Thriving, Overcoming Fear and Living Boldly
Thriving as a creative professional requires overcoming fear and learning to live boldly. This is easy to say, but in practice it proves to be challenging. Fear may be the greatest killer of creativity, and the biggest reason young artists simply give up. Some people pretend to live and create boldly but are in truth, insecure and overcompensating or amping their persona up with stimulants, depressants and melodrama. This is not what the heart is looking for. The heart of any artist deeply craves to live boldly, not by machinations, but by passion, commitment and an ability to overcome the fears we all know we are going to face.
The great American choreographer Twyla Tharp tells audiences,
“ No one starts a creative endeavor without a certain amount of fear.”
It doesn’t matter that she has choreographed over 160 works, that she has won Tony awards, Emmy awards, and countless other honors. Fear always shows up at the door during the creative process.
It doesn’t matter if it is fear of the critics, the church, or fear that our finished artwork may never measure up, fear is present.
We try to keep the fear at bay by avoiding mistakes. But what if the very act of avoiding mistakes was the problem.
This can also be true in your spiritual life. The longer you are a Christian, and the more seriously you examine your heart, the more you become aware of how impure your motives can be. Then, in the interest of fixing our hearts, we can begin to focus more on the mistakes we are making and the sins we are committing rather than living the life of freedom God called us to live. This can be especially true in churches because the desire to grow spiritually often leads us to shift from living boldly to living carefully.
Sadly, we are unaware that we are exchanging the freedom Christ died to give us for the anxiety which bubbles up to the surface when we are focused on our performance. Sometimes this shifting of focus happens in hidden ways and sometimes in rather obvious ways. But in both instances, the boldness of faith is swallowed up in the fear of sinning and the anxiety over a lack of perfection.
The reality is this: Fear is universal. Every human has fears, and we all must learn to deal with them. It doesn’t matter if you are simply afraid your artwork won’t be good enough for the critics, or whether you are worried that your spiritual life won’t be good enough to gain God’s approval, being afraid strangles your creativity and your spiritual fervor. This fear is like a cancer that infects your creative inspiration and your spiritual inspiration.
Fear in Scripture
Fear in Scripture is seen as the result of either focusing on our failures or failing to experience God’s grace. Fear is not a godly motivator. Rather, fear is seen as a lack of appreciation and belief in the forgiveness of Jesus, and the power of what He accomplished on the cross. Consider the way the Psalms and the Gospel of John addressed this issue of fear:
I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
– Psalm 34:4-5
Peace, I leave with you;
my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give to you.
Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
– John 14:27
Christ didn’t call the perfect to model perfection or the mostly perfect to fake it. Christ called men and women to be real, to stop covering up their mistakes, and start listening to the words of grace and forgiveness. God wants us to realize that God loves to use the weak, the broken, and the imperfect.
Fear in the Presence of Christ
Peter was a man who proclaimed his love for Christ with passion, and promised to stay with him until the end, but in Luke 22:31-34 Christ described how Peter would fail, saying, ”you will deny me 3 times.” Peter protests greatly, but Jesus was right. Peter failed tremendously. Did Jesus kick him to the curb for his lack of faith? Absolutely not. Jesus restored him and then used him powerfully to build the church.
Think about Thomas, who wouldn’t believe anyone that Christ had risen from the dead, until he himself touched and felt the wounds of Christ’s body – to see and touch the pierced hands and side. Did Jesus ostracize Thomas for such a skeptical mindset? No, He bid him come and touch my wounds if that is what you need.
Christ didn’t pick someone who was nearly perfect and just needed a little extra grace to reach sainthood. No. Christ picked the broken, the overzealous, those who doubt, and those who have fears. Our failures never thwart God’s love for us.
Fear and The Reformation
A great example of someone who understood this nearly five hundred years ago was Martin Luther. Luther had worked very hard to become perfect and right before God. Living as a monk he utilized fasting, praying and followed every ritual he could to earn a sort of spiritual perfection. Even the other monks became jealous. The problem was that even as he worked hard to become better, he realized how prideful he became. He had simply traded one sin for another.
Then, as he read the book of Galatians in the Bible, he realized the whole point of Christ dying on the cross was to bestow grace upon us. We don’t have to worry about our mistakes anymore. Christ already paid the price to restore our spirits even from the biggest mistakes. Rituals do not save us, money cannot save you, and you cannot be good enough to earn salvation.
Simply put: the path to freedom lies in the acknowledging that you make mistakes. Not covering them up.
Here is a quote from a letter written by Martin Luther to his friend, Melancthon.
“If grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life in not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. . . .”
Weimar ed. vol. 2, p. 371; Letters I, “Luther’s Works,” American Ed., Vol 48. p. 281- 282
Luther is saying here,’ stop worrying about whether you will make a mistake or not, whether you will sin or not. Of course, you will. For the rest of your life, you will make mistakes and commit sins. Stop worrying about it. Stop living in fear of mistakes and start living boldly. Now, to be clear, this is not a boldness that is selfish or egocentric. It is a boldness that says, “ I am forgiven, and completely free to have a fresh start . . . each and every time.” This person seeks to honor Christ, but doesn’t live in fear that Christ will zap them at any moment, or be gravely disappointed in them at any point where they misstep, or slip up.
This concept of “sin boldly” represents a pivotal transformation in the theology of Martin Luther. He went from focusing on how he could earn God’s favor, and started just enjoying the Grace that was already given to him. If Christ really died to forgive and pay for all your sins . . . then there is no good reason to worry about your guilt, shame, and fear that arise when you screw things up. That didn’t stop God from loving Peter, Thomas, or Martin Luther and it won’t stop Him from loving you!
Fear and Art
In their wonderful book, Art and Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland give us a great illustration of how fear of failure operates within the field of creativity and art. The illustration takes us to the room of an unusual ceramics teacher: This ceramics teacher announced on the first day of class she was dividing the class into two groups-
Group A would be judged solely upon the volume of work – how many pieces you create over the semester – we will simply place them all on the scale and grade you on volume.
Group B on the other hand would be judged on quality: They would only be required to produce one piece, and they would be given the whole semester to finish it. However, their entire grade was to be given based upon the excellence of this single finished piece at the end of the semester.
The result of this semester’s experiment surprised many:
The highest quality, most amazing ceramic art came from the group A, where they were judged upon the sheer volume of pieces created.
The students in Group B, who focused only on the one piece for the whole semester, found themselves creating inferior work.
But the real question is why!
Why didn’t the students most focused on quality and perfection succeed? The Reason is this: Students in Group B ended up spending days and even weeks theorizing about what is perfection when working with ceramics, what shapes and styles, and colors would result in the finest artwork, and so on. They also had anxiety about what if this one piece wasn’t good enough, and can they really succeed.
In contrast the students in Group A learned over and over by simply creating without expectation. Without the fear of making mistakes, or being criticized for their mistakes, they were free to focus on experimenting, trying new and bold concepts, and quickly learning about this medium. Over and over, they failed, but with almost no cost- they learned what did and didn’t work, and then tried again. This fueled their creativity, their enjoyment of the process, and resulted in the best artwork.
Freedom to Fail
The lesson herein is this: Obsessing on being perfect, or creating something perfect often leads to failure. The great black and white nature photographer, Ansel Adams, put it this way,
“The perfect is the enemy of the good”.
It doesn’t matter if you are in a ceramics class playing with a few dollars of material, or leading a film company worth Billions. Freedom to fail is essential for success.
Fear and Your Heart
Now, let us return to the ceramics class. Imagine if you were in the ceramics class Group A for every part of your life. Imagine that your personal and spiritual mistakes are not recorded and retained. You are not judged each time and each day you make a mistake. This is a picture of how God wants you to live. This is the way to living a great life, creating inspiring art, mesmerizing music, and jaw dropping films. It is a picture of the grace of God, overcoming your fears and failures.
When we fail, God forgives us and encourages us to try again. Like a dad who brushes the dirt off his daughter’s knee during a soccer game and says, “now, my daughter, get out there, shoot the ball again and give it your best shot.” That is the heart of your father in Heaven. This is what it means to live boldly, or, as Luther put it, to “Sin Boldly.” It’s not about sinning more and taking advantage of God’s grace. It is about pursuing God, and refusing to let the fear of sinning or making mistakes enslave you.
Freedom in Christ
Christ did not die for you to live in fear or to be timid. He died for you to possess a boldness that comes from living life the way He designed you to live life. To know Christ is to know this freedom, and to experience this freedom and creativity in your business, in your marriage or in your relationships. Your greatest experience of joy, and of creativity will come when you live fully knowing the love of the Father, and the freedom Christ died to give you. Once you live in that freedom you can begin to create boldly and live boldly.
Fear and You
Your fears should never control you, or have the last word. Everything we just looked at is useless if it doesn’t become a source of joy and hope in your art and in your life. So take a minute to think through what is really happening in your life and heart right now. Think about the fears that hold you back, and how the love of God, and the never-ending grace of God is designed to transform your life.
I would love to hear from you….
What fears hold you back the most?
What verses help the most when you struggle with fear?
What biblical principles help you the most?
(…or, books that really encouraged you to overcome your fears!)
I invite you to share your heart and your journey in the comments below so others will be encouraged and realize they are not alone.
Copyright © 2022 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.