The Wild and Wooly Truth – Choices We Make in the Wilderness

“I’ve read the story you sent me. It’s not good. Try another form of writing.”

A literary agent sent that comment in response to my first attempt at fiction.

“You don’t even know what you’re trying to say, Lori. Until you do, you shouldn’t try to get someone to publish you.”

Words from one of the first editors I pitched

“No. No. That was not good writing. I’m disappointed. I expected more from you.”

A writing workshop leader reacting as I read my attempt at his assignment.

I have framed and hung these words on the walls of a special room in my mind where I keep those things for which I am particularly grateful.

It’s true. I recall each of these comments with a heart full of thanks for the speakers.

That isn’t how I felt the first time I heard the words. My initial reaction to each was disappointment, embarrassment, and indignation. It would have been easy to build a special room in my mind just for these words and others like them. A small, dark room in which to keep vials of bitterness and black velvet paintings of heartache and dashed hopes. A cedar-lined alcove bereft of sunlight where the only music is “Say Something – I’m Giving Up On You” on a constant loop.

Yes, it was tempting to enshrine these words in my soul’s mausoleum, mentally eulogizing my attempts to write.

Instead, sitting alone letting the sentences run like news ticker beneath my regularly scheduled program, I invited Jesus to review them with me. I knew that each time I heard words I didn’t want to hear, I had a choice to make. Jesus whispered in my ear the same words He asked the crowds in Matthew 11 when his cousin John languished in prison for calling out the king on his affair with his brother’s wife: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?”

John the Baptist told the truth. His truth telling landed him in prison and eventually, got him beheaded. So Jesus asks the crowd who had flocked to listen to John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?”

The essence of Jesus’ challenge to the crowd is this – what did you expect to hear from a prophet, someone chosen to deliver truth from God? Were you seeking someone who would sway his message to the prevailing wind? Or were you hoping to receive fine eloquence to seduce and entertain your ear? If, instead, you went out to hear a prophet, why then, do you reject the truth he tells or complain when it challenges your comfort?

When faced with hard words about my writing, Jesus asked me, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” Was I willing to live with the discomfort of frustrating truth and let it spur me on to greater excellence or would I set about to erect the dark room where self-pity could flourish like fungus beneath mounds of rotting leaves?

Making the correct choice has made all the difference in my life.

That literary agent is now my dearest mentor, friend, and representative in the writing world. That publisher respects my work and encourages me to submit proposals. That workshop leader is a treasured guide and friend. They told me the truth and by accepting it (instead of locking them away out of sight screaming “Off with their heads!”), my writing improved and so did my character.

How do you respond to the truth you entered the wilderness to seek? When you read God’s word, listen to sermons, receive loving correction from a counselor or friend – do you lean toward banishment? Do you decapitate the truth to facilitate your self-delusions and maintain your comfort? Or do you kiss truth on the lips so you can awaken from your cursed sleep to pursue a deeper relationship with the One who created you?

People who tell us the truth deliver gifts God will use to spur us on to greater adventures if we will receive them with grace. To reject the truth is to lock His work in our lives away in a cell. John was freer in prison than the king was on his throne. I was more blessed by hard truth than I would have been by false praise.

What did you go out into the wilderness to see, loved ones? And what will you do when that wild and wooly truth disturbs your comfort in the universe? The right choice will make all the difference.

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    The Conversation

  1. Carla Allaire says:

    Isaiah’s verdict on the people is as true today as it was then. ‘Prophesy unto me SMOOTH things’. Don’t rock my boat and don’t tell me I’m not right up there with the Christian hall of famers. Pat me on the head, give me a cookie and send me on my way. Just like the two men standing before the altar, the one man said ‘I’m so glad, God, that I am not like THIS man! I fast, tithe, You sure are lucky You have me as a follower.’ The other man just stood in obvious conviction, struck his chest and said ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ Jesus told us which one went away justified.

    Our walk is not for the timid. I get daily ‘instructions’ from the Lord, and if I weren’t so determined to follow Jesus, I might get discouraged. But I am now understanding that He wants me perfect–so I want to be perfect. I THOUGHT I knew who I was going out into the desert to see, but that has changed radically over the years. I can switch on TV and at any given time find 20 programs with ‘prophets’ in beautiful clothes, driving luxury cars, living in million dollar compounds, but they have sacrificed Truth for personal comfort. You wouldn’t see them out in the desert, but you wouldn’t see John the Baptist on their platform, either.

    Many are called, but few are chosen. I’m glad you were chosen. God bless, Lori

  2. Cindy Phiffer says:

    Before I went to the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, I sent two manuscripts to two faculty members to be critiqued. One of them emailed me to ask whether I wanted general comments or more of a “thick-skinned critique.” The phrase nearly made me sick at my stomach.
    So I prayed. The answer was clearly to learn all I could from the woman who was willing to take a good look at my children’s book.

    After I sent my response to her, I discussed it with my son—a singer-songwriter—who said, “I love getting detailed critique on my work. It’s much more valuable than someone saying, “I love that song.”

    The reward for my courage and obedience was being greeted by the wonderful Vonda Skelton with the words, “I love, love, love your book!” followed by a spot-on critique that suggested a few important changes to make the work sing and two publishers that might be interested in it.

    Thank you for this blog post, Lori. You have said in a unique way what God seems to want me to know. The results may not always be as positive as they were this time. May I have what it takes to learn from each experience.