What creative activities renew your inner being?
It’s the beginning of a new calendar year. Traditionally, in Western culture, this is a time to reflect on how the past year has gone and perhaps make some New Year’s resolutions. We might find ourselves mulling over which habits have been working well and which ones we’d like to put behind us once and forever.
We plan to find more time for exercise, make home-cooked meals most nights, or cut back on sugar. We might be considering ways to amp up the productivity of our team, mapping out how to achieve a new sales goal, or getting ready to reinvigorate a classroom of students returning from holiday break.
Many Christadelphians use January 1st as a logical date to start a Bible reading plan, syncing up with other Bible students. This practice creates opportunities and accountabilities for feeding together on God’s word. All good things, all good things!
Over the last decade, I’ve thought a lot about the calendar, the concept of time, and how scheduling and plan-making tend to play out in my life. At the risk of making a blessing sound like a complaint (though this is unintended!), my family and I have seemingly limitless choices about how we could spend our time and who we could spend our time with.
None of these opportunities is wrong, per se. Assuming we all agree that spiritual things1 should be our priority and focus, let’s then consider what may be a more interesting and nuanced question for those of us who aim to walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh. With so many potentially helpful options, resources, inputs, and friends, how do we, as believers, make decisions about priority?
For me, and maybe for many of us, it’s easier to make sure the quantifiable tasks get on the calendar and get done rather than those more amorphous yet vital disciplines. I’ll block out time for preparing children’s Bible classes or cooking a meal for a burdened friend, but leave a prayer journal unwritten for days or weeks.
It’s a common statement that in our faith journeys, we are to avoid a “checklist mentality.” But often, these conversations conclude, “because this is not the way to salvation.” And rightly so. Salvation will not be ours because we have perfect attendance at mid-week Bible Class. But what other less obvious reasons might there be to avoid a “checklist mentality” regarding our spiritual activities?
Could it be because it’s too easy for the things that can be considered “finished,” the things we could conceive of placing a checkmark next to, to become the only spiritual activities we engage in? And how can overemphasizing and overscheduling these quantifiable activities impact those of us who, like our Father, love their creative time?
On a recent vacation, I knew I might have a little time to read, but I didn’t bring a book other than a short devotional book. I have been reading two pages a day. It was strange because I love to read. Still, lately, I have been feeling an actual weariness of intake, even choosing to drive around town in silence rather than be accompanied by the thought-provoking podcasts I usually enjoy.
Early last week, the emergency overflow valve of our circulating water heater started dumping hot water into our garage while our dishwasher was running for the night. It wasn’t fun, and I don’t recommend the experience. On the bright side, this is a great analogy for what I’ve been feeling. Hot water is something you want in your house, and spiritual food is fantastic and something you want in your body and your mind. But eventually, pressure builds up, and you need to release something. You need to respond in the way that God created you to do. What is that for you?
Writing can be that for me. As I type these thoughts right now (in a precious hour squeezed into the approaching holiday season while my husband is graciously bathing and putting the kids to bed), I feel an enormous sense of relief. Thoughts circulating in my brain like warm water are flowing onto empty virtual pages, and this action is bringing me a sense of peace. I’m doing it for myself more than you, dear readers, though I always hope you connect with what you read here. I’m doing it because I am a creator, a tiny creative force created by a creative Father. I’m doing it because I can’t help it.
Making music can be this for me, too. I recently had the enormous privilege of spending an hour with a wise and faithful woman who is my favorite musician of all time. Her children are mostly grown in their late teens and early twenties. But she was producing incredibly well-received albums when her children were young.
I asked her, “How did you do it? How did you prioritize playing around with new ideas for songs on your piano with three small kids in the house?” We talked at length, and she gave me a precious gift of encouragement that my music was worth prioritizing and the time for it was worth carving out and protecting. She said this desire was not selfish. Apparently, it’s quite common for artists, even the incredibly accomplished ones, to struggle to give “vocational weight”2 to their craft.
When something is not your primary stated occupation or vocation, as it might appear on a form at a doctor’s office (i.e., “Educator,” “Homemaker”), it can be extremely hard to prioritize or give appropriate weight to that activity. Yes, my piano playing can happen or not happen to no obvious harm to my family’s daily life or our income. But what if those aren’t the only factors we should consider when contemplating how we use our time?
What could be the trickle-down benefit to my family? What could be the joy, both for myself and my LORD, in my sitting down and working out the possible chord structure and lyrics to a praise song that comes straight from my heart?
Psalm 37:4 is a well-liked verse. I admit I have treated it with some skepticism in the past. Not skepticism that God means what He says in the Scriptures, but skepticism about how I imagined it could be misapplied. “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (ESV).
My analytical self would reply, “But what desires? “Surely not the ones referenced in passages like Ephesians 4:22-24—not the deceitful ones?” No, not those. The Psalm negates that idea anyway by first confirming that we are already making God our delight, not the flesh. Am I alone in finding it hard to hear the phrase “the desire of your heart” and initially thinking that we are talking about a good thing?
If you’re with me on this, let’s work together to accept that the desires and longings described in the Psalms are good things. Many cultural factors have led me to subconsciously equate holiness with self-denial, even if I deny the parts of me that would be better channeled and used and enjoyed to the glory of God rather than buried with a shovel. Any of us who have traveled through airports will have heard warnings not to leave our belongings unattended. In a book I was reading recently, a photo of a sign struck me that read, “Attention: Do not leave your longings unattended.”3 Indeed.
And a word about feeling like we always need to finish a thing for it to count as an appropriate use of time (if, indeed, you, like me, do tend this way). Following Paul’s beautiful exhortation about the power and life of God at work in us, even while we are suffering afflictions and persecutions, he writes:
I use this passage not to imply that Paul is talking specifically about creative practices here as the renewal method. But it provides a good reminder for us that the activities we value and prioritize and focus on most do not need to be the things we and others can see, check off or quantify.
How much of our time is scheduled out? Are there different types of “spiritual activities” we should let take turns of our time? We can consider these questions as we hope and dream for our next year. The times I connect with the LORD are moments I cannot ultimately plan.
What I can do is put habits in place that will allow space for Him to speak. I love to use my planner to write down dinner dates and doctor appointments, but what if I used my planner more often this year to block out time for creativity, personal and ecclesial worship, and quiet time with my LORD?
Time to respond to Him, release output, and close off all of the inputs for a moment, no matter how valuable or Godly they are. What if I prioritized and protected activities that incite spiritual longings and, as the phrase goes, “Give me a glimpse of the Kingdom”? Life is heavy. In the past week, I got together with friends and sang true, beautiful, Jesus-centered songs together. And by the end of it, I felt about a thousand times lighter. I want to do more of that this year.
Please, then, take this message away from what I’m saying. If and when you are resolving to start or reinstate some great spiritual habits in 2024, consider allowing your creative longings a little more space. This idea might seem a little foolish, unimportant, or just downright impossible. But I’m telling myself, with the help of God-given discernment, I know which of these things renew me. And I delight in being renewed day by day, as we live under the rule of this calendar, and ultimately, completely. Eternally.
Happy New Year!
Simi Hills Ecclesia, CA
- This could lead to the question of “Which things are spiritual?”—be a long discussion in itself. If we walk according to the Spirit, can we consider all aspects of our life spiritual? See Romans 8. I would add that I prefer using the term “life in the Spirit” versus “my spiritual life;” the latter sounds like a compartmentalization to my ears.
- An aside: though the word vocation is most commonly used in contemporary language as a synonym for occupation, it has its roots in Christianity. It carries a sense of calling, of being created specifically for a certain work. In this sense, I could describe musicianship as a vocation, though it is not what I would write as my primary occupation on that aforementioned doctor’s office form.
- Kleon, Austin (2012). Steal Like an Artist. Workman Publishing Co. Inc. Page 69.
Music and Praise section editor, Jessica Gelineau, would love to engage with you and dive into conversations around the intersection of inspiration, creativity, music, and praise.
Please reach out if you have a thought to share or to further a conversation you’ve seen started in this instalment of “On Creating.”
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