Come Unto Me
Happy Friday ladies and gentlemen!
I'm excited to report some great news about finding a full-time job here in North Carolina (yay!) which I'm really excited to begin and which suits me very well (ie: it involves writing.) As many of you know, for about the past two years, life has been a marked by a personal season of diving into my own creative spirit and pouring my all into that, which has often meant throwing off the structure of conventional 'work' to instead focus on passion, creativity, and different kinds of growth.
And I've learned a lot in these years. Whether life for you has been marked by being in college and now being out; or being in a relationship or marriage and now being single; or being in one physical place and now being in another (I know people in all of these categories), I totally understand. It's strange and surreal sometimes to think of just how much we once were one thing, and had to leave to become another.
But it's good. It's exciting. As an artist, people ask me often if that's "what I do." And having an identity (or persona) in recent years as something specific has certainly brought me face-to-face with moments that have really made me think about bigger questions surrounding identity in general. Honestly, yes: being an artist is, of course, what I do. Definitely. But in an age of public personas and well-groomed and managed Instagram accounts, I think it's easier than ever to present ourselves (and therefore think of ourselves, or be seen) as characters with identities that get at a part of who we are, but are not nearly a representation of the whole, fundamental thing.
So here is a little admission: it has taken me a while to navigate what being an artist means to me. It has taken me a while to be able to balance this identity with a more fundamental one, which I will get to later. But I've asked myself all those questions that a beginner asks, and I haven't always understood the answers.
If I can't just do art, am I really an artist? What if in the future I want something totally different than this? How can I get all the pieces together so that I can just do art? Am I a failure if I can't? What if everything takes longer than I think it should?... You get the idea.
Honestly, I don't feel called or compelled to say anything about being successful as an artist (at least at the moment). There have been times when I've been able to survive on art alone and times when it helps to have another means of making money. And even that depends: on what your other life goals are, on how much money you want to be making and saving, on where you're living and how costly that is, on the other areas of life in which you are seeking growth or being pulled. Even on other interests or passions developing.
That's the horrifying (and exciting) thing about a creative life: you sort of have to put it in the hands of something more fateful than yourself, and be willing to say, 'okay, whatever happens...' For me, it has helped a lot to hear from other artists in my twenties that they make art - but they also work 40+ hour work weeks, or hold three jobs, or whatever their case may be. (It's funny how we think anyone can survive in modern society without working, especially artists.)
Maybe it only makes sense if you've been here: confronting what it means to hold in your heart that feeling that you have a creative gift, a truly divinely-appointed creative perspective that you bring to the world - whether that's through your art work, or writing, or painting, or baking, or photography, or styling, or teaching- whatever that thing is in your heart that feels truly a part - a big part - of you.
It has to be in the world, out there. It has to be primary. It has to shine forth. From everything else, it has to the thing that is seen and that defines you. Or so I used to think.
I love being an artist. But the truth that gives me the most joy and peace in thinking about it is remembering where it comes from: it's a God-given gift (passion, desire) and an anointed assignment, so unless it glorifies God more than my personal desire to be seen or known or 'successful,' it's an idol, and it hurts me more than it helps.
I trip myself up when I worry more about what 'the world' thinks about it, or how I'm doing with it, or what's going to happen, than I do about how I am using it to serve the God who gave it to me. And that's usually the place it flows best from anyway.
Trying to get it to work (and this analogy works for everything in life) is never as effective as just giving it to God and letting Him have it completely. There's freedom in that, and whatever the next step is (it's usually not a clear answer, or some really obvious trajectory, or maybe even what you thought it would be), as long as it's a step of obedience, it's the right step. When you take the step you know you should take, immediately you know more, and are given more, and are more clear about the now, so you can head toward the future not certain of what it holds, but certain that how you got there was the right way.
Creating is just the outward manifestation of an inward path. If inwardly I am aligned with the truth, then outwardly things will be working for my good (pleasure, joy, happiness) even if I can't see it yet. But I've come to realize I shouldn't expect an endeavor to serve me if it doesn't truly, deeply, really serve God. That's true in work, relationships, and other areas of life too.
So that's really what I've been learning to do in these past few months particularly: Do I trust and listen to what God is asking me to do right now even if it seems deviant from what I thought I was supposed to do? Am I listening more to God's direction-giving than any other voices, even my own?
And probably the biggest one of all:
Can my external world hold whatever - but my internal world be fixed consistently on the right thing? So often in the past few years I've heard God call me to big things: moves, adventures, creativity, purpose, successful artistic endeavors. A published book. Chances to live in and travel to super amazing places. But sometimes for every one 'success' you experience, there are twenty failures that happen first. Or after.
So when God holds you in seasons where there doesn't seem to be the breakthrough you want, or the clarity you want, or you're up against something that seems insurmountable, or confusing; or there's some pain you simply have to wait through, where do you go?
I've learned you have to go to the place He's wanted and needed and guided you to go all along: Him. I've heard it said that sometimes you need God-sized problems (or obstacles, or pains, or disappointments, or setbacks) to see how big God really is. And to see how the only way forward is through Him. Tangibly, really, and relationally. An eyes-fixed, Scripture-saturated, distraction-removing, heart-purifying quest back home. A waking reality that changes when God is a part of it versus when He's merely on the periferal.
It's exciting and good to feel on the verge of success (peace, contentment, blessings, more goodness) in life even when I have truly no idea what's actually and literally ahead. But as I write I see the reality that vision never comes from seeing ahead or having the plan. The reason for hope is Jesus. It's a quiet little matter of fixing the heart on the only thing that can complete it - and that's when hope starts happening. The closeness I feel to Him at any given time dictates the feelings (stronger than feelings) I have about myself, my life, and my future. This year I've learned that sometimes we will have to fight (internally and externally) for that closeness, but if we do there's something on the other side. For sure.
Even if we have no clue what it is. For sure.