A Conversation with the Devil: A Writer’s Tale
by CHRIS FABRY
He comes to us all in some way, at some point of vulnerability — for the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker. Writers are not immune to his accusations. Usually, I hear the voice and don’t respond. Eventually, indifference makes him retreat. But there was something different about this day, and I decided to transcribe the conversation.
“YOU’RE A FAILURE,” HE SAID, HIS VOICE SURPRISINGLY MUSICAL AND WINSOME.
“You always say that to me.”
“I say it because it’s true. You are a flat-out failure at everything you do. At life. But especially, the writing.”
I paused for a moment, ticking through my small list of literary accomplishments. I considered for a moment that he might be right.
“I’m trying,” I said.
A rolling of eyes. “You’re a child playing with words you don’t understand, speaking to people who aren’t reading. They’re not listening. They don’t care about what you say.”
“You’re right; I am a child. But I’m a child who’s been forgiven.”
“Ach, cliché! Who cares if you’re forgiven? You’re still a failure. You’re a loser. You’ve worked how long to get to this point? Decades? You still have nothing to show for it. Why don’t you give up and face the truth. You always talk about the truth and how important it is.”
I thought for a moment, mulling a comeback. I found something rolling around my brain and heart and spoke it before I knew if it were true.
“It’s taken me this long to realize I have everything I need.”
He laughed. “Right! And that’s why you look so intently at the best-seller lists. When you walk into a bookstore and can’t find a single thing you’ve written, you get depressed. Yes, you have everything you need, but you want so much more, don’t you?”
“If I were you, I would give up on this God of yours.” He plopped a stack of unpaid bills in front of me. “This is not what you signed up for. You call this a blessing?”
He was right. I had not signed up for the life I possessed. I thought it would turn out differently. I had a much better plan than what I experienced each day. It was an unusually large stack of bills. And he hadn’t included the stack on the kitchen counter.
“Face it. God isn’t there for you. You pray. You plead. He’s not listening. Or, perhaps He is listening, and He doesn’t care. He’s not responding to your requests.”
A clock ticked loudly somewhere in the room. It was the only sound — other than my heart. Doubt began to seep into my soul like an indrawn tide.
“You’re trying to praise this God of yours with an inconsequential life. With your inconsequential talent. You’re a tree falling in a deserted wood, and there’s no one around to hear you.”
He tapped the screen in front of me.
“This is garbage. This is hackneyed, putrid fluff. You’re writing silly little stories to try and make sense of your silly little life.”
He drew so close I smelled sulfur.
“You sit at your desk and pretend you’re reaching people’s hearts. And your ego brings you back to the page because you think that one day, someone will notice. Someone will respond. Someone will validate your greatness. Well, I have news — it’s not coming. It’s never coming.”
He was right, of course. On some level, his words always carry some weight of truth, even if his view is skewed by his own agenda. I do have expectations of being noticed. I do want people to read my words. I crave validation.
“I would be lying if I didn’t admit I feel inadequate at times,” I said, my voice hollow.
“Inadequate?” A belly laugh. “My friend, you’re not even in the ballpark of inadequacy. You must have talent in order to be inadequate, and you have none. You’re a blip on the literary landscape. A pebble. No, a grain of sand among boulders.”
I wanted to find some Scripture, some sentence to repel him, like “Man does not live by bread alone.” But I couldn’t come up with the biblical retort, and this made me feel I was even more of a failure. I felt confused again, the way he always confuses and confounds and raises doubt.
“Admit it. You’re a failure. Let me pull up the best-seller list. Hmm, what a surprise. I don’t see your name. And look at the top 100 on Amazon. What a pity. My, my … this one here, your crowning achievement. The work you hoped would define your career — it’s at 349,722 on the top sellers. That means there are 349,721 books that are more popular. Not the crown you had hoped for.”
Stammering now, shaking, I said, “My success is not measured in numbers. My success is measured by how faithful I am to — ”
“Faithful?” he said, bellowing. “You fail Him every day with your attitude and your thoughts and your words. You fail Him in the way you speak to your children when you’re angry and the way you take your wife for granted and feed your ego by sitting here pretending all of this is important. It’s smoke and mirrors.”
I pondered his words. Was he right? Was my work inconsequential? Was my life inconsequential? Or, was there something he was missing? No, was there something I was missing?
A truth skittered through my mind. Just a glimmer of light. Just a grain of hope. Measured and even, I said, “First, you don’t know my thoughts unless I express them. You’re not as powerful as He is. Second, you’re right, I make many mistakes. But every time you bring up failure, He brings forgiveness.”
“Oh, please. Don’t run toward some theological mantra. Stay in the real world with your real problems. You need to give this up. You are never going to amount to anything. And your family is going to starve.”
Something flashed inside … like a warning light, a signal from somewhere deep. Truth is something you don’t always fully understand. But if you know it, you can claim it just the same.
I took a deep breath and said evenly, “If I’m never going to amount to anything, why are you here?”
He opened his mouth to speak, but couldn’t. His eyes darted. I thought I saw a sneer creep across his face.
I drew another breath. “If I’m never going to amount to anything, why wouldn’t you be content to let me flail away? If my silly stories are falling unnoticed in a deserted wood, why not let them fall?”
“Because I hate failures,” he growled.
“Perhaps you’re projecting,” I said, wind picking up in my sails. “You know, when you put on me the things that — ”
“I know what projecting is!” he screamed. “You don’t have to explain it!”
“You lost,” I said. “You failed. In fact, you thought you had won, but at the cross — ”
“Enough!” he yelled, and it was a long, reverberating shout of pain and anguish, as if I had tapped some primeval spring.
“If you want to know the truth,” I said, “I don’t really value your opinion. I don’t care what you think of me or anyone else. I care what He thinks of me.”
Instead of lashing out, his voice flattened. “What if I offered you success?”
“Tempting, but that fruit is stale. You can’t offer me anything better than He offers.”
“I have power. You have no idea. The advance I could get you on your next story. And you could not only feed your family, you could build that little writing cottage you’ve been talking about. Forget the cottage; you could buy a house overlooking the ocean. Two houses. One in the mountains, one by the water.”
“I don’t need the view. I’m not selling my soul for the success you offer.”
“Really? Every man has his price. Name it. What is it you really want?”
I looked at him squarely. You can always see fear in the eyes. They’re a dead giveaway, even though his voice sounded sure and steady.
“You can’t buy what’s already been sold,” I said.
I shrugged. “I’m not my own. I’ve been bought for a high price. By God Himself. You want me … you’ll have to dicker with the Owner.”
His shoulders slumped, and he slinked away, muttering. “You’ll always be a failure … .”
I almost felt sorry for him.
CHRIS FABRY is the author of more than 70 books and hosts Chris Fabry Live on Moody Radio. His novels have won three Christy Awards and an ECPA Christian Book Award for Fiction. He wrote the novelization of War Room, which became a best-seller. His novel, The Promise of Jesse Woods releases this month. Find him at ChrisFabry.com.
This article originally appeared in Mature Living magazine (August 2016). For more articles like this, subscribe to Mature Living.