“Those of us who write, who sing, who paint, must remember that to a child a song may glow like a nightlight in a scary bedroom. It may be the only thing holding back the monsters. That story may be the only beautiful, true thing that makes it through all the ugliness of a little girl’s world to rest in her secret heart. May we take that seriously. It is our job, it is our ministry, it is the sword we swing in the Kingdom, to remind children that the good guys win, that the stories are true, and that a fool’s hope may be the best kind.”
Since its release last year, I have heard nothing but good about this book. I had seen quotes shared from it on social media, lovely quotes too, and its message seemed to be what I had been needing to hear.
However, as I am reluctant with buying books unless I have the physical form right before me, I waited and waited until I had the money to spend and suddenly remembered this book.
I finished it in two days.
“I want you, dear reader, to remember that one holy way of mending the world is to sing, to write, to paint, to weave new worlds. Because the seed of your feeble-yet-faithful work fell to the ground, died, and rose again, what Christ has done through you will call forth praise from lonesome travelers long after your name is forgotten. They will know someone lived and loved here.”
As someone who struggles with crippling self-doubt, especially in the area of music composition and writing, this book couldn’t have come at a better time. The struggles and the way Peterson speaks of them just felt like I had attempted to write the same thing—as if he had put my own struggles into words. Over and over again while reading the pages, I kept saying in my head, “Wow, this is so me. Someone understands what this is like!” and my family were subject to my frequent reading aloud of portions that spoke to me the most.
“O God,” you pray, “I’m so small and the universe is so big. What can I possibly say? What can I add to this explosion of glory? My mind is slow and unsteady, my heart is twisted and tired, my hands are smudged with sin. I have nothing—nothing—to offer.”
Write about that.
“What do you mean?”
Write about your smallness. Write about your sin, your heart, your inability to say anything worth saying. Watch what happens.”
Partly because of who I am as a person and also because of anxiety, I often push myself too hard and judge myself for not creating works to the standard I hold in my mind. I know this is wrong, but I struggle with it all the same. Some part of me demands perfection, but as I am a fallen creature saved by grace, I cannot always—if ever—attain that particular level of perfection, and that often times depresses me. Stupid, I know, but it somehow matters if what I create isn’t enough.
Because of this I hate people hearing me working on a composition, simply because I’m struggling to follow the faint strains of music I hear in my mind and to weave them together to create the song that I feel somewhere in the depths of my being, even if I could not tell you what it was. It’s like trying to reach up and touch the Milky Way, taking the starlight and weaving it into a wedding dress while your family and friends are watching your sometimes futile attempts.
For the same reason I feel very uncomfortable having family read my unpolished writing, not because I don’t want people to see it (apparently I’m okay with complete strangers around the world reading it) but because I’m afraid of what they will think. As my family, they are around me 24/7 and are acquainted with all my weaknesses and short-comings as a person. And as such, whatever they read by me, they will view it through the lens of how they see me. Whether this is intentional or not, this is what happens. Strangers, on the other hand, get to know me through my writing, not get to know my writing through me, and that is something I’m strangely more comfortable with.
Perhaps it is pride, perhaps something else. In any case, another thing I loved about the book Adorning the Dark was learning I wasn’t the only one like this and how creating things, whether it’s music or writing, or whatever, is not, ultimately, about me.
“I carry a persistent fear that my thoughts are incorrect, or silly, or so obvious they aren’t worth saying. Suddenly I’m a little boy, sitting in class like a solemn ghost. Mrs. Larson asks me a question, all the seven-year-old eyes in the room turn to me with expectation, and I’m frozen in place, terrified by the sudden realization that I’m expected to contribute. My cheeks flush and I want to go away to someplace safe—someplace like the woods or the eternal fields of green Illinois corn where I can watch and experience and listen without any demand to justify my existence. I’ve always been happy to be alone. God, however, never takes his eyes off me, and on my good days I believe that he is smiling, never demanding an answer other than the fact of myself. I exist as his redeemed creation, and that is, pleasantly, enough for him.”
Our highest goal in life should be to glorify God and to enjoy what He has given us. Whatever that means of glorifying Him is, it’s ultimately about Him, and not us. It’s an odd thought because our flesh wants it to be all about us. It tricks us into thinking that if we do anything for anyone but ourselves, we’ll be completely miserable.
But that’s the ridiculousness of it. When we do things for others and especially for God, it is so freeing because the focus is no longer on us and our failings, but on the One who died to redeem us and who has give us these gifts. That is true freedom.
“This is why the Enemy wants you to think you have no song to write, no story to tell, no painting to paint. He wants to quiet you. So sing. Let the Word by which the Creator made you fill your imagination, guide your pen, lead you from note to note until a melody is strung together like a glimmering constellation in the clear sky. Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor, too, by making worlds and works of beauty that blanket the earth like flowers. Let your homesickness keep you always from spiritual slumber. Remember that it is in the fellowship of saints, of friends and family, that your gift will grow best, and will find its best expression.
And until the Kingdom comes in its fullness, bend your will to the joyful, tearful telling of its coming. Write about that.
Write about that, and never stop.”
In short, I highly recommend this book to anyone, especially those who create music and writing specifically. This book was such an encouragement to me and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m reading it again in a few weeks or sooner.
Thank you, Andrew Peterson, for writing this.