This summer I am working on a devotional book with art and Scriptures (see below). This is a project that stirs joy and energy—it is good to make something. We are created in the image of God—and we are commissioned to create, to have dominion, to bring order out of chaos, to make things. We are designed to partner with God in his purposes pursuing beauty, redemption, restoration, and good.
But even as we engage in this partnership with God we can feel the niggling pull of shame and fear sneak up on us (Excellent resource - Soul of Shame by Dr. Curt Thompson). Can you feel it tug at you as you teach, parent, create, restore, build relationship, and follow God’s lead in the work you are called to? I can. Courage is needed to guard my heart, step out, and persevere. Maybe I am not alone.
A few weeks ago I saw a familiar name come up on social media, an art professor from my college years, a woman I respected and learned from nearly thirty years ago. Her artwork is beautiful and provocative, still capturing my attention and stirring thoughtful reflection on life, faith, and beauty. In my last book, Divine Hands, which included my artwork, reflections, and Scripture, I wrote about an insightful observation that she had shared with me. God has used that insight to reveal truth to me time and again over these many years. So I reached out and offered to send her my book where I spoke of our conversation. She welcomed the gift.
After my professor received my book she responded with kindness, remembering our conversation so long ago. She said that she appreciated my thoughts on perfectionism in my writing and encouraged me in my spiritual direction ministry. But I noticed that she did not comment on my artwork in Divine Hands. The omission niggled at me.
Now I am fully aware that if I desire to know my professor’s thoughts on my art I can ask. And I may do that. But my heart got tangled nonetheless. In response to the absence of words about my drawings and paintings the question rose up in me, “Am I good enough to call myself an artist?” I felt the wave off shame and insecurity rise.
This interaction also stirred some pondering. The last couple of years I have considered joining an organization called CIVA, Christians in the Visual Arts. Their tagline is “Serious art. Serious faith.” I love that. And I am serious about my faith and my art is deeply Christian. But I have hesitated. And here is the sneaky place that fear creeps in… I wonder, "Is my art good enough?” Does it count as “serious art?” Can you hear the evaluative, judgment-based questions? The wrong questions can lead us to the wrong answers.
A few years ago as I struggled with perfectionism in my artwork I sensed God instructing me to ask a different question. Whereas I had been asking "Is it perfect" I sensed God inviting me to ask Him, "Is it complete?" The wrestling regarding the pursuit of excellence can be very healthy and stir growth. There is a tension we feel as we grapple with questions of excellence, authenticity, responsibility, and vulnerability that can be so good. But we can also get caught in a question of worth that leads us away from God's calling rather than toward it.
So I wonder again… what does God say about my creative work? Clearly God is not opposed to excellence. We simply look at creation and we see amazing beauty, creativity, and depth—sunsets, waterfalls, mountains. But there are also quirky surprises, messy wonders, and unexplainable tensions—ostriches, tarantulas, and swamps. There is no simple formula to confirm value. It is not about taking a test and getting 100% or having the right person give you gold stars. Jesus speaks to his disciples of fruitfulness (John 15). Fruitfulness is about producing out of union with God. So there is room for growth in many areas of my life, art included, and I will keep bringing my work into prayer and asking for God's leading and empowerment, stepping forward, and participating in the conversation of art and faith.
Do you experience the tension of performance vs partnership? Perhaps the niggling fear of not performing well enough can sneak up on you too? But our identity and our value is not based on performance. So we bring these questions, hopes, fears, joy, and shame into prayer. Join me in remembering God invites us to abide—and that is the place of fruitfulness. In this time of crisis, and in times of ease, the invitation is always to abide and live life from a posture of dependence and partnership.