I have been fired twice.
One of the times was from the carnival though, so I’m not sure that counts. I guess there’s an art to putting rides together, a sweaty, greasy art and I did not possess it. I had only worked there a few hours and had not even been inducted into the “way of the carny.” (I would tell you more, but I don’t want to anger the Christian carny crowd that reads this site, “Carnies for Christ, Whiplash Warriors for the Word” etc.)
The second time I got fired was less comical, though probably equally justified. I was working for a small dotcom that had the word “net” in the name of the company. Back in Massachusetts after a few years in Birmingham, I was just starting to find my feet in the working world. I was immature and not that great of a writer and eventually that caught of with me.
The owner called me into an office and let me know they were letting me go. Then he said, “I don’t think you should be a writer. Maybe you should try to be a salesman.”
I’d like to say that I shook that off the minute I left the building for the last time. But I didn’t. I can repel a compliment with the best of them, karate blocking kind words back out into the atmosphere even as you try to share them about something I’ve done. But I treat the negative comments like P-Diddy at a night club. “Right this way sir. Here’s the VIP section of my heart. Enjoy your stay.”
For years, I made that conversation a mini god in my life. Whenever things got too good or I got recognized for some silly bit of writing, I would remember I was not a “real writer.” I created this idealized version of what it meant to be a “real writer.” They had talents I did not have. They had not made the mistakes I had. They had secrets of the written world I did not possess. They probably knew words I didn’t even know existed. And try as I might, struggle as I may, I would never attain that goal, the goal of being a writer.
It doesn’t have to be writing. “That thing” is different for everyone. You might want to be a singer or an accountant or a stay at home mom or a pastor’s wife. A woman posted a comment on this site once that said, “I just have struggled for a long time with ‘what is a pastor’s wife?’ and often feel like I don’t measure up.”
At some point, regardless of what “that thing” is for you, we all don’t measure up. We all don’t have enough. We are all missing pieces to a puzzle we feel called to complete but unprepared to finish.
But then there is Paul.
Paul is a gift to the mess ups like me. Paul is an early birthday present to people like me that have broken their lives and their talents and chased other things for so long. Paul is the truth.
If you don’t know the story, Paul’s conversion tale is told in the book of Acts. He once persecuted Christians as a man named Saul but through a miraculous encounter with God grew to become the greatest missionary our faith has ever known. And there are two sentences that kind of provide the key to Paul’s life and maybe some insight into ours too.
In Galatians 1:23-24 Paul quickly explains how his life, “that thing” for him, works:
“They (the Judeans) only heard the report: ‘The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
I love that. As I’ve admitted before, I’ve made a mess of my ability to write. I’ve used it to feed my ego and gossip and lie and a million other forms of abuse. I haven’t made a nickel from this site and I know my temptation to abuse my writing is going to multiply exponentially if I ever do. But in this verse Paul is accused of trying to destroy a faith. He is accused of persecuting a people group. And it doesn’t disqualify him.
If anything, his past is used to amplify his present. Like bookends made of dynamite, things that should be criticisms, are actually used to blow up the power of the middle statement, which is “preaching the faith.” He persecuted. He tried to destroy. He is preaching. The collision of those three thoughts is explosive. They were not left out or edited. They were not hidden. His past is a key component of his story.
And what’s the result of the sentence we read in verse 23? Verse 24 says, “And they praised God because of me.”
Sick. Amazing. Crazy. The result is that God gets praise and Paul gets to say “because of me.” He is not trying to be a “real missionary” like I try to be a “real writer.” He is not sweeping his past under the rug and trying to live up to an ideal that doesn’t even exist. He is aware of his past and embracing his present because it allows God to create a ridiculous future.
You are qualified for that thing. Your ability to do whatever it is you feel God wants you to do is not “in spite of your past.” It might be “because of your past.”
Today, I’m rewriting Galatians 1:23 for my own life. Today, I want to make that idea my own and put to death the desire to be a “real writer” or a “real husband” or any other fake mini god in my life. Here’s how my version reads:
“The man who formerly used his words for filth is now sharing the beauty of a God he once tried to run away from.”
I hope you’ll rewrite it with me and share your version in a comment.
p.s. This is kind of a companion piece to Shining up our Scars so check that out if you haven’t. If this is your first time to the site and you’re thinking, “Ugh, that was heavy,” check out “Not knowing how to hold hands.” It’s a lot funnier.