Surrender and Acceptance

 

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Infinite wisdom can be found in the art of surrender. However, few of us are actually good at it. In our self-centered, competitive, never-stop culture, we find fighting to be much more natural than surrendering.

Whereas surrender brings serenity, fighting against one’s life and one’s self ultimately leads to unhappiness. I am not saying that you should not strive for a better life or improve yourself; if you have the opportunity and the ability to, then you ought to do so, but if you expend enormous energy resenting the life you have, then you would do better to surrender. After all, as the saying goes, what you resist persists. The more energy you put into getting rid of something, often the greater a problem it becomes. If, however, you can accept a problem in your life, even to the point of accepting that it will never go away, you oftentimes are then in a better place to deal with it. It’s counterintuitive but true.

How many of us spend all our days fighting ourselves? Our inner self-talk tells us that we’re not rich enough or good-looking enough or smart enough. We find it difficult to be okay with who we are and instead wage war on ourselves. Of course, you ought to wage war with your sins and faults, but what if we practiced acceptance when we came to the things we simply dislike about ourselves? How different our lives would become if we were to practice regular, compassionate self-talk!

Another way to practice surrendering is to practice outcome independence. Outcome independence is being okay with something regardless of the outcome. It’s about doing something because it’s worth doing, not because you know you will succeed. It’s about taking risk. Ultimately, outcome independence is freedom.

 

 

Effort and Denial

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I’m picking up where I left off on my series of blog posts about writing romance, the last of which talked about the concept of mind mates. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how effort is honestly one of the most romantic elements in a relationship, more so than candlelit dinners, stargazing, or driving late at night with no destination. Effort is how a lover demonstrates that his beloved is a priority.

Ask anyone who’s been in a one-sided relationship, and they’ll tell you that there is nothing as unromantic as passivity. Real love requires something of you. It requires activity, for love must be nurtured over and over again.

As I write this post, I’m listening to one of my favorite love songs of all time, La Belle Fleur Sauvage by Lord Huron. One of my favorite lyrics is “I’d give it all to love that girl.” This lyric is talking about more than just effort; it’s talking about sacrifice, which is effort on fire. It is beyond romantic to deny oneself in some way for one’s beloved.

In romance novels, effort and sacrifice are exemplified in the “grand gesture” trope. The grand gesture usually takes place at the end of the novel and is usually enacted by the man. Examples include when Gilbert gives up the Avonlea school for Anne in Anne of Green Gables and when Mr. Darcy pays off Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. These grand gestures demonstrate to what great lengths the men are willing to go for the women they love. Even better, these grand gestures are done in secret. Gilbert doesn’t ask Anne if he should give up the Avonlea school; he makes up his mind and does it. Not wanting to draw attention to himself, Darcy pays off Wickham in secret. In both examples, the men are not motivated by public approval of their good deeds but of wanting the best for their beloved.

I once read that all romance novels ought to have at least three grand gestures. That seems a bit superfluous to me, but I think it’s wise to at least include one. After all, a grand gesture, especially when done selflessly and sacrificially, has the power to make a romance novel unforgettable.

Loftier Motives

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As I’ve written in other posts, I feel like the greatest battle in the human heart is to deny oneself so that one can love others. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how this mindset must be embraced in every relationship and with consistency. When I interact with other people, it is natural for me to think about what I want from them and how I can obtain my wants. Usually, I am seeking admiration, affection, and approval.

I’ll give you an example. I’m with my friends. I am engaging in banter with them so that they admire my cleverness. But perhaps endless banter isn’t what my friends need in that moment, and if it’s at the expense of one of my friends, that’s even worse. Maybe someone in the group needs me to follow up with her about what’s going on in her life, but I’m going on about some joke that may not even be that funny because I crave admiration, so I never do.

What if we viewed every interaction with other people as an opportunity to care for them rather than get something from them? What if we humbled ourselves and put others first? As much as the righteous part of me loves that, part of me finds it repulsive. After all, I have needs, and I want them met. I have things I want to accomplish. I am entitled to love and admiration from everyone in my social circle, aren’t I?

I’m not saying that you should let people walk all over you or be in one-sided relationships. That’s unhealthy. I’m calling for new motives. Loftier motives. How much more exciting and fulfilling would my life be if I awoke every morning with the intention to give more than I get? Even writing it now, it feels painful, but sometimes pain is helpful. The Art of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller is currently on my to-read-list. I will keep you guys posted on what I learn from it. I am hoping it will teach me how to do the work of active humility not just when other people notice but with consistency.

My Throne

I watch a lot of music videos, and so I have authority to say that this is one of the best music videos of all time:

Be prepared to be moved. To feel chills. To be inspired to live an outward-focused life.

I’m not sure if this band is Christian, but this song perfectly illustrates Matthew 20:26-28

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

If only more of us with power and influence could embrace this mindset! How much better a world it would be! Of course, this call to humility does not only apply to people with leadership roles. It applies to everyone. What an extraordinary contrast this offers to the modern frenzy of trying to sell our image to others on social media, podcasts, blogs (yup) etc. etc.

This kind of selflessness requires letting go. We have to let go of compulsively living for our own glory and gratification. And as we better learn how to do that, we will find a new, hidden type of joy.

I have alluded to this before in my blog, but I feel like if I could care less about what happens to me, I would be a lot happier. Lately, I have been thinking about my suffering, and how it helps me to do just that. When you encounter great suffering that leaves you feeling helpless, you learn to care less about yourself. This is because suffering well requires acceptance of loss. When you can accept your loss, you let go of whatever you had hoped to keep or gain and so die to yourself, often in a big way. Suffering, therefore, loosens your grip on your own personal happiness. You learn how not to care so much about what happens to you.

To paraphrase Leslie Ludy, when you are suffering, it is a good idea to find someone whose suffering is worse than yours and serve him/her. Even in your suffering, you ought to serve. But I would go even farther than that and say that because of your suffering, you are well-positioned to serve.

With 2019 upon us, I pray that we would suffer well and serve well.

Also, I LOVE this version of the song:

Unhappiness, Obsession, and Strength

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I feel like I constantly have to relearn the lesson that trying hard to make myself happy makes me extremely unhappy. I have always been an ambitious, goal-oriented type of person—not the type who likes to wait around. Basically, I like to make things happen. I like checking them off my checklist or deleting them from my calendar. There are many things I desire from life, and although I have been trying to do a better job of not being so selfish with my time, I’ve realized that I need to go a step further. I need to transform my mind. I hope to do so by reducing the amount of mental energy I spend obsessing over getting everything I want from life.

I truly believe that I need to wage a war on my mind. While having a thought in itself isn’t necessary sinful, I believe obsessing can be. And while none of my desires in of themselves are bad (i.e. getting my book published), putting too much hope in the happiness I will get from obtaining them is. It makes me self-centered and anxious, both of which make it impossible to pursue God and His righteousness single-mindedly. And that is what I truly desire more than anything; the only problem is that my lesser desires get in the way of this.

I don’t know about you guys, but I really want to be strong. Not physically strong but virtuously strong. I want godly virtues to be so prominent in my mind that whenever I encounter a stressor—i.e. sleep-deprivation, worry, or loneliness—I automatically react to the stressor in a virtuous manner. Virtue won’t have to be yanked out of me but rather will arise naturally from within. I wholeheartedly believe that anchoring too much of one’s happiness to something of this world counteracts this aptitude. You can’t be strong when the thing that’s grounding you is anything other than God because only God is everlasting.

Unless you cultivate a mind focused on the pursuit of virtue, your actions won’t be virtuous. You cannot expect to think one way and act a different way. You can’t focus on ungodly things and expect your actions to be godly. That’s just not how it works. So, my friends, let’s join together in focusing on the good.


Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

 

Quirkiness, Dry Humor, and the Lovable Rogue

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In my last post, I said that I especially enjoy writing romantic chemistry between my characters. I’d like to elaborate on what I think makes good chemistry. Last week, I finished listening to the audiobook version of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. While I loved this book for many reasons, the chemistry between the two main characters, Peter and Lara Jean, really catapulted it towards the top of my list of favorite young adult books. (Side note: When I was a teenager, I used to read books like Wuthering Heights and Far From the Madding Crowd for fun, but now that I’m an adult, I read books for teens. Ironic, no?)

Here is my secret for writing good romantic chemistry:

Make one character regularly say or do ridiculous things and make the other character regularly respond with eye-rolling to these things while secretly enjoying them.

You see this kind of chemistry everywhere. One character is the manic pixie dream girl/guy and the other character is the sour puss with the dry sense of humor. Think Luke and Lorelai from Gilmore Girls. Their chemistry works so well because she is sweet and quirky, and he always responds with dry remarks, but we all know deep down that he adores Lorelai’s quirkiness. There’s something so lovable about that type of chemistry. We want to see the quirky, cute one melt the “heart of stone” of the sarcastic, cynical one. Usually, the male is the dry one and the female is the quirky one, but it can be the other way around. For example, in The Big Bang Theory, Leonard is the lovable nerd while Penny responds to him with sarcasm.

In To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Peter tends to have a flirty, ridiculous sense of humor that Lara Jean pretends to be annoyed by, although the reader knows she secretly enjoys it. Because romances are usually marketed toward women, getting the male lead right is often more important than getting the female lead right. While women want a female lead who is kind, relatable, and funny, we read the book or watch the show for the romance and chemistry generated by the male lead. So, it is important to make him fascinating.

The most popular trope for a fascinating love interest is the lovable rogue. Think Han Solo. Or Mr. Darcy. The lovable rogue defies social conventions, speaks his mind, and thinks more highly of himself than he ought. As much as I hate to say it, it helps to write a bad boy. But the bad boy has to actually be a good guy—we just don’t know that until we get to know him more, usually towards the end of the story. Over time, it must become apparent that he has qualities that cause the reader/watcher to feel empathy towards him. Peter definitely falls in this category. He is an arrogant, popular high school jock; everyone loves him and he milks it. Yet, as the story progresses, we learn that he has a sensitive side—that he is extremely loyal—and that there is more to him than meets the eye. This is a powerful theme in general for a novel because it is so true in real life. We often judge people and overlook them rather than take the time to get to know them and learn who they really are.

As important as it is to create romantic chemistry between characters, it’s also important to create non-romantic chemistry. For example, in Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, Lightsong fulfills the lovable rogue trope. While there is romantic chemistry between him and Blushweaver, who perpetually rolls her eyes at him, there is also platonic chemistry between Lightsong and his priest, Larimar. Lightsong speaks his mind and whines a lot while Larimar is perpetually patient towards him. Lightsong tries to provoke Larimar, but he rarely can. Every now and then, Larimar reacts, albeit just a tad, to something Lightsong says or does, and the chemistry between them is beyond precious.

 

Passion, Sacrifice, and Banter

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I’ve been thinking about romance a lot lately. One of my friends and I had a conversation about it a few months ago, and she was telling me that she dislikes a lot of romance in the books she reads. Also, my pastor has recently talked about how problematic the portrayal of romance in our media is. It has really gotten me thinking because I’ve always loved romance stories. I have read articles before about how too many romantic novels can be bad for the soul. I would say I agree with that. Usually, too much of anything is bad. Also, I really think it depends on the type of romance that you read/consume. I like to read romance that is cute, not erotic, that has substance, and isn’t cheesy.

As a matter of fact, the young adult romance book that I wrote five years ago, which I am currently reworking, talks quite a bit about how being obsessed with romance can be destructive. The protagonist’s obsession with romance makes her incredibly self-absorbed and causes her to make poor decisions.

I think the main issue with romance stories is that they can be self-indulgent. They feature a whirlwind of passion but often lack meaningful connection. I liked something that my pastor said recently about romance. To paraphrase, he said that the passionate, early stage of romance isn’t real romance. Real romance is drawing close to one another again and again over many years. I really liked that. The concept of fighting for intimacy in the face of difficulties, despite the costs, year after year—that sounds incredibly romantic to me. It’s the sacrifice that’s involved that really gets my heart racing. And I think that type of romance is good because it reflects God’s sacrifice and persistence in loving us.

As far as writing goes—I really enjoy writing romantic chemistry. I love putting my protagonist and love interest in opposition with each other. But most of all, I love writing the banter. I love making my characters argue with each other, surprise each other, and bond over inside jokes. The sillier, the better. If I had to give up writing action scenes, I’d be fine. But give up banter? No way!

I think romance storylines can be beautiful when done correctly, but it is good to remember that they are just that. Stories. And stories can never compare to real-life love.