Kids invent forts out of dining room tables, and fill the fort with a story. They’ll fight invisible enemies attacking from the outside and fill the inside of the fort with pretend families. Kids tell stories, create art, put on plays and build things – they almost can’t help themselves.
Even kids who have been terribly damaged by abuse, abandonment, war or poverty, are compelled to create. A few weeks ago, there was a story in the paper about some astonishing visual art being made by a group of kids in war-ravaged Afghanistan. In other places, where children fight a war against terminal cancer, the writing that pours from their chemo-saturated bodies, tells a watching world that one of the last things to die in a child is imagination.
I’m a playwright and free-lance writer, which automatically anoints me with the title of Right-Brained Creative Chick, among those who know me. A very left-brained engineer friend, recently told me that creativity and imagination were a part of my world, but not his.
I told him that I was pretty sure his checkbook balanced every month. My creativity (unfortunately) sometimes extends into the world of math, where I can make numbers do things they were never intended to do.
I look at the structure and order of the world of engineering, medicine and computers – the domain of the left-brainers – and I celebrate the power of problem-solving that is harnessed by those who work and play in those fields. I celebrated my friend’s God-honoring expression of creativity in his chosen career, as we talked that day.
He didn’t quite buy it. “I don’t feel creative now that I’m an adult. It’s like I’m stuck. Even into my teens, I’d take things apart and invent new things with the parts. I’m not capable of playing like that anymore.”
There was a mix of resignation and regret in his eyes as he said, “I guess I’m blocked somewhere.”
As a writer, I can identify with the idea of a blockage. There’s nothing more maddening than staring at a blinking cursor on a blank screen. It’s like being all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Simply being a biological adult doesn’t block creativity. The world is full of adult-generated creative expression. I told my friend that what blocks us is, well … us.
Maybe it’s jealousy that dams the flood. My husband comes from an incredibly musical family. He played a couple of instruments growing up, but a combination of things, not the least of which was the fact that he lost a couple of competitions for a leading chair in the band at school, caused him to sort of shrivel up and stop growing as a musician. The competition caused him to envy those with superior skill at that level, and to believe that he no longer had anything to offer to others in this area. That lie dammed up the creativity he had been given for years.
Or some of us feel defeated because of misshapen perfectionism. I learned in a college art course that most children will continue to grow as visual artists as long as they draw what is going on inside of their heads. The moment that they become “self-aware”, and start trying to duplicate what they see around them, many kids freeze in their creative growth. What we celebrate in visual artists, is that those adults somehow struggled through the dissonance of seeing one thing in the world around them, and yet drawing another. They fought through the frustration that comes with maturity and development. Too many of us have bought the lie that we don’t have anything to offer, because our gifts have been dammed up behind defeat.
There’s a weird fear about creativity that dams people up, as well. Go see a contemporary play in a small storefront urban theater, flip on MTV or just wander the net – it doesn’t take long to sense that creativity can go toxic the moment it gets unplugged from God, the ultimate Creator. Expression without a destination can degenerate into self-absorption, neurosis, silliness and profanity. For generations, Christians found it safer to simply stay away from the dangerous world of creativity, rather than navigate the muck out there, being touted as creativity. We have abdicated creativity and handed this gift of God over to the enemy. That abdication has caused too many people to build a fortress and cloister themselves inside. That fortress is nothing more than another dam.
Jesus visited with a woman at an ancient version of a coffeehouse, a well. Her rebellion against God left her soul-parched, living on a treadmill going nowhere. Jesus understood that she was dammed up, living in a desert of her own making. He offered to un-dam her: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:13-14).
Though Jesus was talking to a sin-trapped woman at the well, I believe that this spring of living water has the power to shatter our dams of jealousy, fear and perfectionism. The stream of living water that Jesus offers flows from Him to us, a Word River of God’s life, love and healing. It isn’t being a child that allows us to be truly creative; it’s being His child. That relationship has the power to shatter our dams, allowing the expression of our hearts to flow toward Him and outward to the world He loves.
Seeing my engineer friend’s regret and frustration, and my own dam of creative stagnancy, have sharpened my ears recently to God’s quiet invitation to each one of us.
The invitation reads, simply: Come splash in the River.