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The Spiritual Discipline of Earnestness

The Spiritual Discipline of Earnestness

I am late in learning the news that one of my favorite authors is “controversial.”  But, then again, what author who entrusts her words to the world isn’t controversial at some point?

While listening to a podcast a couple of weeks ago featuring Ann Voskamp, she spoke about the pain from misunderstandings, accusations, and dismissals of her book as less than orthodox.  I’d read her book under scrutiny—One Thousand Gifts—myself and closed its back cover with no qualms or critiques.  Even if I would’ve had disagreements, I probably would’ve still finished the book.  After all, there are almost always points of intersection or takeaways from reading anything.

After finishing Voskamp’s interview, I started digging and found the less-than-gracious book review from 2012 that stirred further praises and criticisms from both camps.

I learned something truly beautiful about Voskamp along the way: she emailed the man who reviewed her book–with all of his assumptions and interpretations, published for the world to read–and invited him to dinner at her home.

Then the book reviewer apologized:

“As a writer myself, I ought to remember that words are meaningful and revealing and in some way a part of the person who writes them. Every word comes from somewhere deep inside. Every word of One Thousand Gifts is a part of Voskamp just like every word I write is a part of me.

“I did poorly here and I can see that I need to grow in my ability to critique the ideas in a book even while being kind and loving to its author. There was reason for the shame I felt when I saw [her] name in my inbox. I had put effort into reading the book and understanding and critiquing it, but no real effort into showing love and respect for the author. I had assumed poor motives and, in arrogance and thoughtlessness, had squelched useful discussion of the book’s strengths and weaknesses.”

What an example of reconciliation this was in blogosphere. Rather than returning his hurtful criticisms with more blows, the author welcomed the critic to the table, and the critic asked for forgiveness, humbled his posture, and reoriented his perspective.

Although she didn’t specifically mention the book reviewer by name, Voskamp did publicly respond on her blog and reiterated her tightly held (and orthodox) convictions, all the while privately inviting him to the table.

One writer said Voskamp had exercised “the spiritual discipline of earnestness.”  

Earnestness.  I look up the word’s definition, and it’s “sincere and intense conviction.”  Beyond the art forms of a well-written book, blog, or even Facebook post, this is the art form that’s often missing today around our dinner tables: the centerpiece of earnestness embellished with respect.

I ask myself this question: “How often do I invite those with whom I disagree to my table?” and I’m afraid this is why we often don’t have the chance to practice the spiritual discipline of earnestness–of holding sincere and intense convictions–because our circles are busting at their circumferences with homogeneity: with people who think and believe like us, look like us, act like us, create like us, vote like us, and spend like us.

Will and I visited a church in New Orleans last weekend where the pastor read this short poem:

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
-“Outwitted” by Edwin Markham

The pastor continued and explained that the church strives to be one that is welcoming but not necessarily affirming, meaning that its people will always uphold the respect and dignity of others, even amidst earnestness and even disagreement.

We often buy one of two lies: either we believe we must agree in order to gather around dinner tables, or we believe we must sacrifice either love or conviction in the presence of disagreement.

But what if you and I drew a bigger circle?  What if we pulled up more seats to our tables?  What if the earnestness of others didn’t threaten our own?   What if we invited the book critics of our own stories to dinner?  Even more daring, what if we asked those Facebook friends with whom we disagree if we could meet for coffee rather than un-friending them? What if we remembered that our neighbor is, first and foremost, an image bearer of the invisible God, and our love and respect preceded our knowledge and convictions?

The Enemy of our souls and our Savior celebrates every time we draw small circles; but what if we find the wit to win–to make more room and take people in?

 

“When we practice the discipline of finding, making and cultivating beauty, God allows us to see people and creation as holding higher value than our likeminded circle, our tight grip on political or theological stances.” –Micha Boyett

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