Security within Obscurity

You have to keep living your story. You have to keep living faithfully, seeking God, praying, caring for those things you know are critically important and you have to keep writing about them.

A Kind Friend

Since 2012, at the beginning of every year I’ve gone through a mini writing crisis. 2012 marked a milestone: A year of writing publicly every day. In 2011 I set out on the journey to communicate across boundaries through writing. As 2012 rolled around I was both proud and apprehensive. Now what? I had done what I set out to do, but was I beginning to be a loud noise in a louder world? Was there a place for me to write and an audience for me to write to and for?

Every writer asks themselves the same questions at different points of their journey. Self-doubt is a faithful, all be it depressing, companion to writers, artists, musicians, scientists, doctors, priests, monks and any other vocations that involve the heart.

About a year and a half ago a dear friend of mine who had published a successful book was featured on a podcast. Toward the end of the interview, she was asked a question about writers who meant a lot to her or inspired her. She named two writers who are fairly well known, and then she went on to talk about a writer friend she had who inspired her but wrote largely “in obscurity.” She talked about how much she valued her words and friendship. The writer friend was me. It was incredibly kind. I heard it and I began to cry. My friend was so kind and also, the word obscurity stung.

Obscurity – the state of being unknown, inconspicuous, or unimportant.

I was unknown, inconspicuous, unimportant. My words didn’t matter.

Of course, my friend didn’t mean that at all. She was giving me praise. She was saying I inspired her. She was honoring me in a public forum. But I didn’t hear that part. All I heard was the part about obscurity.

It is a humbling journey being faced with your own desires and weaknesses within those desires. Because here’s the truth – I would love for my words to journey across the hearts and minds of millions. There are times when I fantasize about walking up to an airport bookstore and standing with sunglasses on looking at my own book, just grinning. I’d love to stand to the side and watch others walk up and peruse the stand, finally landing on my books saying, “I love this writer!” There are times when I dream about an agent taking calls about interviews on public radio and speaking at events across the country.

It’s about then that I hear my alarm and know that it’s time to get up and face my day job, where I grab time to write before work and after work and not much in between.

Despite the obscurity, every time I think I’m going to quit putting my fingers on this keyboard, every time I get discouraged and think my words don’t matter, I get a message like the one at the top of this page. And even when I don’t, I remember how much I love writing; how much I love the craft, the ideas that flow or don’t flow. The words and descriptions, the stories and how they are birthed onto the page, the staring into the distance at a coffee shop when suddenly a phrase comes to me. The feeling of hitting “publish” on my own blog, or “send” in an email submission and then waiting to hear if my essay was accepted for publication, the utter joy of seeing my words on the printed or online page…or not, because whether published or not there is deep joy in creating.

It’s during those moments that I know I will never quit. I may go through sabbaticals of quiet, I may take time out to not write publicly, but I’ll keep writing every day.

But I also know another truth that overrides all of this – and that is that my identity cannot be found in writing alone. My security cannot be rooted in who reads or doesn’t read my words. That would be a fickle identity indeed. My security doesn’t lie in my ability to create words, sentences, paragraphs, and stories but as one who is created and beloved by God.

In these 12 years of writing, I’ve learned much about myself and about the human condition. I’ve learned more about what it is to live well in places that are hard, in places where you don’t feel you fully belong. I’ve heard from people who are displaced or in transition, who are struggling to find their place. I’ve received messages from teenagers in France and retirees in the United Kingdom. I’ve connected in ways I could never have imagined. I’ve gone through public and private crises, and asked readers to come along with me in the grief. I’ve learned more of what it is to give both identity and desire to God, to invite him into my writing space, and pray for words. And I’ve come to see that it’s a big world out there and within it there is a place for small writers in small spaces.

5 thoughts on “Security within Obscurity

  1. Marilyn, your gift of writing has blessed so many people! Your words were nuggets of truth and morsels of comfort to the group of college students gathering in our home who spent several months discussing your book. (The students were all excited about your gift of the books). And then, just before Christmas a young lady from a new generation of students saw your autobiography on my bookshelf and was delighted at being able to read it. And I personally regularly find encouragement, insights and challenges from your blog posts. You will never know half of the ways God has used you, but we are all blessed by the thoughts you share!

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  2. I am glad and grateful for every year you continue to write! Your posts are meaningful, helpful, inspirational and ever timely. You may never know just how much your writing matters and to so many, but from this one loyal reader, many blessings and thank you!!!

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