, and see if they could get it published, which only added to my giddiness.
but after his meeting, he emailed me to let me know that despite the strengths of the proposal, they had decided that they weren’t going to publish the book. i’m not quite sure why they came to this decision, but think that it came down to the question of who would read the book, a question that i really didn’t have an answer to either. i politely but genuinely thanked him for his time, and asked him to pass on my information to any other publisher who might be interested.
and then i promptly lay down on the floor for an hour.
the idea of publishing a book was not just a wonderful prospect, but also a shield against discouragement. in the face of really tough situations, i had an ace up my sleeve: the book! and now, both had evaporated. i didn’t just feel deflated – i think i physically deflated as well. my shoulders were slumped the entire day, my head bowed. i was disappointed, to say the least.
but at the same time, this disappointment was not the same as i had experienced before. it was not as painful, nor as long lasting. it stung, of that there was no doubt, but it did not crush. and after a few hours of moping, i had mostly moved on. now for a brooding, introspective person such as myself, this came as a real surprise, and i have spent some time trying to figure out why this setback didn’t hit me as hard as setbacks usually tend to.
and i think it has something to do with ceilings and floors. when i found out that my book wouldn’t be published, it was like banging my head on a ceiling, and realizing that the ceiling was much lower than expected. i wouldn’t be a young published author, living a dream life of ministry and playing with children, at least not right away. and it hurt to bang my head on that realization. but i can honestly say that it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as seeing the floor give way beneath you, to face the specter of loss or sickness or death or grief. i may have bumped my head, but i was still alive, still the richest man in the world.
and that is another benefit of having gone through the seminary of suffering over the past couple of years, that i have become aware of both of these dimensions of life. when you are unaware of suffering, the dynamic of life is governed by aspiration and progress – the ceilings, you might say. if we progress and come closer to our dreams, we rejoice. if we experience setbacks in that regard, we are discouraged. we say, “thank you God, that i got this dream job that will set me up for clerkship at a major hospital so that i can work at a…whatever”. our joy, but also our attitude towards God, becomes highly dependent on attaining our dreams and climbing a staircase of one kind or another.
but once you have experienced suffering, you become aware of another dimension of life, and that is the floor. you know that the floor is not sure beneath you, that there is always a possibility, remote for the most part, but still there, that it might cave. you may get sick, or someone else whom you love. you might lose your job, or your life. this is reality, and a reality that we only become acutely aware of when we come dangerously close to loss. but it also gives us another reason for profound joy. we rejoice in what we have. we are not ecstatic, but instead deeply grateful. our joy, and our attitude towards God is no longer solely dependent on future advancement, but on current placement as well. our gratitude towards God now travels in both directions.
so often, i, and i suspect many of us, are living a fairly one dimensional life of worship, one in which the future alone holds the key to our happiness. but perhaps a portion of our happiness is already with us, in what we already have, not merely in what we want. now this is not a matter of perspective, a type of “glass half full” jedi mind trick to help us get over disappointment, the consolation to losers and failures everywhere. it is a very real acknowledgment of the full dimension of God’s work in our lives: blessing and protection, abundance and provision, inspiration and preservation.
may we give thanks when our ceilings are high, but also when our floors are firm.