The publishing and public-speaking businesses are no different from other industries. No one wants to publish you until you get that first book, because Lord knows what you might write between the covers. No speaking agent is going to take a chance on you until you are represented by at least one other one. Because what if you totally blank on your material in front of 1,000 folks who have paid money to hear your motivational sound bites?
But then once your first book is out, editors relax and other publishers invite you to write for them. Once your mug shot appears on the website of one speaking bureau, it magically pops up on others too. The challenge is always getting that first book in print, of landing your first speakers bureau.
The same is true with the spiritual life.
Swedish diplomat and Christian mystic, Dag Hammarskjold, once wrote:
I don’t know Who – or what – put the question. I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.
I have such a moment, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately, because a few weeks from today will mark the 20th anniversary of that afternoon.
I had just turned 18 and I was self-destructing with alcohol. Sometimes I would get drunk before school and slur my words and giggle inappropriately as I said morning prayer for the school over the intercom. I stumbled cross-eyed into the auditorium for various dances a few times too many. And I got thrown off the drill team for packing liquor into my suitcase at band camp.
Somewhere in the mess I was making of my life, God sent me a few angels, my high school religion teachers, to turn me around and hand me a map.
One teacher sat me down on the stairs at the main entrance to the school.
“What’s going on?” she asked me.
“Nothing,” I almost replied. Further confessions might mean more demerits. But there was something in the way she inquired that made me think our talk belonged in the “grace” category.
“This isn’t you,” she said. “You can be more.”
That ten-minute chat changed my life.
I decided, then and there, that I was going to venture out of my comfort zone (sober!). I wasn’t sure about all the details in the contract, but somewhere and somehow on those steps of my high school, I said Amen.
And, just as Hammarskjold so poetically said, my life from that moment on has had meaning.
It was the first of many yeses to come. It was the big one that mattered. Like the first book or the first speaking bureau. Not to say I didn’t go back on my word a million times from that point on, especially in my suicidal 18 months when I pleaded with God to take my life. Not to say that life’s been peachy ever since.
But it was the most important one, the moment of conversion that will forever guide the yeses to come.