by H.M. Bouwman, Author
Dan's Note: I have been blessed with connections in the Twin Cities area to different writers. Heather is one of them. I've attended two of her presentations she offered at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. And I have to say, I'm envious of her success. Ironically, this envy—and the motivation behind why we do what we do—is exactly the topic she confronts with this essay. Change. It's real. Enjoy! -- Daniel D. Maurer
My least favorite genre of Christian sermon is the type that I think of as money-for-services and that my older son once characterized as “begging.” It’s part of the prosperity gospel tradition, and it is embodied when the preacher—or a congregant, giving his or her testimonial—stands up with a story about how, when they started giving money to the church, suddenly all their financial troubles (and also sometimes, relationship troubles) were solved: a job materialized out of thin air, a promotion was unexpectedly given, back taxes were no longer owed, credit cards were paid off, a troubled marriage fixed itself.
Because the person tithed, God gave back.
I can’t emphasize enough how irritated that kind of testimonial makes me.
Just once I’d love to hear someone stand up and say:
I think you should tithe your income to good causes, even though doing so may make you poorer and increase your already hefty Visa debt—and it certainly won’t help with those child support payments—and you can probably kiss that large-screen TV goodbye!
I am still waiting.
The truth is, there isn’t a guaranteed monetary effect to giving money to good causes; there’s an emotional dividend for sure, but even that one is tricky: the sad truth is that if you are giving money in order to feel good, you won’t. We give money because it’s the right thing to do, because we feel compelled to help people in need, because we feel called to support a cause—not because donating will yield us a financial or emotional pat on the back.
I’m a novelist, something I became over 15 years ago when I drafted my first novel and decided to get serious about the craft. What I quickly learned, however—after “the climax really should come near the end of the novel,” an actual and sadly necessary note from my first editor—is that writers often write into a void: editors (and readers) don’t always want to publish (and read) the story the author so desperately wants to tell.
There isn’t a quid pro quo in which I churn out a book and a publisher waits, hand held out, for the book to be plopped into it, and an adoring public waits breathless with suspense, for the book to be published. For most writers, there is never any promise that there will be a publishing reward down the road.
So that isn’t why I write: because if you write to get a reward, you’ll never feel the happiness of that reward.
I write because, now, having made the decision to be a writer, it’s what I do; it’s who I am. I do hope for publication (and, with my second book coming out later this year, I look forward to it).
But the truth is I’d be writing even if there were no book contract, even if I were writing only for the trusty audience of my aged cat, who is too tired to leave the room when I read aloud from work in progress. The cat would be enough audience to keep me going, because I love writing itself.
I love the journey.
Whether we’re transforming our financial habits, moving into a new writing habit, or trying to get our life back on track with other habits of mind and body, these changes happen best, I suspect, when we do them without expecting a gold star of some kind.
When we make life changes and stick to them without expecting a reward—do them simply because we know these things are things we must do—then our life will transform, whether the reward arrives or not.
And if we don’t think of them as deserved, the good things—the financial security, the publishing contract, the healed relationship, the life back in order—should it ever arrive, will feel more like a blessing, more like grace, beautifully unearned and raining down on us.
About the Author
H.M. Bouwman (Heather) is the author of the children's novel The Remarkable & Very True Story of Lucy & Snowcap, as well as the forthcoming novel A CRACK IN THE SEA, which will be published in fall 2016 with Putnam/Penguin. She lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota with her two sons and that aged cat who listens to everything she reads aloud.
You can find more of her work at: www.hmbouwman.com