Rejection letters and the spiritual life



Just as “Tiger King” became a defining show of our early quarantine days and “Bridgerton” carried us through the first COVID-19 winter, “Squid Game” has dominated this fall. It’s not hard to see how the Korean drama resonates more deeply in the pandemic’s long shadow.

The nine-episode Netflix series depicts a survival game with 456 participants desperate for money. It’s dark and riveting.

Every day, new headlines tout the show’s global success, shattering record after record. “Squid Game” became the first Korean show to reach the No. 1 spot on the U.S. Netflix chart. Now it’s poised to overtake “Bridgerton” and become Netflix’s biggest show ever.

Not bad for a show that almost didn’t launch, declined by studio after studio for the last decade.

Hwang Dong-hyuk, the writer, started drafting scripts while living with his mother and grandmother. He had to halt the project when he found himself – like the game’s contestants –strapped for cash. At one point he sold his laptop for $675.

Pitching the show was no easier. Prospective investors and actors found the plotline implausible. Then the coronavirus brought us closer to our mortality and underscored the public-health repercussions of the wealth gap.

“The world has changed,” Dong-hyuk told The Wall Street Journal. “All of these points made the story very realistic for people compared to a decade ago.”

Dong-hyuk is now in good company, among literary superstars like Louisa May Alcott, Agatha Christie and J.K. Rowling, all of whom faced repeated rejection early in their careers.

I’ve been thinking about Dong-hyuk’s story as “Squid Game” continues to make news. It’s hard to admit, but I don’t possess the same kind of persistence.

An exciting new creative pursuit presented itself last spring that, by its nature, has a slow timeline. Not 10 years, but much longer than my typical writing. And I’ve let it slide to a back burner that conveniently allows denial and good intentions to keep simmering.

The church teaches that there are four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Fortitude is defined as forbearance mixed with courage – to bravely press on. It’s a virtue we sorely lack in this Insta-age: Instagram for an instant telegram, Instacart for an instant grocery cart. We expect same-day deliveries, immediate results, click and procure. Anything slower feels irrelevant.

Isn’t that a shame?

Because spiritual growth doesn’t happen on the first try. Good things are worth working at and waiting for. They mean more.

Jennifer Dukes Lee, a Christian writer from Iowa, is reminding me of this. Her message feels like a permission slip to drop out of the hustle culture: “You were not made for speed.”

Her new book “Grow Slow” and its accompanying Bible study explore this in depth, drawing on the wisdom she’s gleaned from farming.

“This is the important work of cultivation – learning to trust the One who is in charge of the growth,” Jennifer writes. “If you’re like most people, you want things faster, sooner, easier. But life isn’t a reality TV competition where someone is suddenly discovered in front of a live audience. As I reflect on God’s cultivating work in me, I believe that the quality of the fruit I produce is directly proportional to the time God takes to shape me.”

I want God to take his time shaping me. I’m working on the patience and perspective that make way for persistence. I’m trying to see red lights as yellow lights, to hear “no” as “not yet.” Maybe something better is around the corner – when it is ready, when I am ready, when the time is right.

Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.