It began when someone I’ve worked with a lot wrote me an email telling me how much my life andmy books helped her. It was lovely; it felt good. But she had referred to her blog so I read it—and her list of recommended books to read. My books (which helped her so much?????) were not on there. What would I do with this frustration?
Every time something like this happens I remember the words below of C. S. Lewis. I read them nearly every day for a while in the mid ’90s and they became a turning point for me. You may find it harsh. And, indeed, this quote is harsh, but I (like Arthur Greeves, Lewis’s friend to whom this is written) really needed to rehearse it over and over.
From the age of sixteen onwards I had one single ambition [to succeed as a writer], from which I never wavered, in the prosecution of which I spent every ounce I could, on which I really and deliberately staked my whole contentment: and I recognise myself as having unmistakably failed in it… . The side of me which longs, not to write, for no one can stop us doing that, but to be approved as a writer, is not the side of us that is really worth much. And depend upon it, unless God has abandoned us, he will find means to cauterise that side somehow or other… . Think how difficult that would be if one succeeded as a writer: how bitter this necessary purgation at the age of sixty, when literary success had made your whole life and you had then got to begin to go through the stage of seeing it all as dust and ashes. Perhaps God has been specially kind to us in forcing us to get over it at the beginning… . As you know so well, we have got to die. Cry, kick, swear, we may: only like Lilith to come in the end and die far more painfully and later… . I would have given almost anything—I shudder to think what I would have given if I had been allowed—to be a successful writer…I am writing as I do simply and solely because I think the only thing for you to do is absolutely to kill the part of you that wants success.
Absorbing at least some of Lewis’s toughness with himself has given me such freedom. I don’t have to compete; I can just follow Jesus. I can be happy for others (most of the time). I can be enormously grateful that I’ve been able simply to make a living as a writer. What a great life I live.
Does any part of this quote resonate with you in a venture for which you are ambitious?
Jan Johnson is the author of twenty books including Invitation to the Jesus Life and Abundant Simplicity and a thousand articles and Bible studies. She speaks at retreats and conferences, and teaches (adjunct) at Azusa Pacific University and Hope International University. Also a spiritual director, Jan holds a D. Min. in Ignatian Spirituality and Spiritual Direction. She lives with her husband in Simi Valley, California. You can visit her at JanJohnson.org.