Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
One day I’ll be able to write something without linking to Marc Barnes. Alas, today is not the day. I keep thinking about his post, simply titled Be Awesome, in which he issues a rallying cry for Catholics to step up our game. He points out that the world needs to see the beauty of the Faith now more than ever:
The things we do should be fantastic. We’re not just anyone, we’re Catholics! What we do reflects our Church, and our Church is the only sane thing left in the world! Strive for excellence then, glorify God by using every drop of talent He’s given you, because I do believe that—now more than ever—our Church needs to reaffirm that we have brought the world the best literature, art, architecture, music and life it has. And that we still do.
Others have been talking about the importance of Catholic awesomeness as well: Simcha Fisher recently reminded us that Catholics need to know how to write well, then told us how to do it. Steven Lawson brought St. Francis de Sales in to make the point that the visual presentation of Catholic messages matters, especially with our websites.
I love this. I couldn’t agree more with Simcha, Steven, Marc and everyone else who’s been addressing this issue lately. In my own life, this idea has inspired me to spend years intensely studying the craft of book writing, so that my memoir about my conversion to Catholicism will be as good as possible. The hope of bringing glory to God in the form of a well-written book has fueled all the hard work and sacrifice that this project has entailed. But every now and then I’ve gotten tripped up by a certain thought:
Am I being too worldly?
Surely I cannot say that there is not a single drop of pride polluting my desire to produce something great. It’s true that I want to bring glory to God…but that doesn’t mean that there’s no part of me that wants to bring a little glory to Jen, too. The state of the publishing industry leaves me with no temptation to fantasize about riches flowing into my bank account from royalty checks, but even a small amount of extra cash would be nice, and I’ve daydreamed about what I might do with the money. In short, sometimes I worry that I’m too sinful to try this whole “bringing glory to God by creating something beautiful” thing. I convince myself that all this effort I’m putting forth is nothing more than an attempt to inflate my own ego, and that the holy thing to do would be to stop working so hard on this, just slap together something easy, and call it a day.
Luckily, I’ve had some great confessors and spiritual directors over the past few years, and I’ve learned a lot by talking through these kinds of thoughts with them. They affirmed that we as Catholics should strive to be great at whatever we do, but helped me come up with some guidelines to keep my focus in the right place. I’ve found that the four simple rules below act as a safeguard to prevent too much worldliness from creeping into the creative process:
1. Put prayer first. I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve thought, There’s no time for prayer, because I need to go work on that thing I’m writing about the importance of prayer! Blowing off time spent with God in a misguided effort to glorify God is a surefire way to let worldly ambitions cloud your creative process.
2. Put your primary vocation first. My spiritual director used the litmus test “How does this impact your primary vocation?” for all types of discernment, but I’ve found it particularly helpful in keeping my heart in the right place with my book project. The main way God has called us to serve is through our vocations, and the duties that come with that should always be our top priorities. So, when I caught myself wondering if the kids could handle all three meals on their own if I left out the economy sized box of granola bars while I locked myself in my room to write, it was a sign that I needed a small (or, okay, a large) priority readjustment.
3. Don’t fixate on being better than other people. I can’t remember who told me this one, but it was probably some holy person who heard one of my “That hack is on the New York Times bestseller list again?!” routines. It’s good to want to make this project better than your last, to work hard to produce the best finished product you possibly can. But if you find yourself feeling jealous of other people’s success, or feel like your efforts are driven by a desire to be more respected/successful/acclaimed than certain individuals, that’s a sign that you’ve gone off track.
4. Accept failure. God may call us to create something astounding in its splendor…then use it to bless only one other person. Though this would be a glorious success, it would look like a failure from a worldly perspective. For me, the quickest way to discover how Christ-centered my attitude about my current project is is to ask myself the question: When this is finished, if I have done my best and created what God wanted me to create, and it is not successful in a commercial sense, how would I react? Depending on the day, my answers have ranged from, “I would find great peace in knowing that at least the Lord is happy with my efforts,” to “I WOULD SET MY COMPUTER ON FIRE OUT OF SPITE”—whatever the answer, it always reveals what my real goal is here.
I hope these tips are as helpful to others as they have been to me. Now, let’s go be awesome!