Have you noticed Sunday is relentlessly faithful? Week after week, she comes with expectations of greatness. Year after year, Christmas and Easter seem to call us into an office, sit behind a big desk, arms folded, looking down at us as if to say “Impress me.” If we’re honest, artists in the church can easily admit that there are seasons where we feel less like Picasso at an Easel and more like a vending machine outside a Speedway.
There are three important questions to ask.
- Why do we get in cycles where we feel this way?
- Where do we get ideas from when we’re feeling empty?
- What can we do to “stock up”?
Much like a triune God who loves to watch us “play” instead of just “work”, these three questions can gracefully bring us back to the Easel, where we once again hear the Master painter whispering ideas for the next Masterpieces to create that point us all back to Him. And more importantly, we start building a ladder to help us crawl out of the sinkhole of the “have to” mentality back up into the fresh air of “get to”.
So… WHY do we get in cycles where we feel this way? We’re human. We’re artists. We’re weird. We have a God who loves us and wants us to feel inspired, invigorated, and passionate. However, because this involves both a perfect God and our imperfect selves, it will naturally ebb and flow. We can easily get the idea in our heads that it’s our job to “please God”. He doesn’t need us to please him. He already gave His life for us. He wants us to trust Him, seek Him, ASK him. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of setting aside time to literally talk to God and ask him for ideas. If we were forming a marketing campaign for a company, we would want to have several meetings with the company leaders before making our “pitch”.
We also get this odd lie replaying in our minds that we have to try to “make God look good”. The truth is he IS Good. More Good news: we don’t have some corporate white collar team defending their brand. We have a loving father who wants a relationship with us more than anything. He wants to partner with us to create beauty that helps his other “kids” grow closer to Him too. There are no other ad agencies competing for this campaign. Just us kids coming to dad for advice. So take a deep breath, a long walk, a run, a morning cup of coffee, a full night, whatever it takes to get back to the real “why” behind all the shrink-wrapped “what” in the machine. Even David, the original artist, leader, poet, and screw up knew the importance of the why…
“Clean the slate so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from thinking I can take over-so I can start this day sun-washed clean.” Psalm 19:12
Where do we get ideas from when we’re feeling empty? So, I can sense some shoulders slumping, and maybe even some eyes rolling. Pray? That’s it? What if I don’t hear anything? Or better yet, and more like an artist, (insert pouting lip) “But I prayed for like ten whole minutes and the meeting is today!!!” Even though I do whole-heartedly believe that God will provide ideas when we truly get intentional about seeking Him and setting aside time, there are times where that human side of us just flat out gets in the way. Whether it’s a swirling worry, a crying baby, a softball tournament for your kids, a tragedy in the family that seems to stop everything but the calendar, there are times when we can’t hear him. Good news: there are some concrete written brainstorm exercises you can do to help you hear Him and come the brainstorm with seeds of an idea that others can help grow.
Word Clusters: Take a theme or the big idea of a series and make some word associations, then free flow them in to a word map/cluster. I also add to this another layer of memories, situations, conversations from my life or people I know that apply to those words or that theme.
Lists of Ten: If you’re more of a logical thinker, you can also just make a list of ten things (songs, scripture, related personal life situations, names of people you know who have faced challenges with that particular topic, etc) If you draw a blank staring at the numbers, do a web search for songs related to that topic, a YouTube search for video ideas, and then a bible search engine to find a list of scripture related to that topic. I’m a nerd and over-preparer, so I usually do both. : )
“Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.” Madeleine L’Engle
And the final question… What can we do to “stock up”? There are some seasons that are more busy and draining than others. Building in some intentional “unnecessary creating” is crucial. This is a phrase coined by Todd Henry, author of “Accidental Creative” and “Die Empty” (both great books for artists by the way!). Pixar actually found that assigning their creatives a full day for projects that have nothing to do with their assigned tasks boosted their levels of performance in all areas of their work and even prompted new and exciting projects they would’ve otherwise not had space to create.
What does this look like? During slower seasons or even building into the regular rhythm of your week, give yourself some creative assignments that hone your skills but are projects you completely come up with- projects that intrinsically inspire you. They may or may not have to do with your job or your skills. I have creative writing books with writing exercises I do each morning and a poetry blog where I reflect on life, faith and pretty much anything. There have been several times where these entries have turned into an element on the weekend, even though they weren’t originally created for that purpose. We had a series called “Make Room” where we were discussing worship through the wonder of creation and a poem I wrote six years earlier ended up being one of the most memorable video moments of the series.
My husband is a video producer and will intentionally make a video about something he’s interested in that was not assigned by our church or any of his clients. If you’re a musician or lighting designer, it might be rehearsing or designing lighting for a song you know you would most likely never perform in your weekend service. It might be completely unrelated. I found playing games with the imaginative preschoolers in our Early Learning Center was a great warm up for creative meetings. My husband once pulled himself out of a creative slump by designing and building us a set of Adirondack chairs-anything that gets that “play” mode muscle pumping and get us out of “aimless” veg mode.
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:25-27
So chin up, my fellow artists. There’s always light at the end of this tunnel. It’s not a flickering light in a vending machine. We are connected to the light of the world. Seek him. Find your way back to the easel. It may take some work, but little by little, we will begin to play again.