Creativity: The Heart’s Cry of Hope

artist at work

It’s the end of a long day and the floor is strewn with toys. I’ve wrangled the boys to bed and have come downstairs troubled. I’m mulling over the display of attitude I saw in my two-year old, who has learned to sigh loudly when he’s frustrated with my commands, something which he learned from the four year-old, who learned it from me when I’m irritated and frustrated with them. It’s unsightly and unsettling to see my own ugly behavior walking around in front of me.

A phone call interrupts my self-reproaching monologue: a friend is calling to inquire about one of our family members who found out last week he is facing cancer. We talk of the unknowns in hushed tones and more aches and anxieties fill my mind, as well as a quiet confidence that the Lord is up to some goodness in the midst of all this hardness.

I’m sure my little life is not much different than yours: daily drudgeries, frustrations, sinful patterns—our own and those of others. On top of the mundane drip of these daily fatigues, there are the cold harsh realities of sickness, and brokenness, of bitterness and even mortality. And all these wear us thin and threaten to starve our souls.

As I hang up the phone, worn down from all of this life I’m living, tired from my day’s work, I find myself with this strange and almost overwhelming urge to go and make something. And I’m being quite literal when I say I’m overcome with a desire to get out my easel, canvas and acrylics and paint. Something or perhaps more aptly, Someone, is drawing me to splash some loveliness around, to soak in the brightness of color, to create something of beauty, and symmetry. I’m beckoned by the thought of standing back from my finished work and feeling that flash of satisfaction, that “It-is-good” moment.

And this overwhelming urge to create simply does not compute with how tired I am. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a non-sequitir of sorts. Why have I gone from the hardships of the day to a desire to make something new? And all I can figure out is that somewhere deep inside of us, all this brokenness and frustration and hardship calls out for a bit of beauty and grace. We long for a little plot of land, some small piece of territory where shalom—a sense of wholeness and rightness and goodness—can abound. I think God made us this way. And I think creation is not only good therapy, but somehow an act of defiant hope.

When we carve out a space in the midst of our overwhelming, broken-down world, to create something, we raise our fists to the chaos and declare that it does not have the final say. Beauty, wholeness, and order exist. They have existed eternally with God, and while they may or may not become a reality in our hearts and homes today, they will most definitely exist in the world to come. “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

Creation may look different for you: maybe it is gardening, woodworking, building a website, sewing, coaching, decorating, cooking, strumming, inventing, or photographing. Maybe you share it with others; maybe you don’t yet. But whatever it is, it is not merely a passive act, but an active one of creating order from chaos, of bringing something of goodness out from the nothingness.

Maybe you say you are not a creative person. I say false. All of us are made in the image of God and we all like Him are born with some desire to participate in creation and cultivation. The manifestations of that creative impulse will look very different in our lives but the God-given urge is the same.

If you’ve been stifling that creative urge, calling it frivolous, or numbing it in more passive acts of pinning, liking, and channel-surfing, don’t shortchange yourself. There’s an important place for enjoying the work of others. But that’s not all you’re made for. God has made you in His creative image also. You are more than a spectator.

Maybe you’re worried that what you have to offer somehow won’t be good enough. Do yourself a favor. Turn off the critic. Give yourself permission to be a learner and to make mistakes. God doesn’t want your perfection. He wants your participation. He wants you to rally your soul in bold hope by participating in some small act of creation.

 

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Expect Kudzu

Eden's Memory

We had come to do battle that day with the kudzu—that sprawling weed that covered everything out back at my grandmother’s house. Its spreading tendrils had taken over, suppressing cypress trees and mangroves down by the lake’s edge, cutting off all things living from the light, slowly suffocating them like a boa constrictor squeezing the breath out of its victim.

As my grandmother got older, she couldn’t battle with the kudzu anymore and it was slowly morphing her beautiful lake-view into that of a giant green sea monster. After a while of pulling on the tendrils, even with gloves, our hands began to look like they had rope burn. An afternoon’s labor later in the hot Florida sun, and we had still hardly made a dent in the green leviathan. Still to this day, I think of kudzu like a swear word—vile, hateful stuff.

And perhaps that’s why kudzu also seems a fitting analogy—in my mind at least—to sin, and to the far-reaching effects of the Fall of man. You see when Adam and Eve chose to trust their own judgment over God’s perfect, infinite, and loving care, the effects of their sin spread like kudzu. Everything in this world is covered in its grasping tentacles. Sickness, death, poverty, war, violence, alienation—this is kudzu, smothering the good and the beautiful.

And so when hardship comes my way (last week in the form of stomach flu– the sequel–striking at my house, knotting the insides of my poor 13 month old), while I’m always grieved by it, I’m not necessarily surprised. I expect hardship. I expect the repercussions of the Fall to have very long tendrils, a reach that still covers over the good and beautiful in my world today. Now when I say this, I don’t mean I expect God to bring evil my way—God is not the author of evil (James 1:13, 1 John 1:5, 1 Corinthians 14:33). No, the burden of evil in this world lies on the shoulders of fallen creatures: the fallen angels, Adam and Eve, our forebearerers, and yes, us.

But while I expect the hardship of this world—estrangement, cancer, slander, greed, natural disasters, hypocrisy, both the big and the small—I also live in hope. God did not leave this leviathan unchecked. He sent his Son on a mission to rescue this world from the tendrils of sin. He’s cutting back every last suffocating coil of sin and tossing it on the trash-heap to be burned, purged away. He has not abandoned us; He is actively slaying sin’s tentacles and asking us to join with Him in releasing this world from sin’s death-grip. And while now we still do battle with the long arms of sin, covering so much of all we hold dear, one day all those weeds will be burned away. All creation holds its breath, waiting, for that day of release.  (Romans 8:18-23). We groan together with creation longing for that day.

We’ve lost Eden’s memory of what this world looked like before the Fall. But one day vistas of beauty and wholeness of rest and restoration will stretch out before our eyes like a dazzling dream we had forgotten. We will wake to a world released, to a world made new.

 

 

Dear Reader, where have you seen Christ cut away the kudzu in your world? Where does it remain? Are you longing for that day of ultimate release? Are you co-laboring with Christ now to release the beauty in the world around you?

Going Deeper

Starry Night quote

Summer’s leaves rustled under silent stars as we stepped into the balmy August air. Bonnie and I were laughing. I can’t remember why, but I know my heart was light with that contagious buoyancy of spirit I so often felt in her presence. It was an ordinary Thursday night after Joy Group (a women’s discipleship group we’d been in together for several months) and we chatted for a few minutes under the glare of porch lights before driving home to our separate worlds (her: a professor of English at Patrick Henry College, me: a mother still adjusting to life with two in diapers).

We talked wistfully, wishing we could spend more time together. Bonnie shared with me how much she had enjoyed an accountability group that she’d been a part of in North Carolina and how she’d love to do something like that with me. And of another desire she had to study through a book on systematic theology—“would you want to teach something like that?” she asked. My esteem for my doctorate-bearing friend made the request feel intimidating. I said perhaps we could learn together and I shared another honest desire of my own. I told her how much I’d love to hear her story and get to know her better (after all, we shared a love of so many things: the love of the apt phrase, the lure of the hidden call behind true beauty, and a desire to know more deeply the Author of all that is good and true and beautiful). We didn’t make a plan that night, and how I wished we had. How was I to know that before the last of summer’s leaves had fallen, my sweet friend Bonnie, just forty-four years young, would have drawn her last breath, slipping peacefully home to her Savior in the stillness of a November night?

~*~

At her memorial service, ache knotted itself tightly in my throat as one of her former students read from one of Bonnie’s favorite books, C.S. Lewis’ Til We Have Faces:

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”

I rejoiced that Bonnie had gone “home” to be with Jesus, home to the source of the beauty that had captivated her throughout her life on earth. But I couldn’t help feeling sorry that I’d missed out on going deeper with her and growing deeper together with Jesus.

~*~

Before my first son was born, Bonnie brought him a gift. On the outside, in lieu of a bow, she’d attached a sweet little rattle, a frog with a smile so wide it made his lips curl to his eyeballs in a generous half-moon. Rather than the normal shaker, this rattle sounds like the tinkling of distant bells. Lately, my youngest son has grown attached to that rattle. I’ll be washing dishes or folding some laundry and hear those faint bells. Or I’ll be stepping over toys only to find that frog’s silly smiling face underfoot, and somehow I can’t help smiling too. And I find myself thinking about Bonnie and about so many of the interesting people I’ve had the privilege of knowing but not knowing well enough. People like a college professor of mine who rubbed shoulders with some of the most dazzling minds of the Harlem Renaissance and whose own creative genius was readily apparent, or some of the survivors of the Rwandan genocide who shared their stories of unthinkable heroism and mercy with me, or my own dear friend Chuck Colson, who seemed to have some interesting insight on just about any subject. How I would have loved for just a few more hours of conversation with any one of them. (And perhaps that incessant longing for more time is just one more indication that we are made for something beyond time; that we were made for eternity.)

And yet, though I’ve had the privilege of knowing a great many dazzling minds, quite a few hearts that bled with compassion and courage, yet they all pale in comparison to the ONE who beckons me to come and know Him deeper.

There is a mind, so deep, so beautiful, and so full of wisdom that none can fathom it. There is a heart, so pure, so full of goodness and light and mercy, that none could behold it. All the men and women whom I’ve admired in my lifetime for their depth and spiritual beauty, for their compassion, creativity, and courage, they are all mere glimmers of this God, the source of all knowledge and goodness. And this One, this God of the Universe, author of all that can be known, He invites me to know Him better. He whispers to me an invitation to join Him, to look for Him and find Him when I search with all my heart (Jer. 29:13).

I know I will have all eternity to get to know Him (and my dear Bonnie) better, but I don’t want to miss out here. I want to go deeper with Christ. I want to know Him more. I don’t want to put it off until a more convenient time. I’m letting the tinkling of bells be my domestic call to worship, my invitation to say those simple words I said to Bonnie, but this time to my Savior, “I want to know more of your story; I want to get to know you better.” It makes me smile to think that on the other side of the veil, Bonnie is doing the same. She’s wading into beauty, drinking her fill of the depth and wisdom and love of Christ.

P.S. Do you want to dig deeper into the riches of the depth of God’s mind and the beauty of His heart? Here is just a little of what the Scriptures say:

Romans 11:33

Job 11:7

Psalm 36:5-6

Psalm 92:5

Isaiah 28:29

Isaiah 40:28

No one could be more fascinating or captivating. Wouldn’t you like to get to know someone like this more deeply? Have you lost the wonder? What’s holding you back from getting to know Him more?

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