How I Learned to Stop Loathing the Platform

masha-rostovskaya-0ooma-cs-oa-unsplash.jpg

There’s this viral Simpsons meme that perfectly captures my feelings about the word “platform.” The image shows a newspaper with a photo of Grandpa Simpson shaking his fist at the sky under the headline “OLD MAN YELLS AT CLOUD.” People post it to mock those who are resistant to change, typically older folks who refuse to accept the new-fangled technologies young kids are using these days.

I can sympathize with Grandpa Simpson’s defiance. Since starting to explore the book publishing market, I’ve mentally shaken my fist at the Publishing Powers That Be for requiring writers to build a platform. While I understand that authors need to find their audience and that book sellers need to sell books, I bristle at the objectives to “gain followers” and “grow a brand,” activities that strike me as absurd and terrifying. Why would anyone want or need to follow me? I’m just a girl, sitting at her laptop, trying to eke out coherent strings of words to spread hope.

The both-and of vocation
Angst over platform is a dilemma even seasoned authors face. Shortly after releasing her third book, “Surprised by Paradox,” Jen Pollock Michel posed a question to herself and fellow writers: “How do we write without losing our soul?” After praying and receiving confirmation from the Lord that she should continue, Michel kept unraveling this turmoil that ties writers’ stomachs in knots.

“On the one hand, you know the sick and self-preoccupied pleasure you take out of the likes and the retweets and the shares of your posts. On the other, you feel the pleasure of God when you spin words, and, by unexpected grace, they sometimes turn to gold. Tempted as you are to the solutions of either and or, you know that what you really need is a both-and. You understand that you’re both corrupt AND called.”

Corrupt and called. Check and check. This is why I’ve hesitated immersing myself in social media engagement that feels like self-promotion – posting selfies, recording live videos, curating an Insta-worthy feed. It’s a fear that keeps me wondering if I should ditch this writing gig and go stock shelves at Costco.

I resist building a platform because I know how much I lap up praise and approval, and I worry I might drown in it.

More of him
Platforms have their place: to raise something to prominence. If I’m that something being raised, it’s likely my head will either fill with hot air or explode with worry. I might think too highly of myself or lose sleep wondering if others don’t think highly of me. Such is the temptation for anyone who steps onto a stage. How do you put your name out there and not hope that people will remember it?

The problem begins and ends with the wrong focal point: me. Jesus belongs on the platform. Of course I know this, and in my innermost heart, want to acknowledge his rightful position there. But instead of locking eyes on him, I drift back to myself. I forget he cleansed me from evil and erased the stain of pride that used to pollute my decisions. I let fear of sin become a sin itself, dwelling on how wretched I am instead of how glorious Christ is.

More of him, less of me. That was John the Baptist’s approach to public ministry. Paul also took the low road, boasting about his weaknesses and counting his strengths as worthless trash. Yet neither man would be considered a wallflower. They spoke to crowds boldly, fearing God more than people, fulfilling their calling instead of fixating on their corruption. Paul even commended himself to the church at Corinth when critics challenged his authority. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

Paul’s example helped author Whitney Capps reframe her perspective on speaking from a platform. In her book, Sick of Me, Capps confesses how early in ministry, the Lord convicted her of trying to appear unimpressive. Seeing that Paul commended himself to proclaim Christ led her to reevaluate her motives and shift the focus of her messages. “Rather than trying to deflect glory from ourselves, what if we focused on reflecting glory back onto him?”¹

That’s it, friends. That’s what I decided is my way of escape through the pitfalls of platform building. Accept that the vocation of writing requires an amount of attention that scares and tempts me, and prayerfully press on to direct that attention toward Christ.

Serve the caller
How will this change the way I engage on social media? Wouldn’t we both like to know. It depends on what the Lord nudges me to do. Clearly, it should not involve campaigning for others’ approval. Sharing the gospel isn’t a popularity contest from which I emerge as the winner.

As of now, I’m viewing this as an attitude adjustment more than a behavioral change. My curmudgeonly self is gone, or at least restrained; my new life has come as a reluctant yet willing platform occupant. For the sake of Christ, I can use platform as a tool to elevate him in the eyes of however many people read my words. As I strive to proclaim his fame, my fist-shaking might give way to knee-knocking, as I try silly things like talking to my face on a screen.

In this world flooded with temptation, it helps to remember one of the both-ands of our lives as Christians. We’re corrupt – hardwired to make ourselves look and feel important. And we’re called – cleansed of our self-sickness and set apart to declare the excellencies of our king.

If I had any say in the matter, I’d vote to scrub the platform lingo in favor of more accurate terms: writer instead of influencer, readers instead of followers. Because as much as I appreciate you, dear reader, you really shouldn’t follow me. We’re both much better off following Jesus.

¹ Capps, Whitney. Sick of Me. B&H Publishing, 2019, p. 143.

Photo by Masha Rostovskaya on Unsplash.

Hope of the New Year

As I grew up ringing in the New Year with my family, I wondered, but never asked, why January 1st is considered a holiday. When your parents let you stay up and watch TV way past bedtime, you keep your mouth shut and let the good times roll.

Now that I’m an adult and have children of my own pleading their case for late-night privileges, the tradition of celebrating the flip of the calendar has piqued my curiosity once again. Seeing commercials for New Year’s programs and store end caps already stocked with fireworks and noisemakers reminds me of my long-held questions: What’s so special about the start of another year? Why do people around the world hail its arrival with feasts and proposals, kissing and crooning a Scots poem? Besides providing an excuse to party, why do we celebrate the New Year?

A quick search at history.com reveals its origins, dating back four millennia to the ancient Babylonians who observed the first new moon after the vernal equinox (a day in late March when the amount of sunlight and darkness is equal) as the beginning of a new year. The date kicked off an epic eleven-day religious celebration called Akitu, which involved feasts and rituals celebrating the Babylonian sky god Marduk’s victory over the evil sea goddess, Tiamat. Later, Emperor Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar, similar to the modern Gregorian calendar used by most countries around the world today. Caesar at that time declared January 1 as the first day of the year in honor of Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, who had two faces allowing him to look back on the past and forward to the future.

One common thread runs throughout the history of New Year celebrations, from the time of the Babylonians and Romans celebrating and making sacrifices to their gods to our modern rituals of making resolutions and watching a giant bright ball drop at midnight. These New Year traditions we observe and pass on to future generations glorify hope. Though we can’t know what circumstances the next year holds, we rejoice in the possibility of good things to come. The potential for blessings flutters a blank sheet before us, tempting us with irresistible freshness. We grasp for it, convinced that this unknown unraveling of time will be better than what’s already transpired, and what’s ahead will finally make us happy.

Read full article at Morning by Morning.

When We Steal the Spotlight from God

alexander-dummer-aS4Duj2j7r4-unsplash

When I was entering junior high, my mom bought me a book I found irrelevant and a little rude. Although I don’t remember the title, it would be hard to forget such a cheesy cover illustration—a smug-looking teen girl with a cartoon planet Earth orbiting her head. The point of the book—and the message my mom wished to convey—came across clearly: Don’t think and act like the world revolves around you.

Although younger generations often are accused of self-centeredness, we’re all guilty at any age. An adult who talks incessantly about his or her achievements or problems is just as absorbed in their own affairs as a tyrannical toddler who calls everything “mine.”

As with my mother, the sins I see in my children—wanting to get their way all the time, and expecting others to cater to their demands—are a proximate illustration of my own egotism. In matters such as parenting, or even minor inconveniences like hitting all red lights when I’m in a hurry, I expect my will to be done and throw a grown-up temper tantrum when it’s not.

When I think and act according to my pleasure instead of God’s glory, I elevate myself above my creator. It’s both sinful and absurd, like a clay pot trying to commandeer the potter’s ceramic studio.

Read full article at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

[Photo courtesy Alexander Dummer on Unsplash]

Resurrecting Buried Treasure

lilian-dibbern-GX1Dz9cZHc0-unsplash

Hidden torments sometimes yield tragedy. The world witnessed this earlier this summer when, within a week’s span, we lost two luminaries to suicide, fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. I hate it whenever I hear that someone chose to end his or her life; it breaks me up thinking about their pain and remembering my own darkness of anxiety, currently held at bay.

The media coverage of these losses was grossly sensationalized, and I tried to avoid most of it except for a USA Today article by CNN analyst Kirsten Powers.

Powers admits to having considered suicide at one point, and explains the results of research she conducted examining the epidemic of depression in America. Citing an interview with Jim Carrey, she suggests one reason why more people are battling despair:

If only we get that big raise, or a new house or have children we will finally be happy. But we won’t. In fact, as Carrey points out, in many ways achieving all your goals provides the opposite of fulfillment: It lays bare the truth that there is nothing you can purchase, possess or achieve that will make you feel fulfilled over the long term.

Read full article at Fathom Magazine.

[Photo courtesy Lilian Dibbern on Unsplash.]

Enjoy the Freedom of Your Redemption

paula-may-tqgugqVksjs-unsplash

You’ll never defeat this.

My mind recites this line like a broken record when ugly, deceptive sin threatens to trap me in its patterns. Because God has rescued me from my former way of living, I know I need to stop engaging in behavior that defies his will, and live in the way that pleases him.

But persistent sins like worry and pride are so entrenched in my heart that they seem impossible to overcome. I feel as though the weight of shame and guilt will always hound me since my sins are too heavy to shake off by my own efforts.

As I carry these burdens, unable to unload them, I forget the deeper truth revealed in human weakness: What I can’t accomplish, Christ already did.

Read full article at Unlocking the Bible.

[Photo courtesy Paula May on Unsplash]

Just As I Am: Accepting Our Limitations

myles-tan-RFgO9B_OR4g-unsplash

“I’m just a mom.”

“I’m just an employee.”

“I’m just an introvert.”

These statements downplay who we are or what we do.

Maybe it’s intended to show humility. Maybe it’s masking feelings of inadequacy.

Maybe it’s just an excuse.

Though we use it as an understatement, no one truly wants to be “just” anything; it implies limitation and lack. We often struggle feeling like we’re enough and crave something more to inflate our self-sufficiency.

While this hunger can sometimes motivate positive change, it can also breed discontentment. A heart that is always unhappy with what is, and is constantly grasping at what could be, leads to nothing but tireless striving.

This striving spins us in vicious cycles searching for fulfillment through making money, raising children, increasing our “influence,” seeking sexual gratification, finding “our tribe,” and pursuing various external means to manufacture happiness.

Read full article at Morning by Morning.

[Photo courtesy Myles Tan on Unsplash]

writing heart vulnerability God sees love

On writing, sharing your heart, and feeling it bleed out

There’s a story I’ve etched in my mind’s eye for its vivid illustration of regeneration.

In “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” the third book in the classic children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, a whiny and entitled British boy named Eustace lands himself in a dreadful plight when he steals treasure from a dragon’s lair and then turns into a dragon himself.

After several days of feeling miserable trapped inside a monster’s body, Eustace is saved by the lion Aslan, who takes him to a well to be bathed. Aslan instructs the dragon-boy to “undress” first, and though Eustace attempts to scratch off layer after layer of scales, he cannot break through to the smooth surface of bare skin. Then Aslan tells Eustace he must let him do the undressing, and the child, desperate to return to his own body, agrees. The lion does so, claws ripping away the entire beastly mantle, throws Eustace in the water, and dresses him in new human clothes.

The restored Eustace later describes the process to his cousin:

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.”

CS Lewis Narnia Dawn Treader Eustace dragon

Many interpret this story as a metaphor for salvation. We are dragons imprisoned in bodies of death due to our hardened sins, which we cannot remove on our own. Only God can strip away the husk of our wicked nature, wash us clean through the blood of Jesus, and clothe us in His righteousness. This process necessarily inflicts pain on the creature being transformed, as tearing off an essential part of self would naturally do, and comes at a steep cost to the One who does the tearing: the death of His Son, who in Scripture is referred to as both a Lion and a Lamb.

It’s a striking portrait, isn’t it? Eustace’s “come to Aslan” story bears such fantastical imagery that since reading this book as a child, I’ve held it dear as an emblem of what it means to become a new creation in Christ, demonstrating both the agony and the joy of rebirth.

Labor pains

Recently, I’ve discovered another life process to which this parable can be applied.

This is what writing is like for me. When I write how I feel about someone or something, it’s like peeling off skin. Whether it’s really me doing the peeling, or more accurately God rubbing a pumice stone to slough off my flesh, I cannot necessarily say. I just know that it hurts.

I also know that it’s good. Writing helps me process my emotions, to harness the swirling waves of doubt, sadness, grief, and longing, and funnel them into something sensible. Then, I can sort through the rubbish of sin and shame and lies, and pinpoint the Truth that anchors my soul.

It also helps others, or so I seriously hope. Although as a kid I got hooked on reading and composing great works of historical romantic fiction, what really got the ink flowing through my veins was when I began blogging about my infertility issues to encourage others who were aching like me. And nearly all my posts then and now have carried that same intent: reveal the struggle, comfort the heartbroken, exalt the Lord.

Other writers feel this way, I suspect, as well as anyone who lets down their defenses and puts their true selves out there for some greater cause. Those who take up the dare of vulnerability know it’s worth the burn of ripping away your public veneer if it ultimately facilitates healing, for yourself or others. It leaves you tender, sore, unguarded against attack, but it also saves you, changes your thinking, creates new life – like how the Creator breathed the world into life through the words, “Let there be …”

As Brene Brown says in her book, “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead”:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

vulnerability purpose quote brene brown

Disappointment and true worth

I explain all this so others can understand that when someone uncovers a bare facet of her heart – like when a writer reluctantly pushes “publish” on a gut-spilling post – it feels like both heaving a weight off her chest and deliberately stepping into a nightmare, where she’s standing in front of a classroom, buck naked.

And, when she receives little to no response to her disclosure, left there hanging in the harsh limelight of full exposure, she feels embarrassed. Ashamed. Loathing her decision. Doubting her purpose.

It doesn’t make sense. Why would people not react to something that’s so visceral to you? Do they not care? Should they not care?

As I’ve spent the past several months “putting myself out there” to build a platform for my writing, I’ve experienced a little of this raw and lonely discomfort when I haven’t received the level of reaction I was anticipating. Being vulnerable on social media and not receiving much social support isn’t all that likable.

While valid points can be made about how I shouldn’t care so much about what people think, and should probably spend less time on social media, anyway, that doesn’t negate the genuine pain of feeling let down – a feeling that everyone experiences at some point. And those who unveil deeper layers of their public masks have harder to fall in their disappointment.

Just as I’ve done in the past, writing on subjects like infertility and the challenges of motherhood, I’m writing about this type of discouragement to get it out in the open so that others know they are not alone in suffering the biting chill of unrequited vulnerability.

When you share a private struggle in an attempt to uplift someone else, and that person fails to reciprocate at the same depth of disclosure, you are still heard.

When you passionately step out and take action to advance justice or expand empathy, and few others seem at all interested in that mission, you are still seen.

When you labor over growing a ministry to serve God and love your neighbors, and it reaps a meager harvest, or no visible fruit whatsoever, you are still valued.

We are still heard and seen and valued because we are cherished by a God who measures our worth according to His love for us, not by how others regard us.

Limited and loved

As I’ve been tending to wounds of unmet expectations, it seems no strange coincidence that the next book on my reading list would be one emphasizing how we should embrace our limits as a means of glorifying our limitless God.

In “None Like Him,” author Jen Wilkin highlights traits that are true only of God, and describes how we can better bear His image by acknowledging our human inadequacies.

“Our limits teach us the fear of the Lord. They are reminders that keep us from falsely believing that we can be like God. When I reach the limit of my strength, I worship the One whose strength never flags. When I reach the limit of my reason, I worship the One whose reason is beyond searching out.”

limits fear Lord quote jen wilkin

Through my writing, I cannot always successfully reach a sizable audience or elicit a preconceived level of emotional reaction, but God doesn’t have this problem. His Word goes forth and does not return empty (Isaiah 55:11). He Himself will fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory (Habakkuk 2:14). If no one would speak about Him in worship, the stones would cry out in praise (Luke 19:40).

We are limited in how much good we can accomplish through our disclosure. We cannot control how people will respond to our vulnerability. We do not have the power to save souls, no matter how greatly our hearts are invested in that purpose.

And that’s OK. We don’t have to be God. We don’t need others to constantly validate our feelings because Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses. Rather than being ashamed of our naked state, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, knowing we’re never hidden from His sight. His Word is living and active, and will pierce the hearts He intends to indwell (Hebrews 4:12-17).

He sees me. And He sees you. He loves us all enough to continually strip away our callused scales of sin to ultimately dress us in robes of His holiness.

God’s words will never fail even if mine go completely unnoticed. Knowing this truth, I will continue to write and peel off my skin, risking the sting of feeling ignored. This process hurts. And it also feels a bit like glory.

[Cover photo courtesy freestocks.org on Unsplash]