Earlier this week I wrote in my journal that I need a spiritual practice that includes faith and hope, but hours after I wrote that, I began to think I might need the opposite. That is, I think I need to believe God exists and has a plan for my life, but act as if s/he doesnâ€™t, as if my desires are my own, my plans are my own and that if my dreams appear impossible, Iâ€™m just not trying hard enough.
Whatâ€™s making me think this way? This question from The Writeous Babe’ s recent post:
Have you convinced yourself that a dream of yours is impossible and out of reach?
My answer: NO! Well, thereâ€™s one dream, but rather than wish death or divorce on someone, Iâ€™ll just accept that that man is not for me. Okay 2 dreams. I have to let go of my dream that I will one day use a time machine to go back to 1998 and redo my adult life completely. Oh, wait, 3: guest appearance on Oprah. I mean, her talk show is over. But all the other dreamsâ€”NYT Bestseller List; author interview on Diane Rehm, Fresh Air or just about any other NPR show, MacArthur â€œGeniusâ€ Award, owning multiple homes in multiple cities, being a public intellectual, world travel, super-fit body, fame and name recognition, an Emmy, an Oscar, a Tonyâ€”Iâ€™m still dreaming about those.
(Okay, 5 dreams. I have given up on starring as a superhero in a Hollywood blockbuster and on performing on Broadway. Iâ€™ve just about given up on my one-woman-show as well, as it involved moves Iâ€™m not sure my back will ever allow me to do again, but with alterations to the script and acceptance that my audience will be small, itâ€™s not totally out of the question.)
Dreaming or thinking big has never been a problem for me. The verse, â€œUnto him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think,â€ has long been one of the most unbelievable verses in the Bible to me. Iâ€™m an expert daydreamer, an above average imaginer. For God to do above all that I could even think has been inconceivable. I remember praying things like, â€œGod, I canâ€™t wait to see what you have in store for me, because what I imagine is big!â€
But I think my problem has been stopping at imagination. Sort of. In my defense, a life in the arts is a meandering road. Itâ€™s not like being a doctor or an attorney. There are no boards or bars to pass, no certifications to be given. You can become a screenwriter with an MFA just as easily as you can with the right connections, and withâ€”yeah, Iâ€™m saying itâ€”the right gender and color and class and family to get you those connections in the first place. (And yeah, Iâ€™m also going to go ahead and say that the first three black women I reached out to for mentorship gave me the brush-off or the side-eye. Shout-out to Writeous Babe for not doing that.) Iâ€™ve taken many of the right stepsâ€”moving to L.A., enrolling in UCLAâ€™s professional screenwriting certificate program, attempting to diversify my talents with acting, and modeling, hanging around people in the business, and later, as a prose writer, starting a blog, submitting my essays to contests and publications, accepting writing assignments for free, in exchange for tickets, for 9 to 15 cents per word, etc., etc. etc.â€”all the while praying that â€œwhere I stop, God provide the increase.â€
I think that too often, Iâ€™ve stopped too soon. Most times, I felt stopping was a necessity. I ran out of money in California, and I didnâ€™t love screenwriting as much as I thought I would. I have a full-time job now because I couldnâ€™t afford to live and freelance. But I went to L.A. because I thought I was moving there under Godâ€™s direction, and that if I did that, my path would clarify itself and my dreams would come true. The same thing happened with the first Fulbright application. It was my plan for world travel, for leaving Louisville, for gaining material to write about, and for getting a job in journalism or otherwise outside of academia when it was over. I was going to be one of the select few to get a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, because God told me I would, and the world would love me.
When I didnâ€™t get it, a former friend told me that wasnâ€™t a plan. That was a hope. (Thatâ€™s not why weâ€™re no longer friends.) â€œWhatâ€™s your plan?â€ he asked.
My plans are still in progress, but I am making them. I do still desire a faith that can guide me, reassure me that everything worked or is working out for the best. But no more imbalance between prayer/faith/hope/claiming and planning. Just a balance between strategy and stubbornness. Faith without works is dead.