Like many young boys of 4 or 5 years old, I fancied myself an adventurer, a lion tamer, a dragon slayer, and a giant killer. Most of my days were spent looking not through the lens of my miniature frame but through the lens of my imagination. It was my private Technicolor world of wonder, excitement, and possibility, and many days I could be heard in the bath or in the privacy of my bedroom narrating a story, alternating voices and creating sound effects as needed to move the plot quickly along to that titular point where good triumphed over evil.
But, across the hall, hidden beneath a stack of records in my sister’s room laid a villain I dared not engage. It was small. And thin. A little record for children that created bright, vivid images through the power of music and heavy, dark emotions that mirrored an untold, but real, danger. Like all evil things, the symphonic story of Peter and the Wolf drew you in with innocence and gaiety before snapping its jaws around you. And even though I knew it was only a story, the line between imagination and reality blurred every time I heard the heavy French horns introduce the menacing, growling, grey figure of the predatory wolf.
I could picture the beady, black eyes and the sharp, narrow jaws dripping with hunger and the thirst of the kill. He was no cartoon in my mind. He was big. He was muscular. And most of all, he was merciless. This was the same character, as far as I was concerned, that destroyed the sheep of lying children, blew down little pigs’ houses and ate grandmothers in order to eat innocent children too. No one in the story of Peter and the Wolf was safe, in my opinion, so once the wolf swallowed the duck, I imagined the imminent demise of the rest of the characters and would run away, traumatized by my own mind. To my knowledge, I never once finished the album.
My love of story-telling never abated and by the time I was 10, I had decided that I wanted to be a writer when I got older. I looked forward to our creative writing assignments in elementary school and began the art of “listening” to the written word when I read a book. By ninth grade, I wrote my first novella, followed by another in both tenth and eleventh grade. As a senior in high school, I began researching how to write a novel and submit a manuscript.
I was in a writing rhythm.
But then college came, and the demands of school allowed little time to continue the pursuit of my dream. Absence from the habit of creativity mixed with a comparison to others that I had read and/or met in school created an indelible doubt regarding my abilities as an author. My only consolation came from the occasional creative writing class I would take at school and the encouragement my professors offered.
As with Peter and the Wolf, I began many projects but never finished them, either writing myself into corners or becoming distracted by the gradually increasing demands of adulthood.
By the time I married I continued to pursue my dream of writing, even getting up at 5 am every morning so I could write. But a baby and a new career soon ended those efforts and once again, the ideas I had begun lay buried beneath a stack of incomplete imaginings.
I am now almost 50 years old, and although it feels unnatural, even unholy, to leave a story incomplete, that has been my pattern. My confidence in myself has not waned but my belief in the inevitability of completing my dream has. I have begun to wonder less about the adventures of imaginary people and more about what the end of my story will be.
Each time I ask myself this question, I am reminded of (what else?) a story Jesus told his disciples:
For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servantsand entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
— Matthew 25:14-30 (ESV)
Each time I read this parable, I wonder: Who am I in this story?
But the answer is all too terrifyingly clear. I am the slothful one-talent man who buried what God has given him because he succumbed to his fear.
Fear of failure.
Fear of success.
Fear of not being able to repeat success, if ever achieved.
Fear of never finishing anything.
Fear of disappointing my family and friends.
Fear of becoming too full of pride.
Fear of not making a big enough impact through my writing for God.
And so, I buried my talent.
I buried it deep beneath a pile of excuses and distractions and responsibilities. I buried it beneath 12-hour workdays, exhaustion, and the hamster wheel of debt and kids and college. I buried it beneath a belief that I would have enough time to write something later; beneath a series of unfulfilled New Year’s resolutions and rejuvenated energies after each birthday rolled around. I buried it beneath books and magazine articles about the craft of writing. I buried it beneath the compliments of family and friends who had read my writing, satisfying myself with minor praise in order to avoid the risk of sharing my creative soul with a critical, uncompromising world.
I buried my talent deep, deep within the ground.
And the terrifying thing is that even though I know how it ends for the one-talent man, I keep ensuring that I don’t do anything to stop the slothfulness.
As I said, I still believe I can. I just don’t believe that I will.
For the only currency that slothfulness accepts is the currency of squandered dreams.
But God has different plans.
Plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans for a hope and a future.
I can still feel Him calling to me.
I can still hear Him saying, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit” to my soul.
I can still live an unwasted life.
And, if you have buried your talent in the plot next to mine, so can you.
But we are going to have to be doers of the word and not hearers only. We cannot continue this grand self-deception, avoiding the present and fearing the future. We must look intently at ourselves through the lens of the perfect law of liberty and persevere in making whatever changes it demands of us. We must be active and do what He calls us to.
Such a life may lead us into the fulfillment of our earthly dreams…Or it may not.
It may lead us somewhere painful. Somewhere sacrificial. Somewhere familiar with loss.
But if we allow ourselves to accept the second chance God is offering and demonstrate the greatness of God working in our lives, despite our failings and inadequacies, then our soul will no longer cringe at the one-talent man’s reward. It will overflow with excitement to give back to God what we have earned for Him with what He gave to us.
For when we are no longer traumatized by our own mind, when the music of our master’s joy silences the music of the menacing, grey wolf, when the end result is, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” then the relinquishment of a thousand fears will be worth the work and the reward.