Work

Holy Work

Like the minute hand on a clock, the movement of time is almost imperceptible. The everyday hums of overhead lights and overheard conversations melt into quiet. I stare. Then my lips turn up a bit at the ends and familiar creases form themselves at the corners of my eyes.

I stand there looking positively idiotic, I'm sure, oblivious to everything that's not the something right in front of me.

This is what happens when I watch other artists work,  painters in their studios, dancers learning choreography, musicians in rehearsal, directors on set. If there were bleachers set up in the studios of artists I'd have season tickets. I love watching makers make.

A few days ago I had the opportunity to spend a little time with a wonderfully-gifted painter friend of mine named Sarah Carter as she made something, a few moments of color and canvas and creativity.

I felt like I was seeing her in an entirely different way. My family has sat at her family's table and shared long meals and deep conversations. We've brought out little pieces of our lives, diamonds wrapped in velvet and carefully peeled back the folds until we can all get a closer look at them sparkling in the light. We've been intentional in getting to know one another, pushing past awkwardness and getting into the laughter and tears that spring from the unadorned us.

But this was new.

I've always known what bears looked like. When I was little I had a teddy bear, and rooted for Winnie the Pooh to endure his blustery day. I marveled at them at the zoo and heeded Smokey whenever he urged me to refrain from being an arsonist.

Then I saw a real bear, a real bear in the middle of the forest, a real bear in the place that is his, the place for which he is made. It was a very big bear, like a mountain in motion all instinct and strength. A bear as it is meant to be. Right then, everything I'd known of bears became the past, and the past became a crude caricature of bears as I now knew them.

This was like that. There was Sarah before, and now there was Sarah after.

I've been trying to piece together just why that moment was so profound.

Here's my try at making a little of it make sense:

So often we marvel at the results of the creative process, the finished piece, the performance. And we should. Any effort an artist has made to make the invisible visible—to make the grace of God in them somehow evident through paint on stretched canvas, or the progression of one note or lyric to the next, or the arrangement of letters and punctuation—is an act of bravery and should be applauded.

But for me the true marvel is the process because therein we see more than just our interpretation or subjective evaluation of the grace an artist has put forth, we get to see them in that sweet spot for which they are made (for which we are all made), discovering in themselves the grace that God has put there. When you peek over the shoulder of an artist going about his or her work you are seeing a seldom-glimpsed, difficult, and terribly intimate process as they engage in the work of becoming more fully themselves.

Watching Sarah work was a holy moment, glory brought to bear in resplendent streaks of color on canvas.

This is holy work.

Done Being Down on Doing

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Am I defined by the work I do? Is it a part of my identity?

Yes.

No.

I don't know.

I've been struggling with these questions for awhile now, but I've kept quiet. Silent contemplation is so much more pleasant than being shouted down by Sunday school answers. See, I think almost any follower of Jesus would tell me that it's simple. First and foremost, I am a child of God, and that alone is the basis for my identity. And I believe that. But I don't know if I believe that answering the question of identity is as simple as we pretend it is. The phrase I always hear is:

It's not about doing. It's about being.

Oh. Okay. Mm-hmm.

That's a little too buttoned up for me.

Almost four years ago I started getting paid to make things. It was new. I've always been a creative person and have had some job titles in the past that maybe, sort-of referenced my capacity to create, but then I became the creative director at ROCKHARBOR. Suddenly, the act of creating became my full-time pursuit and the single rationale for why I should receive a paycheck. This period of my life has been the most risky, terrifying, exhilarating, trying, and fulfilling I've yet experienced.

The last four years have also marked the most significant spiritual growth I've ever known. I've seen first-hand the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. I have learned how God speaks to me. I've felt him working in the darkest places of my heart. And I have fallen in love with his word.

The fact that the nature of my work and the intimacy of my relationship with God both began to experience a momentous shift four years ago is not a coincidence. Every single day that I choose to engage in the creative process I am submitting myself to the very possible risk of failure and the very real need to hear from my Creator. In the midst of daily risk, failure, success, and just plain doing things, I am digging into the essence of my God and the essence of who he's made me to be.

So what's actually happened? Has my identity changed? No.

Has my understanding of my identity changed? Yes.

Has my capacity to live out the identity he's given me grown? Heck yes.

We are not the things we do, but a part of understanding who we are is intrinsically tied to the things we do.

In the opening pages of Genesis God creates. He makes. From that act we deduce that he is a Creator. In his work we are able to identify a part of his identity. I believe he was the Creator long before he created, but we could only come to understand his creative identity in the hindsight of that identity put into practice.

Likewise, I create. Is the act of creating my identity? No. But it certainly is my identity put into practice. By creating I am able to recognize the outflow of my identity as a creator, an identity entrusted to me as an emanation of the one who made me.

Day by day, as I am enacting my identity—putting what I know into practice—I am learning more about who I am, and I am placed on a trajectory to better understand who my God is.

What does all of this mean?

We are not what we do. But we do what we are.

I believe one of the best methods for us to understand who we are is in doing.

And this gets me excited. Why?

It means we're on an adventure!

When was the last time you tested the boundaries of who you think you are? Of what you feel you're capable of? Of what you believe God can do?

Start! Begin throwing yourself against the fences of your pasture, my friend. We have to try things. We have to take massive risks and see God come through. We have to try to fly before we start believing we can't. We have to dig to make the next discovery. Only by trying things can we learn who we really are, what we're really capable of, what we're called to, and who we're called after.

To be we have to do. To fully uncover our identities in Christ we have to be doing things our identities demand of us. So let's stop giving "doing" a bad wrap.