It’s not the big red B+ at the top of the paper that has stuck with me for more than 20 years. No, instead, it was the sharp words that immediately preceded my disappointment that has lingered. Typically, a B+ might invoke pride, a sense of accomplishment, or perhaps even relief. But that’s not how it unfolded in my senior year writing class.
I had no desire to write about topics that I didn’t pick. And, the teacher’s approach to writing just didn’t seem to mesh with my own. Together those two factors brought about my less than inspiring, barely adequate approach to the mandatory core course. I knew I needed to try harder because my final grade depended upon it. With the last large research paper due date drawing closer, I dug deep, and found my inner writer’s voice that I could truly be proud of. I spent countless hours in the local university’s library, lost in the stacks completing extensive research on the Bubonic Plague. It was all worth it in the end because I knew that the paper I handed in was absolutely my best work.
Several days later, I anxiously slipped into my desk. A few minutes later, my teacher began returning our research papers. Pausing by my desk, she looked at my paper still in her hands atop a pile then looked at me. “This is a brilliantly written paper. The research supporting it is well done,” she paused and looked at me with a cold stare. “That made grading it all the harder. I want to say it’s an ‘A’ paper, but I don’t believe you wrote this.” Her words hung in the air as she paused again. I immediately froze in that moment. I can still repaint every detail of that room. The small desks, the dusty chalk board, and the clicking clock on the wall nearby, my heart shattered in a million pieces on the floor by an accusation I couldn’t comprehend. “If I could have found proof, I would have given you an ‘F’” she continued. “You have proven that you can’t write. You shouldn’t write. You should never write.” And then as though there was one lingering thought on the tip of her tongue, she paused before she closed her mouth tightly, placing my paper with the giant B+ before me. She abruptly turned and continued passing out papers.
A whirlwind of responses flooded my mind. I could have been happy with a B+ with “well written” noted beneath it. Instead my teacher’s harsh accusatory comments cut me to the core. Didn’t she know how hard I had worked? Her words stuck with me long after graduation’s Pomp and Circumstance faded. “You should never write,” lingered in the recesses of my mind. Her critical words limited me for years. It’s only been much later in my life’s journey that I found the strength needed to let go of those words and refuse to let them continue to rob me of my potential. As a result, I uncovered my passion for writing.
With time, I’ve also found that I’m not alone. The “you’ll never” or “you should never” followed by any number of condemning ends to those sentences haunt many people in life. “You’ll never amount to anything.” “You’ll never be successful.” Or something as specific as “You should never write.” They are powerfully flippant remarks that steal our dreams, rob us of our potential and paralyze us from pursuing our purpose.
The Bible is full of stories of people challenged by others as they sought the plan God had for them. One example is Joseph. His brothers didn’t want to consider that God might have a plan for their boastful younger brother. They sold him into slavery, not knowing that he would persevere and one day save their lives. His story, their stories would have ended so differently had Joseph given up pursing God.
Discouragement can come from teachers, friends, and sometimes most hurtfully from those closest to us, our families. But, God doesn’t need their approval to be successful with His plan for our lives! Do you have skills, talents, dreams or passions that God has given you but you’ve resisted pursuing fully? Are you weighed down by “you can’t” or “you’ll never” that you use to keep you from God’s purpose for you? When one of those statements haunts you, replace it with “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 Ask God for the strength to boldly step beyond the hurtful words of others, freeing you to pursue your dreams. Three things you can do with the “you’ll nevers”:
1. Recognize them. Notice when and where negative comments show up in your life is the first step in getting rid of them once and for all.
2. When you catch yourself telling yourself one of those statements, stop, pray for strength in letting go of the statement, and remind yourself of Philippians 4:13.
3. Take one step each week towards pursuing your passion and purpose. Building momentum in the direction of your dream will help erase the “you’ll nevers” replacing them with proof that you can.
This October, I will celebrate the release of my first book because I chose to listen to God rather than the words of a judgmental high school teacher. Now it’s your turn, find a way to take one step in the direction of your dream this week. Unsure where to start? Ask God. He has a plan for you!