Why Your Unique Creative Expressions Matter
Posted by jesserice
Photo by: Tooga
As I’ve mentioned before, I believe one of the most positive things about our digital social networks is the platform they can provide for sharing our unique creative expressions with one another. Yes, this often gets twisted and reduced to little more than trying to turn one another into consumers of our shabbily-made products (I am certainly guilty of this), but where it does it actually serve us and the people around us?
The following is a short article I wrote on the matter. It may help you to read it through the lens of these two questions:
1. How will you creatively express what is uniquely YOU within your social network (either real or virtual) today?
2. What are potential hindrances that arise when you attempt those creative expressions?
For now, I hope you’ll enjoy the following creative expression:
There is a theme that comes up for me a lot in counseling as I sit there on the couch, silently apologizing for wasting my therapist’s time: Do I matter? This thought bleeds the color from my life and straps my shoulders with hundred pound sandbags. It keeps me restless like an inmate who knows he’s innocent but can’t prove it – I feel like there should be a satisfying answer, a break in the barbed wire that the guards haven’t noticed yet. Sometimes my brain tunes into the higher frequencies of reality and I can hear my true identity being broadcast. For a moment, I exhale and my heart settles back into a normal rhythm. But most of the time, all I get is static, no matter how hard I work to acquire the signal.
Do I matter? Can I justify my existence on this planet, or am I just eating and pooping – just consuming and wasting? My therapist flashes a compassionate smile, looking at the invisible shackles around my feet, knowing we’re going to get those things off eventually. She’s heard this come out of my mouth about three thousand times before, so she asks what I think about what I’ve just said. I hate it when she does this, because it means I’m responsible for the answer. I fold my arms across my chest and stare at a fire escape outside her open window. The stink of crews tarring a nearby roof seeps into the room as I grit my teeth, my body tense like piano string. The answer comes out all gravelly and pre-determined. “Well, I suppose we all have a significant part to play in God’s plan to redeem the world.” My therapist half-coughs/half-laughs. I’ve been seeing her for a long time now, so it’s okay with me if she pokes a little fun. “And you really believe that?” she inquires. Nope, not a chance. “Yes, absolutely.” She makes a note on her writing pad – I’d kill to see what’s on that thing. Finally, she surmises, “No you don’t.” I look back at her, eyes pleading for help once again. No, I agree in my head, I don’t.
I think that’s probably because the answer – that we all matter significantly – is too general, not me-centered enough. It’s a caricature of a real answer, a peace symbol sticker on the back of an old Volkswagen Bug. It represents something but changes nothing. I know in my heart that people matter deeply – it’s why I’m in ministry in the first place – and on my more limber days, I can make the intellectual stretch to “I matter”. But the concept that we have significance because God has granted us each a role to play in his Kingdom-unveiling is a very heady proposition. It’s one that can only be worked out with hands and feet, perhaps even with fear and trembling. I know this by experience, but it doesn’t seem to interrupt the angsty existentialism pinballing around the insides of my skull. I might as well try to hold back an advancing army with a squirt gun. No, these thoughts are symptoms of some deeper struggle that leave me caught in swirling eddies of despair. How do I find my way back to solid ground?
Part of the problem is that I keep trying to make sense of it all from the comfort of my Ikea rocking chair, staring out at the squirrels in a big oak tree next door. Restless, but glued to my seat, my thoughts go haywire. I start to notice how the squirrels have been so quiet lately, like they know something they’re not telling me. Discouragement circles me like a playground bully, taunting me in front of my friends and demanding my lunch money. I think of my to-do list for the day ahead and want to cry. The sky is falling and fast. I try reading a Psalm. I try saying a prayer of my own. I’m exasperated, desperate, unsure what I believe about anything anymore. In a fit of near-panic, I give up, throw my Bible to the side, and decide there’s nothing more that can be done.
I get up and make some scrambled eggs instead.
Taking my time, I add red pepper and cheese. I dote on the eggs, mixing in just the right amount of black pepper and salt, too. I pop an English muffin into the toaster and it transforms into a crispy brown treat, the scent of honey wheat filling the kitchen. I arrange the eggs and two muffin halves like lawn ornaments on my edible landscaping; the plate is well-proportioned and colorful, like the flag of an African country. I sit down to eat, fiction book in hand, and it’s only when I finish my breakfast that I discover how much better I’m feeling. It’s like I’ve come out the other side of a noisy drive-thru car wash. I’m quieter now, cleaner. What happened?
I’ve come to discover that I can’t outthink my existential angst. Minds far greater than my own have tried with often less than satisfying results. That’s not to say we shouldn’t think deeply about the Big Questions. Of course we should. The problem is, I can’t seem to stop. It’s like my mind is seduced by depressive circular reasoning and I willingly follow, only to wake up tied to a bed inside a burning house. Maybe this morning I don’t need an answer to life, the universe, and everything. Maybe what I need is a spiritual laxative instead. Maybe I need to make some scrambled eggs.
I find that acting creatively, whether cooking something or rearranging my desk or even changing my laptop’s screen saver, interrupts my vain circular reasoning, creating an escape route. When I start to find myself heading down Discouragement Avenue, making a hard right toward the End of the World turnpike, even the smallest creative act can yank me out of noisy traffic and set me down on a Maui beach at sunset. I almost laugh when I realize what’s happened, so strong is my amnesia every time. In fact, I’ve come to believe the only kind of answer that would satisfy my existential itch is hidden in the layers of my image-of-God-bearing, my co-creating.
That’s because what’s true on the therapist couch is true of my everyday life – I’m responsible for the answer. And allowing myself to get sucked into the black hole of endless wrestling with “Do I Matter?” often keeps me from mattering at all. I get stuck in my head, no use to myself or anyone else. I get paralyzed with hopelessness even while I look around and notice how great my life actually is (which, of course, only makes me feel worse). This happens most when I’m not holding up my end of the deal, when I’m not co-creating. Instead, I’m surrendering, giving in, not taking responsibility for the life I’ve been given. But every time I do, God patiently offers me a way out. Just make something with me, he says. Add to the beauty, take a walk, scramble something. Create anything and rediscover your identity as my co-laborer in the wondrous world-restoration project I’m leading.
Back in my therapist’s office, my shoulders relax a little and my jaw unwinds. I’ve stepped into the trap for the three-thousand-and-first time, but I’m getting much quicker at escaping. She gently prods me toward more captive-freeing truth. “If you were sitting across from yourself right now, what would you say?” she asks. I laugh a little, picturing the two me’s commiserating. “I guess I’d tell myself to not worry so much. I’d tell myself to stop being so thankless.” She frowns respectfully. “Is there a more positive way to say those things?” I laugh again – I can be so hard on myself. A breeze blows through window, now carrying the scent of fresh pastries from the bakery below. “How about I just invite myself to go play for a while? We could make something together, maybe a sand castle. Maybe a life.” And with that epiphany, the world morphs from black and white to color and I’m suddenly a hundred pounds lighter once again.