A Sure Foundation for Freedom, Creativity, and Excellence
by Stephen Trout
You express it through your blogs and other writing pursuits; it’s in your music or painting, the way you decorate your house, and the meals you cook for others.
There are many ways to be creative, but creativity isn’t always easy.
So how do you keep going when you feel like things aren’t clicking, and the whole pursuit of creation feels pointless?
It helps to pause and remember why we create at all.
Why We Create
The Dutch apologist Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not one square inch in the whole realm of human existence over which Christ does not cry, ‘That is mine!’”
For some, Kuyper’s quote may strike them as extremely off-putting: “You mean that God owns my relationships, work, and even my creative pursuits? What about my freedom and independence?”
A great question! It’s true — while we do gravitate to autonomy, pause and think for a moment what complete autonomy really means.
To use an analogy from nature, a branch can only live and perform as a branch (sprout leaves and bear fruit, etc.) if it stays joined to the tree. It’s not “free to be what it was meant to be” (grow, flower, and multiply) if it’s cut off. The tree is good for the branch.
What Kuyper Really Meant
The same is true of us and our good Creator; we were made to be nourished in him: “In Him we live, and move, and have our being,” (Acts 17:28)
It’s a bold assertion, but true: there’s a true and good King who owns us — and all things — because he made us.
Not only that, he came and reconnected us (grafted us in) when we cut ourselves off — and he did it at the cost of his life. So we see that he has not only made us, he’s also redeemed us.
Like the branch, there is wonderful freedom now in embracing what we were meant to be! (In fact, the present work of Jesus is very much about graciously drawing us away from the lies of independence and autonomy — which ultimately lead to death — in order to give us new life).
St. Augustine put it this way: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”
Why We Can Be Creative
That may be a news flash to those who think God is just “standing by,” or asleep. But the God who sent Jesus and who “upholds everything by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:3) is far from sleeping.
Learning how God “operates” in our individual spheres (such as relationships, work, and creative pursuits) is our key to understanding our own activity in them. (Note this derivative quality to which we must continually return: “love one another as I have loved you;” and “forgive as you have been forgiven.” It all flows from his grace.)
In relationships, for example, we are helped when we first see that our God is eternally relational, living and moving in the perfect harmony and dance of the trinity. We, too, are designed to be relational, loving and seeking harmony.
In work, we see that God creates and rests, ultimately providing a true sabbath rest in Jesus (Heb. 4:8–10, 14–16). And God is still at work, as we noted, sustaining us and the universe every moment. This invests our work with great meaning, for it is not an evil. Let us thank him!
But how about “God is creative?” How does that apply?
God shows his creativity in making us relational; he shows it in the kinds of work we can do.
Yet we can also see — just by looking around — how God is a Master Artist; he continues to bring forth new works of art on a daily basis: spectacular sunrises, new human beings in the womb, myriads of animals and plants on the earth and in the seas — even the stories he writes in your life and mine.
None are boring, but all reflect a Master Artist with an eye for detail. Artistry and creativity are part of being in God’s image.
And yet, as we well know, the creative process is rarely, if ever, easy. That truth itself can be liberating; it helps to know that works of art “don’t just happen.”
On this point, writer Trevin Wax provides us with 3 important reminders about creativity and pursuing excellence:
1. We must keep improving our craft. Don’t settle too early.
Wax quotes Ira Glass, host of This American Life, who spoke candidly on creativity and “the gap”:
“All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years, you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. . . . It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. . . . It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
2. Don’t wait for inspiration; work for inspiration.
We see a great illustration, Wax says, in the recent Get Back, Peter Jackson’s excellent documentary on the Beatles’ creative sessions that produced a rooftop concert and album of the same name:
“…when the band seems to be in a rut or not sure what to work on next, we see them return to songs they’ve sung and played before. They play some of their old tunes, or they return to the earlier days of rock and roll and play some of their favorites. While looking for inspiration, they return to the well, to draw from artists and melodies that inspired them in the past.”
Good writers will similarly know that it’s not until they sit down and try to write, or are inspired by reading others’ works, that the juices start to flow. We need sources of inspiration to kick-start us into creating new works of art.
3. Alternate Between Isolation and Community
Finally, we need others. Wax points us again to Get Back as a great example of collaboration. Lennon helped McCartney (and vice versa), and all the members contributed. Billy Preston also arrived from outside the band with “talent and exuberance” to pick up the original band members and inspire them.
And yet, the work that was done individually by each member — in isolation — was also important, so that each could have something to bring to the group for feedback.
Continue to Create!
May these encouragements help you to continue to produce creative works to the glory of God, as you return again and again to drink from the well of grace!