Once upon a time, I was a junior in high school and decided that I wanted to be a magazine writer. 4 years later, that dream hasn’t changed, but I have. And in the midst of trying to combine my passion for writing with my passion for Jesus in the context of secular media outlets, I’ve found that what I used to see as inspiring really isn’t as effective as I once believed. That those countless columns and articles I read, while inspiring in the moment, just left me waiting for the next month’s subscription to give me another jolt of much-needed inspiration. It’s the “how-to” problem- the massive influx of articles that tell us if we follow a certain set of tasks, life will be everything that we could hope for.
I remember spending a good number of my Saturday mornings in high school sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee reading publications like Oprah magazine and others for hours- if I felt like I was in over my head with schoolwork, I would read a column about the importance of relaxation in the midst of chaos. If I was having trouble with friends, I would search for the article that told me how to perfectly balance my social life with everything else going on. What I was looking for in magazines, I should have been looking for in God’s word.
Along with the end of high school came the end of those Saturday mornings spent enthralled by magazines, and college pushed me to pick up an entirely different lifestyle. Throughout the past two and a half years, I’ve changed a lot- but in ways so subtle that it’s not until I look back on the beginning of my college days that I see just how much Christ has changed my perspective in so many areas of life. And it wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I started applying for magazine internships that I realized how far off I was in believing that advice from a “how-to” article was going to change my way of living. Here are a few examples of article titles I found in my search:
Who’s Sorry Now? 6 Steps to Regret-Proof Your Life.
How To Open Yourself to Your Life’s Purpose.
How To Know It’s Real Love.
5 Things You No Longer Have To Do For Love.
How To Be Successful… at Everything.
10 Ways to Get Back Your Confidence.
…do I need to continue? I know that some of these titles seem like a joke, but the truth of the matter is that people are searching so hard for a way to make their life better that they really will look to something as simplistic and surface-level as a magazine article. In one of these columns, I found the following statement:
“Jenny’s big regret was that one disastrous gymnastics meet had tanked her chances to make the Olympic team. When I asked her what she would’ve gotten from the Olympics, she said, ‘Pride, excitement, world-class competition, attention.’ Once she’d articulated these essentials, Jenny found herself gravitating toward a job in television, which provided all of them. Now, she says, her life is so exciting that she virtually never thinks about the Olympics. Instead of sidelining her, regret became just one more springboard.”
And here’s where the problem comes in. Because this anecdote implies that something as simple as landing the right job (while using regret as the springboard, apparently) is all it takes to restore you. But what happens when Jenny loses that job in television? What happens when we find that all of these material things we’re putting our hope in will really just leave us empty?
Now before I send my future industry down the tubes, let me say this: magazine articles aren’t the problem. It’s the pedestal we put them on that’s the problem. It’s the very notion that anything can give us more hope than Jesus already has; the belief that anything we say or do has greater power than what Jesus has already said and done- and conquered.
I’ve wrestled a lot lately with how I plan to assume the role of a columnist or writer for a secular magazine and not feed people an artificial gospel. Because like I said before, these stories that are inspiring today will only last for as long as the readers are able to do and do and do until they’re burnt out. And the only way that anyone can get out of this exhausting cycle is to learn and truly understand the Gospel. I think a lot of us Christians need to ask ourselves how we’re going to enter into any given industry with the purpose of radically changing people’s hearts. It is such a blessing that when I graduate, I’ll probably be thrown into an environment that believes in the notions I’m shunning in this blog post. But if I choose to cave and write stories about how people are (momentarily) “changed” by their new job or their new spouse or any other new thing, I’m completely negating what I know to be absolute truth- apart from Jesus, we have nothing.
Even now, I still look at various blogs and publications and websites to find out how other people tackle the challenges set before them. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting a different perspective or using the words of other people for inspiration- but it should never be our source of inspiration.
So for all of you who believe that the words of others are more helpful to your situation than the words of God, put down the magazine and pick up the Bible. After many Saturday mornings of believing that I could pull my life together all on my own, I can promise that there is no truth more beautiful than realizing a life in response to God is greater than anything we can fathom. The life God intended for us is so much more than the detailed plans we draw out for ourselves to make life “better.”
It’s so much more than a “how-to.” It’s the beauty of the Gospel.
“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.”