I always wanted to be a writer.
There was never I time I can remember when I didn’t want to be a writer. There were just a lot of times that I didn’t think I could make any money out of it.
But once you’re an adult, you need to earn money. So your calling and your back account go to war with each other. I learned to hate money, as it seemed to be the main thing that was keeping me from doing what I wanted to be doing. That, and editors too dense to notice the brilliance and originality of my work.
Wanting something so badly, but not getting it, can launch you down a catastrophic spiritual path.
That’s the dark side of feeling called to a “creative” profession, whether it’s writing, art, music, or acting. Even though the work is noble, the process of trying to succeed can be corrosive and corrupting.
I noticed a spiritual virus that, when it climbs into the creative soul, conceives narcissism, a particularly pernicious pollutant. Narcissism spoils even the most beautiful work, staining it with an ugly splatter (not like an intriguing “modern art” splatter, but like a kid vomiting on your new carpet splatter). If you’re not careful, you might succeed in your art at the cost of your soul.
I see the seeds of this narcissism when I read about how some people feel “saved” by engaging in their true calling. They “needed” to write, or paint, or sing, or act, and were miserable when they compromised with a real job. Finally, they returned to “who they really are” and feel whole again.
What’s so bad about that?
Look closely, and you might find that there’s a selfish hue buried deep within this line of thinking, one that can do tremendous damage to our souls.
Karl Barth once rightly described Jesus as “the man for others.” There was no more selfless person who ever lived than our Lord. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” (Mark 10:45)
If we want to be like Him, we have to share His attitude—one who lives not for himself, not even for his dreams, but for others. Jesus didn’t do miracles, teach, disciple or evangelize to feel better about Himself, to be “whole,” or to avoid “selling out.” He did it out of obedience, and He did it for others. Selflessness, compassion, and an others-centered orientation weren’t pious virtues pasted onto an otherwise heroic life.
They were woven into Jesus’ spiritual DNA.
All of this means that, from a Christian perspective, it’s not enough to write because we “need” to be a writer or even because God created us to be a writer. Write instead because someone needs to read what you have to say. Let passion for people drive you to your laptop, the thinking that someone really needs to hear this (if it’s nonfiction) or needs to experience this (if it’s fiction).
Don’t paint because you need to be a painter; paint because there’s a beauty others are missing that you want them to see.
Act because you want to carry someone from their daily struggles to another place, then set them back gently into their daily lives.
Take photographs to open up others’ eyes to a world so often missed in our distractions and introspection.
If we don’t train ourselves to think in an others-oriented fashion, even in our calling and vocation, we’ll corrupt ourselves into becoming selfish people. That’s our “default” attitude.
Anything done selfishly—even good pursuits such as art, sex, or parenting—becomes corrupting.
This might sound like a subtle critique, but our characters are often forged out of such subtle distinctions. If we are true believers, we are Christians before we are artists. We should shun selfishness and narcissism in our calling and vocation every bit as much as we shun lust or materialism or racism in our social lives. It is equally corrupting. It blinds us to God’s agenda to reach others.
It keeps us from adopting humility, that golden character trait that the ancients called “the queen of the virtues.”
So, yes, it’s a distinction that matters. Write because you have something to say, not because you’re tired of working at Costco. Act because someone needs the inspiration, not because you need the applause. Baptize your creative calling with a Christian compassion, and you’ll do more than earn a living. You’ll build a life that honors God and earns your heavenly Father’s approval.
Looking back, I now see that God wasn’t just concerned with my art;
Even more, He was concerned with my heart. He let me suffer until I understood that even more important than being published was learning to resemble Jesus Christ, the man-for-others.
What is your reason for creating? Do you find yourself struggling with pride?
[Photo: PhotoCo, Creative Commons]