|Stephen Grellet - from this (yikes!)...|
Once, while Grellet was travelling in the woods of Pennsylvania which were at that time wilderness, he passed through a camp of lumbermen. These men were notorious for their lawlessness and dishonesty, yet when Grellet reached home, he felt that he should return and preach to them. All the way back he rode, three days through the wild forest from the nearest town, moved to share with these rough and rude lumberjacks the message that he knew from his own experience: how completely God's love could change a person's life. But when he reached the lumber camp, he found it deserted. The men had moved on, deeper into the forest. So there he was, with a story to tell and no one to hear it, after all his conscientious, joyful effort to do what he was supposed to do to the best of his ability.
Let me stop there for a moment and mention that when I think about writing my stories and having no one read them, the analogy that always comes to me is talking on the telephone after the other person has already hung up. It's just so pathetic. Isn't it better when no one's listening just to salvage your dignity as best you can by gently shutting up and putting down the telephone? But remember the Parable of the Sower? Remember that you can't make a seed grow, but you can certainly be sure that if you don't plant it, it won't grow.
|... to this. (Much better!)|
It takes a lot of certainty to do that, a lot of confidence that you know what you're supposed to be doing. That's a confidence that I seldom, if ever, have. How can you tell the difference between a setback you need to push through and a sign that you're on the wrong path altogether? Nevertheless, I'm beginning to feel that I should go ahead and tell my stories, even when it seems that no one is reading them. Because the story about Grellet doesn't end there.
Six years later, Grellet was in England, bringing his message to prisons, hospitals, and slums in London. One evening, as he was crossing London Bridge, he was seized by a strange man who began shouting, "I've found you at last!" It turned out that he was one of the lumberjacks from the camp. On the day Grellet preached to the empty camp, that one man had returned to fetch some tools, and he had heard the whole message. It inspired him so much that he repeated it to all the other lumbermen, so that many of them were inspired, too, and the whole camp changed its atmosphere.
I used the message of this story in my book Ruin of Ancient Powers, where one of the big themes I was exploring was doing your job even when it doesn't seem to be accomplishing anything. And the moral is clear: keep planting those seeds, keep telling those stories, because you never know whom you'll touch, and you never know what might grow.
(By the way, although you've probably never heard of Stephen Grellet before, you probably have heard a quotation attributed to him: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good things, therefore, that I can do, any kindness that I can show a fellow being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”)
[Pictures: Fashion plate, copper engraving hand painted, from Magasin des Modes Nouvelles, June 1789 (Image from EK Duncan);
Detail of a portrait of Stephen Grellet, copper engraving, no information on artist or date, alas. (Image from Wikimedia Commons).]