Lessons Learned From the Failure of a Man Called Jack

The truth is that often I feel like a failure in what I have set out to do. I want to be used by God to write something meaningful, something that He could use to impact people’s hearts and minds. And with these lofty hopes in mind I sit down to write… and come up with nothing but shallow clichés attempting to be deep, or even worse those cash-bringing lip gloss how tos, or restaurant reviews. Nothing worthwhile comes from my pen, and it makes me deeply ashamed. So much so that I want to just give up sometimes and never try again. But still somehow the dream won’t die and I sit down and try to write… and still fail every time. And in the midst of one of my more recent forays into this realm of shadowy thoughts, I stumbled across the story of a man called Jack Lewis.  And this story mattered because I saw in him some of the same terrors that gripped my own soul.

Ever since he was little Jack wanted to write something great, and when he was grew up he published a painfully mediocre collection of poetry and even taught at Oxford, but when he was about 32 years old he said in a letter that he sent to a fellow attempted writer, “I am still as disappointed an author as you. From the age of sixteen onwards I had one single ambition, from which I never wavered, in the prosecution of which I spent every ounce I could, on which I really and deliberately staked my whole contentment: and I recognize myself as having unmistakably failed in it.” As I read this my heart cracked a little because I understood all too well what he was talking about. Jack was a failure… and I sometimes feel destined to be a failure too.

And if failing as an author is a horrid fate, there’s one that I dread even more, and that is the loss of all my imagination and creativity. Because who will I be if those things dies? What would be left except the shell of a soul? And sometimes I feel those things that make me myself begin to fade away. And it turns out that Jack understood this terror as well. In another one of his letters he says, “I am more worried by what goes on inside me: my imagination seems to have died: where there used to be pictures that were bright, at least to me, there is now nothing but the trivialities and worries of the outer life – I go round and round on the same subjects which are always those I least want to think about.” And that is precisely how I feel as the small worthless things nibble at the edges of my mind like mice with cheese.

So in letters like these and other things he said, in this self-proclaimed failure called Jack I feel like I’ve found a kindred spirit.  And as depressing as it may sound to find someone else as sad as myself in these things, what makes Jack’s story so wonderful is that it didn’t end there. Not long after this time in Jack’s life he became a Christian. And as he came to know the Author of creativity itself, he felt as if his once dead imagination was finally coming back to life. So he began to write. Wonderful and crazy and fantastic stories began to be born and grow. It’s like his pen was on fire and would never stop burning across the page. He ended up writing a book a year from this time onward until the end of his life and the creativity never died and slowly the idea of his failure slipped away. Because you see, there’s something I never told you about this man. Even though he liked to be called Jack, that wasn’t his real name. C. S. Lewis is probably what you know him as. And I can only pray that I might be as much of a failure as him one day.

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