Ever since I can remember, I’ve been “the artsy one.”
“Oh, she’s very creative,” I hear my mother’s voice echoing through memory upon memory, joined by a chorus of teachers, friends, and myself.
And I was. I can call a hundred memories from throughout my life where I was being creative without a struggle: epic stories created with my stuffed animals of quests and betrayals, notebooks full of sketches, the time I decided that haiku was my chosen artform and wrote at least one a day for weeks.
Creativity was something that was always in me. It was my favorite part of myself. It was the thing that set me apart from the rest. The short stories I wrote as a kid, the essays that won contests, the plays that defined my teenage years, these gifts were the thing that earned me recognition and accolades seemingly just for existing.
It won’t come as much of a surprise then, that before I was even old enough to realize, creativity had become my identity. I didn’t know who I was without it and if I wasn’t creating, I always had this gnawing sense inside me that I was slacking off, being lazy, neglecting my duty to mankind to use the gifts that I had been given. If I wasn’t creating, where was my worth? Where would the compliments come from? Where would the recognition be given if I didn’t have some thing that I made to show people? Would people still want to be my friend if I never created anything, ever again? Would I still like myself if I wasn't creative?
I didn't know who I was without it, so, of course, I needed to give it up.
It wasn’t a conclusion I came to on my own; I was terrified of admitting it to myself. It came about through a sweet conversation with God at the beginning of my first year of ministry school. It was the start of a process of undoing for me. It felt like God was breaking me down to the basics, stripping down all the makeshift walls and doorways so that He could come in and build sturdier ones.
I found that I couldn't completely stop creating. I process so much through writing that to stop doing it completely would’ve felt like choking my heart out, and this was a journey of self-discovery, not self-denial. I did stop showing my work to people, stopped putting it out there, stopped trying to use it to prove something about myself. Which brings me to the first lesson I struggled with when I stopped creating:
1. I am Valuable
“I” not what I've just done. Whether I just finished the next great novel or I sat around all day watching Netflix, my worth and value as a person does not change. I had so much self-worth caught up in my creativity. Any second or day I wasn’t creating, I would be followed by this guilt, this feeling like I was misusing my time and neglecting my gift. I completely missed the fact that, while I loved my art and it was important to put in the time to improve it, it wasn’t my creation that was my contribution, but rather myself and my unique view of life that my art captured.
2. I am Complex.
There's a whole lot more to me than just being “the girl who writes poems.” For so much of my life, though, I didn't really understand that. When people would ask me about myself, I'd always say “I’m a writer. I'm an actress. I'm an artist, creative.” I felt like all of those roles were the best, most interesting parts of myself and I'd never given myself space to discover anything different.
Towards the beginning of this journey with God, I had a moment where I was talking to someone I'd just met and he’d said something like “oh, it's good to meet you! I've seen you around.” I replied with a comment along the lines of “oh, yeah! I mean, the girl with the pink hair, I tend to stand out.” The moment the words left my mouth, I felt like I'd hurt God’s heart. He started showing me instances over the past year or so, since I'd first started dyeing my hair, when I'd made similar comments. I was thoroughly confused. I finished up the conversation and then started asking God what was going on. He said “you’re believing that the only thing that makes you stand out is that you have colored hair. You should dye your hair brown and see how people will notice you for you, not your hair.”
I went out the next day and bought a box of dye, saying an internal “thank you” every time a stranger introduced themselves to me saying they’d noticed my smile, my laugh, or the light in my eyes.
3. Creating is first for God, then myself, and then for others.
Once all of the pressure of been putting on my art was gone, I was able to remember just how fun it is to create. I could fill books with the random snippets and ideas that are in the notes app on my phone right now, but I no longer feel like I have to. I get to create, just for the fun and joy of creating. I get to create, just because it’s a connection point between me and God.
A turning point for me, was when I started to think more and more about space. That may seem a little random, but, if you know me, you probably know how fascinated I am with our universe. Our galaxy is full of stars and moons and planets that we will most likely never see. Countless stars have lived and died since creation, too far away from our planet to ever be observed. There are numerous galaxies that are light years too far away for us to ever travel to and the universe is still expanding, constantly. Why would God create all of that? What was the purpose to make so many elegant, wonderful, beautiful things that will never be observed? Simply for the joy of creating them.
God is the most creative being to ever exist, His literal breath creates life. When we create anything at all, we are getting the privilege of interacting with that side of God’s nature. So what if what we create is never seen by more than our closest circle of friends? So what if it's rough and clunky and awkward? There are planets that are made solely from gas and storms and planets that exist as barren rocks, too cold for life to ever exist on. I think God loved creating them all the same. If He thinks that was the most important part, why shouldn't we?
It’s been two years since I had that first conversation with God and I’ve started creating again. I’ll still have moments of getting wrapped up in the little things, a bit too concerned with perfection. When that happens, I’ll feel God reminding me to step outside and look at the stars. Everything I create is about connection with Him and that, I always find, is enough.