I’ve shared this story before, but it begs repeating. In high school, I pined for a boyfriend. I prayed for a boyfriend. I made bargains with God about said boyfriend. But heaven was silent. Single Mary stayed single.
And now? I’m grateful.
Because my besetting sin also echoes my deepest need from childhood: to be noticed. To be seen. To be acknowledged.
A fatherless girl, I shoved all my needs into a boyfriend package, and I would have worshipped that boy, staking my happiness on whether he would notice, see, and acknowledge me.
I would have made him an idol.
Sometimes we pray for things we think we need, circumstances we know will provide that elusive happiness the American dream promises us. And when God is silent, we question His kindness. Why wouldn’t He want me to be happy? Why won’t He answer my prayer?
I have written many books. I am grateful for the opportunity, to be sure. But inside that little girl who needed to be noticed was that same girl who prayed for a high school boyfriend who, later in life, wanted to be heralded for her words. Lurking beneath, this author wanted to be noticed, seen, and acknowledged in the publishing world.
Little bits of acclaim trickled in. Contracts came. Corners of excitement brought temporary reprieve. (Please hear me: I am grateful I had the opportunity to write for a wider audience.)
But as I watched others climb higher, then higher, and I coddled jealousy (Jesus, I’m so sorry), I felt jilted–just as I had as a seventeen-year-old single. I thought I knew what was best for me. I thought I knew the solution to my problem. I thought God had my best in mind, so why didn’t He capitulate to my demands?
Because, then as in now, God was far more interested in my character than my romantic or literary success.
The more I read my Bible, the more I realize how making people a god doesn’t work out well, and the more I see that chasing acclaim only ends in needing to chase more. It’s like an opiate, that way. Or like a porn addiction. You taste, then devour, then gorge, yet are never, ever satiated.
I now see the tenderness and kindness of God in saying no to those primal cries of wanting to be noticed. God knew satisfying them in lesser ways would eventually bankrupt my soul. He didn’t give me what I thought I needed because the object of my need was never designed to fill a human soul. People will let us down. Position will too.
I received difficult career news this week–the kind of news that roils your stomach and shoves you off kilter. I grieved. I am still grieving. (I am so very human).
But I also thought about the kingdom of God and the two words I have for this year: Holy Spirit. The world’s kingdom is all about clamoring for control. It worships at the altar of personal significance. It causes us to chase the impossible all-ducks-in-a-row scenario. (Spoiler alert: ducks swim out of their rows with nonchalance). The world’s system is an illusion, but the less we read our Bibles and the more we imbibe in the world’s wisdom, the more we believe the illusion to be true, and the quieter the compassionate voice of the Holy Spirit becomes.
Prestige always shouts louder in the marketplace, but God is in the quiet breath of alone spaces with Him.
Kingdom significance comes in unnoticed, dusty corners. The girl who longed to be noticed had to learn insignificance, the art of humility, and the crucifixion of self that follows Jesus down pathways that don’t look splashy. I have watched folks I know chase the fame beast and crumble. I have stumbled too many times to count (oh Jesus forgive me) in my career as an author and speaker. But as I write this today with my “career” teetering on collapse, I can honestly say, I’m grateful.
Grateful for those unanswered prayers (demands).
Grateful for the perspective that age has brought me. (It’s really not about my kingdom; it’s about His.)
Grateful for those tears I’ve cried when I haven’t been included. (I’ve often puzzled at how many times I am almost invited to bigger arenas, then rescinded. It’s comical how consistent the un-invites are).
Grateful for the lists my name didn’t appear on.
Grateful for the many places of obscurity where I could wrestle in prayer about all the conundrums.
But mostly grateful to Jesus who knew that had I chased success in publishing at any cost, it could have cost me my heart.
Today I am listening to the Holy Spirit. And I am praying for you because I know this pandemic is eating us all for lunch. I am praying for you because my career angst is a tiny trial compared to the grief many of you bear. But as a girl who wants to respond to the Spirit, I felt compelled to write this confession today.
This is me.
I’m still that little girl pining to be noticed, seen, and acknowledged. And I pray that all that energy and need would finally, hopefully shift to the Only One who can do all three. Like Mary of old, I want to sit at His feet, worship His beauty, and live for His fame, not mine. Mine would be a dollar-store trinket. His is a treasure.