Last night I opened a book to read and then closed it. A few seconds later I opened it again. And closed it. Open. Close. Open –
“I can’t do this!” I sat up, slammed it shut and threw it onto the floor beside my bed. My finger hovered over my lamp. Perhaps I would just call it a night.
Then I shook my head resolutely and bent to pick it up. I couldn’t, wouldn’t, let fear conquer me. I pried open the cover… and shut it again.
It was too hard.
I was too afraid.
Why I was afraid
Why was I afraid? What book was I reading that gripped me so? Was it a ghost story? A tale painfully connected with my past? A religious text? Let me explain.
First of all, I’m not normally afraid of either books or reading. I love literature! I find it relaxing and stimulating. And while I do think that we have a responsibility as we read to be open to new ideas (which will inevitably be processed through our existing world view) this does not usually terrify me.
I have a firm foundation in Christ and so I don’t have to live life trembling lest I suddenly be cast adrift by a new idea or way of thinking. Nevertheless I was frightened of what this book might contain.
Not by the topic itself (suffering and illness) which is one close to my heart, but by the reality that this book might present me with an adequate response.
Why I was excited
For the past year or so I have been writing about this same subject. I have been thinking deeply about it, analyzing it, pondering it in my spare minutes. I have been constantly marrying it with different aspects of life, and watching how it colours the minutes of our days. I have been wrestling with it and weeping over it. I have been writing furiously and sporadically and consistently. I have been writing for myself and for others. I have been writing because I could not find writing that already existed on my particular niche within this topic.
And then I found this book. Finally a Christian book about suffering, addressing not the sufferers themselves, but those caring for them! Just what I had been searching for. I ordered it online in great exultation. I waited for it to come. I ripped open the package (actually, that pleasure was denied me by one of the inhabitants of my second household, but let’s think metaphorically here). I tucked it into my bag. I carted it around. I spoke about it excitedly.
But I could not read it. I was too afraid.
Why I hate my ego
I was terrified this book would offer up the same thoughts that I had been working so hard to formulate. People talk a lot about the preciousness of your own original experience and your own personal slant on the world. It’s a valid point and one to which I subscribe to some extent, yet at the same time, there’s nothing new under the sun.
“We’re not so different you and I.” – every evil genius to the hero in every movie ever
It was entirely possible (and extremely probable) that this author would relate a response which, while not identical to mine, would at the very least render my thoughts on the topic a bit less needed than before. My book or blog or essay or whatever form my thoughts were to take would become simply another resource. This author had a lot more experience than me in writing, and his book was also likely to be a lot better than mine ever would. Further more there was always the fear that after reading his book I would become inspired by it. Perhaps he had thought of the issue from different paradigms, and I would be tempted to echo and engage with his thoughts in my own writings. That would add complexity to my work, but it would also reduce its ‘originality’.
The long and short of it was: my ego was paralyzing me. It seems ridiculous to explain it here, but it was a very real fear. And it revealed what was going on in my heart.
I’d like to say that as soon as I understood my fear, I opened the book and began reading and emerged a far more mature and enlightened person.
The reality is I opened the book – only to find myself closing it once more. I couldn’t do this, not alone.
So I prayed.
Dear Lord, please forgive me. Don't let my identity and worth be so tied up in what I write that I am afraid to open a book which might cast shadow onto my own work. Even if I read this book and it renders all my work useless in the publication sense, even if it means that no one will ever read what I have written, let me be content to close that chapter of my life, seeking my happiness in You and not what I produce. Please help me read this book.
And then, for the hundredth time I opened the book. But this time I didn’t close it.
I read with the courage only Christ can give.
I read half the first chapter that night, and my mind thought it was brilliant and my ego found it painful. I don’t know how this book will change my thoughts on illness and suffering, or my need to write about them.Whether it will mean that my own writings will be simply a reinvention of the wheel. If that’s the case, it will hurt. But you know what? That’s good. Because trust in God is more important than an unbruised ego. And so I am glad I found myself unable to read this book.
And I’m also glad that now I can.