I love books, but once my sister and I began to clean off our shelves, I got caught up in the moment. The book purge culminated with a full car trunk of books being donated to the library. I gave away textbooks that I had kept for more than twenty years. It felt good to let go. In recent years, I have become less and less attached to stuff. But books aren’t mere useless objects; they are full of information. Still, in this digital age, their weight and volume begin to feel cumbersome. I enjoy having and reading actual books, but the pragmatist in me knows it isn’t worth the burden. Further, if I haven’t opened the book in the past twenty years, chances are I won’t in the future. I felt like books were a test of my commitment to the pre-move purge, and I passed.
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Then, last Saturday, it was time to start tackling the far end of my closet. I found myself sorting through some boxes of memorabilia from the last twenty-five years. They held postcards and pamphlets from places I had visited, an assortment of coins in European currencies that no longer exist, and ticket stubs from movies, plays and concerts. There were also ribbons, name tags, and various insignia from my time in the Coast Guard. All of this is difficult to let go of, but each time I go through it, I let go of more. Time and distance seem to lower the importance. But some things still seem valuable no matter how much time has passed. In a plastic crate full of notebooks and folders, were journals and writing from as far back as junior high. I found letters from people who were important to me, and the poetry I wrote before I got treatment for depression. All of it represented words from every period of my life. And words are precious to me.
I always knew that I was a writer. I haven’t always focused on it, but from childhood, I imagined myself being a writer. As a teenager, I fantasized that I would be famous, and after I died, someone would find the lifetime of writing that I had held on to, and it would be valuable. Clearly, as a teenager I had an over-inflated sense of self-importance! Still, even with better perspective, it is difficult to let go. Looking at all the notebooks, I was faced with a decision. What was really important to me?
I used to think that writing fiction was my calling, but God has made me see that He created me to teach. The old writing was unfinished attempts at stories and poetry from a depressed mind. When I read it now, what stands out is my immaturity. I didn’t write anything that would edify. I wasn’t focused on the right things in life. I wasn’t living surrendered and obedient to God’s calling, and thus the things I wrote had no lasting value. So, last Saturday, I took out a heavy bag of trash. Most of what I wrote before I was thirty is now on its way to a landfill. And it didn’t change anything. I wanted to put value on those things, even though they just sat in a box in my closet.
In the back of my mind, there is this niggling sense of potential regret that I have gotten rid of this irreplaceable record of my past. It takes me back again to the lesson I learned from C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters. The Devil delights to have us mentally living in the past, or even in the future, because it keeps us from living for God in the present. My tendency to spend time reflecting on and analyzing the past doesn’t need to be fed by those old journals that record my feelings in minute detail. I need to focus on what God is calling me to do in the here and now.
“But I [Paul] do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Perhaps my words only matter as much as they are ministering to others. And I cannot take credit just because I wrote them, but I must give glory to God if He has worked through them. My journals, which record my thoughts as I journeyed through life, are not really important. Though I enjoy recalling how God has worked in my life to grow my faith and mature me, the words I have written about it are not necessary to my attainment of this faith. I must not cling to my own words, as though they are valuable. It is God’s Word alone that I should cling to.
Acts 20:24 has gotten me thinking about what my calling is and what God wants me to do. I believe that He calls us to minister to others, and I feel that He has called me to teach. I want to somehow gain this attitude that Paul had, that my life is only valuable to me in terms of how God can use it. Yet, I cannot allow there to be any pride about the abilities God has gifted me with. I can do nothing apart from Him. It is a balancing act that reminds me of A.W. Tozer’s “motto” of the meek person: “In himself, nothing; in God, everything.” (The Pursuit of God)