I'll be wearing my #23 Chicago Bears jersey today because it is the opening day of the NFL draft. Hundreds of college football players across the country have declared their intention to play in the National Football League. Experts have analyzed and evaluated their athletic careers, in many cases since the players were in high school. The athletes have interviewed with teams, attended special workouts to show off their raw athletic ability, and taken tests to prove their football intelligence. Scouts and coaches have investigated their character and family background. Today and tomorrow, during the long hours of the NFL draft, these young athletes will wait for the phone call that tells them whether they were good enough to be chosen, and if they were, which team has chosen them and in what city they will spend the next portion of their lives.
Too often, I find myself thinking of Christian discipleship as a sort of celestial form of the NFL draft. I see God as giving us certain gifts, telling us where to use them, and evaluating how well we do. In my case, one of my gifts is an ability to write, and I've met with success as an educational writer, yet I've often been frustrated in my efforts to publish fiction.
My response? Sometimes, I admit, I fall into the trap of thinking that my small number of published stories means that God has decreed I should do one kind of writing (educational) and not the other (fiction). I wonder if I would be able to sell more of my work if I found the right niche, the one that God has predestined for me.
But truly, when I step back from my emotional investment in this issue, I realize that such thinking is childish. Hebrews 11 praises the many who persevered in their faith even though they encountered difficulty and never in their lifetime saw the fulfillment of God's promises. As I mature, I come to know that God's values are, in many ways, the antithesis of NFL culture. What matters to him is the process, not the scoreboard. If I persevere in exercising my gifts, if I dedicate myself to growing as a writer and writing material that supports my Christian values, then that is enough. When I meet God face to face, he isn't going to ask for the list of my publications.
In the movie Chariots of Fire, the Christian athlete Eric Liddell says, "When I run, I feel God's pleasure." That is the best description I've ever found for what it's like when I write my fiction, and surely that should be reason enough for me to continue to do it. Whether my novels find their way to print or not most likely has to do with market forces and whether I've tapped into the broader tastes of the American consumer. It does not mean I've failed to figure out God's will for me. And it doesn't mean that on draft day, I failed to be chosen.
The jersey I wear, #23, is for a Chicago Bears player named Devin Hester. For the last two years, he has been the most electric kick returner in the NFL. Currently, the Bears are trying to see if Hester can expand his role by becoming a wide receiver too. The process reminds me a little of my own repeated attempts to expand from being a textbook writer to a novelist. If Hester can learn the intricacies of this position, he will increase his value to the team several times over. If he cannot make the necessary adjustments to master this second role, well, the public will focus on what might have been. His reputation will perhaps be a little bit dimmed. But I think that I will honor him for having the courage to stretch his gifts and to take chances venturing into new areas that have no guarantee of success. And I hope that I will always push myself to do the same.