Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lesson from The Yearling

I loved The Yearling as a child. It was a long book and it earned a bit of reverence from this reader by the time I had finished it. Of course, I cried my eyes out. But like today's devotion for writers, below, I had still missed a lot--simply because I wasn't ready for any more. Thanks to Jeanette Hanscome (whose site you can visit by clicking on the title above, or her name) for this thoughtful meditation.

The Bigger Story
By Jeanette Hanscome

I have a strange habit of picking up spiritual applications and writing-life lessons wherever I go. It must be the devotional writer in me. This week I found one in an old movie.

Since trading cable for an inexpensive Netflix subscription, my sons and I have developed an appreciation for classic films. Most recently, I decided to introduce them to The Yearling. It had been so long since I watched it that I almost felt like I was seeing it for the first time. I remembered about enough to warn my eight-year-old that it was sad. I’d forgotten how long it took for the boy to actually get the deer that becomes the title character. As a kid that had been the story—Jody finds a baby fawn, names him Flag, raises him, then tries desperately to keep Flag from eating the family crops until Pa has enough and. . . well, we all know how the story ends. I vaguely recalled Jody throwing something at a snotty little girl who was making faces at him. I also remembered a close-up on a row of tiny graves stones, followed by a father/son discussion about Ma losing so many children that she couldn’t bring herself to risk loving anyone—including Jody—too much. But as I re-watched this movie with my sons I discovered how much I’d missed as a younger viewer.

As I told my almost-20-year-old, it suddenly hit me that The Yearling isn’t really about Jody and Flag. Well, it is, but that is only the surface plot; the bigger story is about Jody growing from a starry-eyed boy prone to wandering in the woods when he should be doing his chores and begging his parents to let him bring home “a critter” (such as a raccoon), into a young man who, after a few painful doses of reality, is ready to face the responsibilities of grown-up life. He gets there through a lot of heartbreak and loss, including a moment of completely understandable anger that pushes him to run away. But he returns to his parents a different son, one who, as Pa puts it “Isn’t a yearling no more.” (Don’t you just love those soppy Old Hollywood lines, and Gregory Peck’s ability to deliver them so beautifully that laughing at the melodramatic wording would be about as disrespectful as laughing at a funeral?) In the process we see the family grow closer and a grieving mother’s walls come down.

So what does this have to do with the writing life? It reminded me how often we see only the surface plot of our careers, missing the bigger much more important story. Just as we appreciate a movie or book in a deeper way as an adult than we did as a child, the deeper story of what God is doing in our lives shines through as we mature, experience setbacks, frustration and heartbreak, and learn to persevere. What once looked like a long dry season in our career, we suddenly see as a time of growth, either in the craft or in our ability to discipline ourselves to sit down and write. Or we recognize it as a time of preparation, when God taught us valuable life lessons that equipped us to be the writer He needed. The tragedies that took us away from writing for weeks, months, or even years and had us crying “Why God?” we later recognize as the missing piece of the puzzle—that source of wisdom and understanding that we needed in order to truly inspire others and point them to Christ.

Take some time this month to examine the deeper story beneath some of your personal or professional surface plots, particularly those that had you kicking and screaming and groaning, “Why God? When are you going to use me?”

What has God used to grow you to a point where He could say you are ready to serve Him in a new way—that you “aren’t a yearling no more?”

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