Creativity, Discipline, and the Gospel

I’ve been reminded over the last couple of months how true it is that creativity is a discipline. It’s something that is never more clear to me than when I struggle to regularly spend time being creative. It can seem like a thousand things are more important than the practice of creativity. Aren’t art, poetry, and writing just hobbies after all?

But a discipline is only a discipline if it is something that one does as a matter of routine, whether one feels like it or not. To call something a discipline is to say that, rain or shine, it is essential. It’s not just a hobby; it must be done.

This makes the discipline of creativity problematic.

Creativity is by nature driven by impulsivity and whim.

A creator can’t just force inspiration to happen. Every writer knows the dread of staring a blank page. Creators have to wait for inspiration; they must coax it out.

The muse is fickle.

Practicing creativity can sometimes make me feel like I’m Steve Irwin. I hide behind some brush, making sure I’m very still and quiet, waiting for a rare interaction with inspiration like it’s an exotic bird. I have to be careful not to spook it.

My personality causes me particular issues with the discipline of creativity. On one hand, I’m very left-brained–a task-oriented, checklist-making, achievement-driven perfectionist.

But I have one of these personalities that is equally as right-brained as it is left-brained. I’m a romantic, an artist, a creative. I sit, and I wonder.

It’s a somewhat strange dual-nature. My house is almost always clean, except that pile of papers and junk that forever invades my desk. I have a strict bed time, but I’m almost never able to keep it. I keep a to-do list every single day, but I often lose focus on it because I would rather be day dreaming.

My problem is that the right-brained part of my personality thrives on freedom. I cannot create without space to wander, time to explore, free from timelines and limits. I need to have space and time to wait for inspiration, that exotic bird, to appear.

But the left-brained side of my personality loves to squash the creativity out of my right-brained side. In my left-brained desire for efficiency and achievement, I put too many constraints and demands on my right brain.

For my left brain, rough drafts are unacceptable. An idea must be perfectly formed before it is ever produced on paper. Everything that my hands and my mind produce must be absolutely perfect on the first try, because any imperfect work will just stand as a reminder of my own inadequacy.

My left brain wants to tell my right brain to stop being so impulsive, stop jumping from project to project. Just sit down and finish something already! Don’t follow your instincts! After all, this isn’t about having fun! It’s about producing good work!

And my child-like right brain immediately shuts down. My creativity dries up. My muse shrivels.

In some seasons, it feels easier to ignore my sketchbook than to use it. I say I’m too busy, and I focus on completing tasks rather than making beautiful things. This is an easy excuse to make because it appeals to my results-driven left brain. Isn’t it better to get the house clean than to do something creative? Isn’t laundry and cooking dinner more important?

 

What remains is how to allow my left brain to keep its checklists and schedules without scaring away creative inspiration. This is a problem that has always plagued creatives.

I’m solving it by making my left brain discipline itself.

That side of my personality is great for creating boundaries and for forcing me to make time for creativity. It is not great, however, at actual creativity. I can use this aspect of my personality to get myself in front of the computer or sketch pad and fence off a few hours of my time. In that time, however, my right brain is free to follow every whim and meander down any path. The left brain is strictly forbidden from interference, because perfectionism and strict expectations will crush creativity every time.

As creatives, we must discipline our thoughts. Resist the urge to edit your stream of consciousness. Put the red pen away. It’s no good at inspiration, and is better used at another point in the creative process.

Therefore, in many ways, creativity as a discipline is a living, breathing practice of the Gospel.

It is choosing to be vulnerable. In doing so, we acknowledge our imperfections. We acknowledge that much of what our minds and hands produce is just inadequate. We accept that we are depraved and insufficient.

The act of creativity is an acknowledgement that perfection belongs to God alone.

And His grace is sufficient for our imperfections.

We can openly practice vulnerability through our work because He has made it safe to do so. We can let go of the fear of imperfection and insufficiency, because He is perfect and sufficient.

Grace has opened the way for boundary-less creativity.

Let’s be brave and creative.

Let’s explore without fear.

 

Why the Church Needs the Arts (Part 2)

In my last post on this topic, I wrote about the need for the Church to utilize the gifts of all people. There are individuals whose primary giftings are in the area of artistic expression and creativity, and their gifts were given by God to be used for the good of the Church.

So how are these gifts to be used in the church, and why are they important?

In our utilitarian culture, it can seem like the arts are unnecessary. However, they are actually essential to the Church’s mission.

The Church needs the Arts because they are invaluable tools of communication.

The Church is meant to communicate. It communicates hope. It communicates joy. It communicates redemption.

And artists are master communicators.

The Church has lost its value for the Arts because it has forgotten what a powerful tool of communication they are.

The Arts engage the emotions and senses in a way other forms of communication cannot.

When we view a painting or read a poem, they affect us in a way that surpasses our intellect. They penetrate to the heart, stirring our emotions.

Art is captivating. It is consuming.

A song, a poem, a painting, or an animated video can take Truth and grip our hearts with it in a way that truly transforms us.

To be changed by these creative expressions is at the core of what it means to be human.

We are humans. And humans create and consume art.

But why did the Lord create us this way? Why were we made to make?

Our creativity allows us to interact with a creative God in an intimate way.

God created our imaginations for our enjoyment of Him.

The sense of wonder you experience when enjoying a song, a movie, a painting, or poem is a glimpse into the glory of God. God meant life to be full of beauty and wonder that thrills our hearts. This ignites worship within us.

Christians hundreds of years ago understood this. In the history of the Church, many believers were illiterate. Because people couldn’t read the scriptures themselves, the stories of the Gospels were painted in frescoes, tiled into mosaics, and stained on glass. Massive cathedrals were erected as an illustration of the overwhelming power and beauty of God.

Church leaders knew the God-glorifying power of the Arts.

These believers of centuries past understood the character and nature of God primarily through the Arts. In our now comparatively literate culture, we have quick access to the revelation of God through the Bible. While this is a wonderful development, it has caused us to neglect the Arts as powerful communication tools.

But a church that pursues creativity is a church where reverent awe at the glory of God fills its members. It is a church where worship is not just an event in the service, but it lives in the very hearts of God’s people.

Why the Church Needs the Arts (Part 1)

In my experience, many contemporary churches don’t say much on the subject of the arts. We think of the arts as a territory for the secular world, and we neglect creative expression as part of the life of the Church. We certainly don’t deem it mandatory. But this is a mistake. In neglecting creativity in the church, we are missing God’s heart for the arts and for artists.

We worship a creative God. He is the most creative being who has ever or will ever live, and He made us in His image.

We are made in the image of a creative God. He designed us to be creative. As believers, this should mean that we excel in creativity. Our innovation should shine. We should be artistically competitive. To neglect this would be to neglect exploring an important aspect of God’s character.

Creativity should be a part of the fabric of who we are as believers. We are a creative people. And as we practice creativity, we better understand what God is like.

If I’m making friends with someone I just met, I try to learn about them and what they like. If I meet someone who loves to read, I read the books they recommend. If that person is a foodie, then I visit the restaurants they love. To know God better, we need to do the things He likes to do with Him, and that certainly includes creative expression. To neglect learning about his creativity would be to neglect a huge part what He is like.

God gave certain believers creative gifts that are meant to serve the Church.

In church there’s a lot of talk about spiritual gifts and how they relate to serving the body. However, creative or artistic gifts are not often discussed as gifts the Lord gives to serve the Church.

I’ve had a strong bent toward creativity since I can remember. According to my parents, my love of painting started as a toddler. They didn’t particularly nurture this in me above other things; I was just drawn to it. It’s how the Lord made me.

It can be hard to know what role art should play in adult life. It can be very difficult to have a career as an artist, so many people who have a love for art end up relegating it to the role of a hobby in their lives. At most, they enjoy it for personal recreation. More often they neglect their gift entirely.

I have to believe that the Lord gives people artistic gifts for more than just a fun hobby. God is not wasteful like that.

Some believers are given creative gifts to serve the church.

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them . . .”

The Lord gives all believers spiritual gifts. Those who are leaders should lead. Those who are givers should give, and so on. It should be no different for those with a creative gift.

If the Church doesn’t incorporate opportunities to serve in creative capacities, creatively gifted people will remain stunted in their spiritual growth.

That may seem like an extreme statement, but when a person is designed with certain gifts, and those gifts aren’t being used, that person is not functioning in the Body the way they were meant to. 

There are believers whose strongest gifting is in the area of the arts, and these people need to be serving the Church with their gifts, both for their benefit and the benefit of the whole Church.

Why is it that we see some gifts are more important, or even as better, than others? I’ve noticed that sometimes churches emphasize utilitarian gifts above others. Their focus is on gifts like service, leadership, or teaching. They neglect gifts like creativity because they don’t seem as useful. Intentionally incorporating the arts into the life of the Church seems unnecessary, but this could not be more untrue. The church desperately needs to engage the arts for the benefit of the whole church.

Releasing people with creative gifts to use those gifts to serve the Church benefits the whole Body. Whether the gift be painting, acting, writing, singing, or knitting, exposing the Church to the creativity of other believers inspires them, encourages them, and teaches them about the character of God.

I Saw A Bird

TITLE: I Saw a Bird

INSPIRATION: Today was gray and cloudy, which is odd for North Texas in May. It looked more like January outside than May. As I looked out the window into our backyard this morning, I saw a bird land on our lawn chair. In its beak was a massive weed, which looked like it should’ve been far too heavy for the bird to be able to carry. Immediately my mind went to a subject that I’ve been contemplating quite a lot lately: the role of suffering in our lives.

I think that often we want seasons of suffering, whether the suffering is great or relatively small, to end as quickly as possible. We are so bad at allowing suffering to do its work in us—to transform our hearts and cause us to rely more and more on God.

Comfort and stability are constant idols of mine, but suffering, though it’s hard for a moment, is meant to produce worship in me and increase my reliance on God alone.

Seek Beauty in Everything

 

Part of living a creative life is seeking to see the beauty in everything.

About a year and half ago, I had left my job as an English teacher, and was at home waiting for our daughter to be born. At the time, I had lots of extra time on my hands, and I was trying to get back into my creative hobbies that I had neglected while working. I was earnestly praying about how I could incorporate creativity into my everyday life.

I knew I wanted some new creative challenge, but I didn’t know where to begin. As I prayed, I heard these words: Seek beauty. I felt like this was direction from the Lord about where to start on my creative journey. I was beginning to understand that part of living a creative life meant seeking to see the beauty in everything.

For me, this reoriented how I saw the creative process. My tendency is to see creativity as a means to win approval from others. I like the way it feels to get complimented for a piece I paint or a poem I write. I also tend to be fearful of others disliking what I create, which causes me to rarely share my work. In other words, my work has usually been about me, not God. But that’s changing.

The command to seek beauty in everything showed me that the source of inspiration has always been Him. He should be the source and the goal of all creativity. The brilliance of His design is all around us, and if we are to live creative lives, we need to open our eyes to beauty He is putting before us daily.

We must take the time to relish the beauty around us.

The old adage comes to mind: Stop and smell the roses. I mean that literally. Our consumerist culture keeps our hearts in a constant place of wanting and striving for more. But the abundance of God’s beauty is all around us. Often, we mentally skip over signs of it in our constant state of distraction. We see that sunrise on our morning commute, but if we take any time to appreciate it at all, it’s only for a second before we lose our train of thought again. There are so many things we see throughout our days that are stunning displays of the glory of God, but to us they’re at most worth the time it takes to Instagram them.

There are so many things we see throughout our days that are stunning displays of the glory of God, but to us they’re at most worth the time it takes to Instagram them.

The next time you see a particularly breath-taking storm, or notice a sprinkling of bluebonnets along a Texas highway, relish it. Let it sit in your thoughts for more than a second. Turn down the radio and just watch. Thank the Lord for it.

And whenever you go on vacation and have the opportunity to see some of life’s most extraordinary beauties—the peaks of the Rockies or the white beaches of the Caribbean—press pause on the touristy stuff for just half an hour just to cherish the beauty that surrounds you. Soak up it up; breathe in the wonder. This is fuel for your creative mind.

We must seek the beauty in the mundane.

It’s natural for me to be thankful for the things that I encounter that are extraordinarily beautiful. I’m a visually-oriented person, so I think that I tend to enjoy visual beauty more than most. But what I am learning on this journey of seeking beauty in all things is that you can find beauty in unlikely places. Things that often seem mundane or unextraordinary are exactly the places where the creative mind needs to seek out beauty.

Begin to appreciate the quiet of a gray January day with its monochromatic skylines. Admire the elegance of old, dusty books sitting on a shelf. See with new eyes the endless farm fields of ochre-colored hay. Look for beauty in the most unlikely places you can imagine, and that’s when you will see your creativity grow.

We must seek to see the beauty in the creativity of others.

As creativity has become less about me, I have begun to appreciate creativity in others more. I hate to admit it, but seeing others share their creative gifts has often been a source of jealousy for me. Instead of admiring others’ work and letting it inspire me, I instead have compared myself to them and in so doing have missed the whole point.

Envy doesn’t breed creativity, it kills it.

I think it can be a tendency of all creatives to want to compare themselves to others, but this hurts us in the end. Envy doesn’t breed creativity, it kills it. By the same token, appreciating others’ creative gifts was meant to inspire us and add fuel to our fire.

Whether it be hand-lettering, painting, photography, writing, or woodworking, it is inspiring to watch another person use their creative gifts. This is why as a creative person it is so important to be a consumer of others’ work. We need to go to craft fairs and galleries. We need to hire our photographer friends and follow fellow artists on Instagram.

Appreciating the beauty in all things, whether in the obviously beautiful, in the mundane, or in the creativity of others, turns our hearts away from creating for our own glory and transforms our creating into worship. This is when we are our most creative—when we lose sight of ourselves in our creating.