Several years ago, I bought an acrylic paint set from Hobby Lobby. It wasn’t a cheap set, either. Nice wooden box full of a couple canvas panels and nice brushes with a bunch of those aluminum squeeze tubes of all your favorite colors. It was on clearance, though, and I’d been wanting to try out painting as a creative outlet. Plus, I was stuck in a craft store waiting and waiting and waiting for a certain somebody who is totally worth waiting around for in a craft store. I paid the money, brought home the box, and thought about what I could paint. 5 years later, I courageously decided to put my heart out there and paint a couple pictures for my brothers’ Christmas presents, which seems now like a really strange choice for a guy who hadn’t painted anything since being forced to face all his tactile fears on 1st grade finger painting day (Yes, it really was traumatic; No, I still cannot forget the awful smell or squishy feeling on my hands; Yes, I have issues, so what!). I had brushes this time, though and was sure the acrylic couldn’t possibly have the same stench as finger paint, so I boldly broke open the first tube, painted two (thematically significant, yet artistically sophomoric) paintings, then promptly covered up the box in a pile of life.
I enjoy watching my students do art projects, so I occasionally hear a whispered “Paint something.” from a corner of my office. But until last week when I successfully scaped what passes for a slightly odd sunset over a mountain peak, I hadn’t painted anything since that Christmas.
I came across a post in an email from Jeff Goins this morning that deals with The Most Important Part of the Creative Life. (If you’re too busy to at least scan it first, the rest of this post may worry you a lot more than it should.) It resonated with me as I thought about my last year or so. I don’t feel like I’ve been very creatively productive lately. Oh, I’ve kept all my t’s crossed and i’s dotted. I haven’t grown any dust bunnies as we’ve worked to move students forward as the church Jesus is leading. I even managed to paint a mountain scene… I’ve been productive, just not very creative ~ I’ve had this lingering feeling that maybe the beauty is lacking. The processes and procedures and messages and lessons of youth ministry may be missing the art and inspired flourish and maybe even some of the heart that should be there.
Forgive me for the sudden shift in gears. I realize this probably sounds strange to talk about ministry as art all of a sudden. As if I’m out here with a palette full of students, working to create something out of them that wasn’t there before – some blank canvas brought to life with their color, some chunk of earth sculpted into a work of beauty, or some long forgotten song invigorated by the breath of their lungs… Crazy, right?
As I think about my time in student ministry, that’s exactly what’s happened. God has orchestrated a faithfully following, creatively passionate church out of a bunch of young people that weren’t the church before. And it’s a thing of beauty. For His part, He’s got all the space He needs to create this life-breathing people on a mission to show God to the world. But on my side of things, I realize I need to clear some clutter and make space again.
Physically speaking, I’m surrounded with my own clutter as books overfill my shelves and my desk catches the overflow of whatever is happening today or about to happen tomorrow. Nice stacks of ideas, thoughts, and kernels of potential bump into each other all over my desktop, failing to come to fruition because they just can’t gain any traction there with everything else competing for the space.
Mentally, this last year has been quite possibly the least focused, most crammed-feeling time of my life. Competing possibilities (and maybe too much social media) have left me mentally worn out, thinking in disjointed flurries usually cut off by the next impending concern or concept.
Spiritually, I’ve continued to make space for God to work, but I wonder to what extent all the other clutter encroaches into this space as well.
How are you? What are you doing to make space for creativity in your life? Maybe we can share some ideas and make some space together!