Spiritual Adulting for Artists
We all want to make a difference and we all want success. We want both, and so we should. And yet, this side of Eden nothing goes as planned. We have to face the reality of our own limits, our sin, and the evil in this world. There is no financial or spiritual path that guarantees success without setbacks.
The challenges of life push and prod us toward maturity, or in the current vernacular, as artists and creative professionals, we have to face the call toward spiritual adulting for artists. These challenges force us to ask ourselves the “why” question: Why are we creating and what is our core motivation? Without an answer to these questions, we are like a script with no real plot or a painting without a cohesive vision. If we are going to push through the struggles we will face we need a core passion and reason for doing what we do.
Knowing your why
When you know your ‘why’ and your passion is fueling your creativity, the realization is this: the artistic project that drives you crazy and almost kills you is often the exact project that brings you the most joy once it has come to completion. Nothing worthwhile comes easy, and there is no story worth reading that does not possess a struggle.
The fascinating truth is that your life and your art possess this same dynamic. The more our art/film/choreography has meaning, the more it becomes worth all the frustration and agony. Our career has the same dynamic, though it is easier to lose sight of it. Our career needs to have a greater vision and purpose if it is going to fulfill us the way we were designed.
This reminded me of a passage I haven’t reflected upon in quite some time:
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”
1 Corinthians 13:11, ESV
When we were youthful and lacking wisdom, we wanted the power without the struggle being too great. We wanted the courage without having to face too many fears. We began to be inspired by the great stories. Those stories always possessed challenges, struggles, and wars that raged both within the human heart and without. We loved those stories because we see the main character fighting and struggling for something worthwhile and meaningful.
This is the magnetic power of the stories we love, whether we find it in an inspiring novel, a heart-breaking film, or a profound series on cable or Netflix. The real question is this: is this also the story of your life?
What is your why?
Are you fighting for something bigger and more meaningful? Is all of your time spent honing your craft, making your art excellent and developing your network in service of simply your success? Or is it in service of something bigger?
I remember being a pastor at Pacific Crossroads years ago when a young man working at Sony met with me for coffee. We met near the studio, got to know each other and found out his primary goal was to be a millionaire by the time he was 30. Surprised by his short-sighted vision I asked him, “and then what?” He paused, as if he hadn’t considered that. He thought for a moment and said he would sip margaritas and live on the beach in Malibu.
Well, naturally you would need a lot more than merely one million dollars to live that life in Malibu, but my challenge to him was simply, “You lack imagination for what God has for you, and what God can do through you. You love the challenge of design and business, but you have lost the point of why God gave you a sharp mind for business.” Surprisingly, he grew up in the church and was even a pastor’s kid. Yet his vision fell far short of what God had for him. He did make quite a bit of money over the next few years, but his life fell apart. This man lost the greater story, and settled a short-term, simpler vision for his life. He accomplished his dream, but it didn’t satisfy his real desires and needs.
Facing the dark night of the soul
If you are willing to endure the struggles, frustrations, and even face your dark night of the soul, what is it all for? Living in L.A., New York, or any other city where you pursue a career in art and entertainment is going to be hard. Are you doing it to honor God, or to get an award? Naturally there is nothing wrong with awards, accolades, or other success. The core issue is always the heart. I know people who lost track of where their Academy Award is, and people who have multiple Emmy’s but have a healthy response of not putting their identity in those achievements. They are great accomplishments, but they cannot bear the weight of carrying your identity.
The questions for you and me during this Holy Week, is what is all your hard work and talent serving? Every season we will find ourselves tempted to serve ourselves and our own desires and to give up on the grand story God has for us. This is the struggle of being living sacrifices – we have to keep choosing to serve God instead of wealth, success or some other idol.
So I want you and I to consider a few questions as we lead up to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and finally – Easter:
1) If the Savior you follow endured the cross, are you not also prepared, and considering it a privilege to pick up your cross? (Luke 9:23)
2) If Christ was willing to endure the 40 days in the desert facing real temptations presented by the enemy, are you expecting the enemy to also tempt you too? (Matt 4:1-11)
3) If Christ had to die on the cross, before he attained the resurrection, are you also expecting to suffer, struggle, and live as a disciple in order to “know the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10)
Positive thinking is all around us, and unfortunately it is in the church too. It isn’t biblical. Our hope is in God, not ourselves. It is valuable to hold on to God’s promises and His love for you. However, God never promised an easy road, regardless of our attitude or calling. Just consider Daniel, Joseph, Esther, et. al. Our real calling and hope is growing closer to God and becoming more Christ-like. That usually happens through the struggles of life and because God is pruning us whether we are bearing great fruit or bearing none (John 15:2).
There is no resurrection Sunday without the dark night of the cross. It is true of Christ, and true of all creation – Romans tells us of creation groaning as with birth pangs (Romans 8:22).
Preparing for Easter
So, as we prepare for Easter, take time to pray. Ask God to show you where you may be focused more on yourself than on Him. Is your life long goal to become more like Christ or to achieve some vocational accolade? Are you enduring hardship for your own ego, or for God’s glory?
If you have drifted from the narrow road, then take time to repent. But don’t stop there. Then rejoice fully in your forgiveness as you try once again to honor God with your craft. God didn’t call a bunch of Christian men and women into the art world or entertainment industry to win awards or to “take back” some aspect of culture. He didn’t call you to be perfect. He called you to be Christ-like. That is what the watching world is waiting to see in His people.
As you prepare for Easter, take a few minutes to pray and consider the words of Paul to the Christians in Philippi. He wrote this while in prison after planting countless churches and serving Christ with all he had. He was never surprised with the struggle, and never lost sight of the goal.
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
Philippians 3:8-11 (ESV)
For more resources on “spiritual adulting for artists” be sure to join us at our next Arts and Entertainment Institute in Los Angeles.
Copyright © 2019 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.