I make heavy weather of things, I know. Life in this 'season' for me is definitely more like a slog than a gambol and writing, while very precious to me indeed, is regularly elbowed out by the mundane and the immediate. When time and head-space are both acutely limited I have to make sure that I read the Bible daily and spend some time writing in my journal because I have found these to be life and sanity savers. For long periods it's the only writing that I do, but I've kind of made peace with that. Anything over and above is a bonus.
I got something written a few months ago. I was pleased with it. When it was all finished I knew that it wasn't perfect, but so much work had gone into it that it was as good as it could be. I was satisfied. I was happy to say that it was mine. Every writer knows how difficult it is to let the world in and risk what they might say or think. It's very hard to be so vulnerable.
I showed it to a trusted friend.
She didn't think much to it, and said so.
I don't know how to categorise her words. Thoughtless, maybe. Harsh? Unkind? I don't know. Maybe just 'honest'? Either way, I was crushed.
I still am, I think, though I know what I need to do and I'm trying to get on with doing it. I am moving on, sticking with my assessment of the project and not hers. I have given it all to God (more than once) and I am working on both forgiving and asking forgiveness myself for the hurt and resentful things that I have thought and said about the situation.
I am still writing, though I don't feel much like showing people things at the moment.
It occurs to me that I have received criticism before, but it has never cut as deeply as this. I have never been so wounded, so discouraged, so mired in confusion and rejection. It all seems over the top. Then I process that I have never tried anything so ambitious before. This really mattered to me.
I write about Jesus, about God, about life as a Christian; my purpose in writing is to point my readers to the One who can heal. To say to them, 'Come here, listen to my story. Check Him out. He's changed my life".
So I add the two together and I realise that in my tiny way, what I write has an eternal significance. Whenever I send out into the world a little piece of my heart, the Holy Spirit goes too and where He goes amazing things can happen. He can make something beautiful out of the raw and broken. Maybe one person somewhere reads my ramblings and thinks, 'Me too,' and He is right there, doing the healing and the restoring.
So this is perhaps why it hurt so much - because my writing in general and this project in particular are very personal to me, and I was absolutely not expecting to be shot down so comprehensively, or indeed by this person. My defences were down and I had not thought to prepare or protect myself. It came from out of the blue and it was a direct hit. I'm still feeling the repercussions weeks, months later. I hope things will return to normal but they haven't yet.
Some good things have come out of this whole nasty experience, however. One is that I've realised once again the connection between stepping out in faith and getting knocked flat. If you do one, you'd better expect the other. Remember that bit in Ephesians about putting on the armour of God? I am a slow learner but I have realised afresh that I'd better do as it says. Then maybe when the missiles come, I can slice them away instead of sustaining injuries.
Another good thing is that when I offloaded my hurt to other Christian writers they closed ranks around me with a level of empathy, gentleness and reassurance that took my breath away and made me cry. I felt uplifted and loved, even as I licked my wounds and wondered how to rebuild some confidence. Thank you, every one of you.
I know that each of you will have your own story to tell about criticism that hurt, fair and unfair. About recovering from setbacks, remaining single-minded and focused and being true to your calling and determined to steward gifts well.
I know that a thick skin and resilient self belief are essential to make it as a writer, and this is demonstrably no different if you are the author of mainstream fiction, journalism or devotional material. If we say we belong to Him, the other guy simply doesn't like us much.
So to conclude, a few thoughts.
- As Chumbawamba so eloquently said, 'I get knocked down, but I get up again. 'Ain't never gonna keep me down'. * Yeah.
- Words are powerful and nothing is more powerful than the word of God; even the hard or unfair words that we find ourselves on the receiving end. I need to use His Word in my defence more often. I need to make sure that I'm in the safest place: close to Him. With my armour on. We're at war, aren't we?
- So to come back to Deborah Jenkins' lovely piece on encouragement: I need to remember how it felt to be supported by people who understood and were gracious enough to offer their own experiences of hurt and rejection in order to reassure and encourage me.
We never know what sort of day people are having. Sometimes when something bad happens a flamboyant writer might explode onto the internet saying, 'I'm never going to write another word!' but others might just unobtrusively place their precious manuscript in a drawer or softly close the lid on their laptop and that's it; all the gifts and potential abandoned to gather dust. We can never tell if a word from us might one day encourage them to fetch it out and smooth out the pages, and the next CS Lewis might emerge to bless the waiting world.
Timing belongs to God. A word of encouragement when all is going well and it wasn't particularly needed is just a nice thing. When things are going wrong, in His hands, it might be a defining moment. Let's just be generous with our appreciation and encouragement and let Him decide.
Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire, England, with her husband, two daughters and her mum.
As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.
You can also find her here: