11/22/2016: On Ambition

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m worried about being a good writer. Or really even just being “a writer,” as if it’s some special breed of human. Indeed, it seems like most articles raise them up, along with other artists, to a pseudo-deity, much the same as celebrities. It draws all my ambition.

A godly man would view fame and wealth as all but worthless—at least for the normal reasons I pursue them. Tolstoy did, but only after discerning their worthlessness from experience. They are utility. Reach more people. Help more people. They carry the responsibility of the Talents, much like my education. Without these, they are merely the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It is as much an idol—identifying myself as a writer—as identifying myself as, or making myself, a good person was in the past. I take the question “Who am I?” as impetus for becoming praiseworthy. But such is the flavor of my sin nature. And it seems that, like in my character perfectionism, God has forbidden me from attaining my desired identification. I fall into intense insecurity long before I succeed. It is my Babel Tower toppling. Baal failing to light the fire. God disallowing me from feeling independent of him.

And just as in the case of wanting to be and know that I am a good person, being and knowing that I am a good writer are bound by God’s will and thus dependent upon his grace, just like the toppling of the tower. That is, God could let me continue to build my tower. He could let me succeed. He could let me take credit for it for the rest of my life, just like he does for so many successful persons (according to worldly standards). But in grace, he reminds me that I am indeed dependent upon him. And not only does he remind me, but in grace he gives me belief. That is, if he does. I cannot force his hand in this, else it would not be grace. I cannot manipulate his timing. I am helpless to change my independent assumptions, and therefore all of my motivations for things that accord with independence, by myself. These things usually involve some measure of personal greatness: christian character, artistic skills, creativity, intelligence, good looks.

A few thoughts:

First, I don’t have to know that I am a good writer to be a good writer, even though I imagine it would help in determining my vocation. I say this because I feel particularly down at the thought that I might not be good—a product of my insecurity at the moment. But I guess this is just me trying to reassure myself according to that same system (of being a good writer). At the same time, perhaps I just want to know what the best use of my time is right now, and I assume that the best use involves doing what I do well (or the best). But I wonder if that’s the best criteria for choosing what to do. In and of itself, choosing to do what we are best at has little value. Choosing to do what we do best in order to help people has merit, but of course such purity requires character, which requires grace. But perhaps choosing to do what God has put before you is best. Or perhaps my worry about what to do involves another fear—what if I choose the wrong thing to do? Just another branch of the insecurity vine. In any case, I cannot outignorance or outevil the sovereignty and goodness of God. Choose what is in my head and heart to choose.

Second, there is a measure of clear-mindedness in spite of the fear of not being a good writer to determine that I am at least good enough and interested enough to pursue writing. Such has been the conclusion so far, though the fear persists. Again, it seems like I just want to assure myself that writing is the best path. It may be. Why I want to assure myself of this—perhaps because of my insecurity. See above.

Third, all sanctification is by grace through faith. Being a good, loving writer—the goal worth having—is by grace through faith. Trusting God and being humble (contra insecurity) are also goals worth having. And in God’s grace, he may topple my tower of writing well (agnostic of love) in order to teach me writing in the slums. Or he may forbid writing altogether. It’s up to him, and it’s good.

I want to write well primarily because of ambition (right now anyways). I have not wanted to write well to enhance my ability to reach people, to build the world—at least I have not noticed that motive. I believe that desire is in me, but it takes second seat to my pride. Tolstoy moves from the first to the second as well: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/05/16/leo-tolstoy-purpose-diaries-youth/ and https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/11/20/tolstoy-on-motives/

If this will change, it will be by grace through faith.

And in the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep writing. Until the next time God topples one of my towers.

If I end up being a professional writer, I wonder if I will always bounce back and forth between purer motives and ambition.

I was reminded that Lewis wrote about what tempts me. I think it was in The Great Divorce. He wrote about the artist who became more enamored with the craft of painting than about that which he painted, though he was initially interested in painting because he wanted to capture a bit of the beauty he saw and share it with others. While reading those articles on Tolstoy, I realized that I have become fixated on the craft of writing—I imagine because I believed it to be the quickest route to praiseworthiness. But the sincere writer records himself, not just his skills, not just his interesting thoughts. He records his emotions, and so his values, his beliefs, his struggles, his flaws. And he shares himself with the world. He connects with it. Perhaps in hopes that he can help it along its way. Perhaps also in hopes that it can help him. Or perhaps just because he’s part of it, and our grand design is to proliferate, to create, to cultivate, and he wants to contribute to humanity’s effort toward this end. I think it was realizing that I have failed to do this that my insecurity began in this episode. I failed in this regard, God made it obvious to me, and I fell apart, having come to depend upon being a good writer rather than upon God. I sell my loyalty for trifles.

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2 thoughts on “11/22/2016: On Ambition

    1. I know—least helpful word ever, right? I’m pretty sloppy with “good.” Though I’m not sure tov would help me much, if you’re talking about me being clearer. HALOT has 9 nuances for it. Plus, I’m not sure that it’s any better at getting at what I mean.

      What I mean by “good” here, and often, concerns “meeting the ideal standard,” which changes with both the topical context and with my frame of mind, and it doesn’t necessarily relate to good as it relates to God (morality, pleasantness, wholesomeness, godliness—THE ideal). The closest I come is using “good” somewhat technically with reference to God being the standard of whatever it is I’m talking about. A “good act” in this sense is an act that accords with God. But that’s just the same thing as my first definition, “meeting the ideal standard”; it just has the right frame of mind.

      So “good writer,” meaning the type of writer I consider ideal (in the frame of mind in which I wrote this document), refers to something like skill in the craft, creativity, profundity—basically the things for which I want to be praiseworthy, or all the things that would lead to/indicate what I, in my sinfulness, would consider success. It concerns my unregenerate ambition. And of course these things aren’t inherently wicked because I idolize them. Skill, creativity, and profundity can all benefit service as much as or more than pride. But I guess that’s the issue I’m dealing with in the document.

      And that’s an interesting activity—observing what I mean by “good” to identify what my frame of mind is. It’d point out idols, wouldn’t it?

      Thanks for the thoughts! Hope I didn’t completely miss what you meant.

      Like

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