This is one of the hardest questions I get. At this stage I get to live full time in the midst of some of the creative dreams I had as a young man. I can appreciate others wanting to as well, though I will warn them that it is not all they think it is. That said, I hurt for the hundreds of thousands of people who have a creative talent and desire and want to at least find a way to vocationally live off of their art.
Here’s a question I got this morning in my email:
I have been listening to your Transition. I have been searching for this message; living in Jesus, in His love, and your understanding of the cross; Christianity is not just following Jesus or believing in Him, it is Him living in us. It is so much more radical than any other message. My question is regarding surrendering our agenda. I want so much to live in trust and in His love. I am a musician, accomplished and persevering and ambitious but the biggest boulder between me and Him is my career. Although I have had moments of satisfaction, mostly it has been frustration, unfulfilled dreams and disappointment and I’m not getting any younger. Why would God give me the talent, the desire and ambition, the work ethic, the perseverance and then frustrate the fulfillment? How does ambition and dreams reconcile with your idea of letting go of all our agendas to live freely?
I know so many people who struggle with the same disappointed hopes. Here’s how I answered this email:
I certainly resonate with your struggle. It was one of the hardest struggles on mine. Our the ambitions and the application of our creative dreams as vocations are the hardest bits of our agenda to give up. It was a huge struggle for me in my first 20 years out of college. I thought God had gifted me to do what he hadn’t opened doors for me to do. I was frustrated all the time. About 15 years ago, I began to learn to live in that space of living loved. The frustration evaporated over a period of time. Instead of looking for bigger doors than the ones opened to me, I just began to use my passions where Father created opportunity. I think the pressure to live off of my talent and ambition kept me from the simple doors he had right in front of me. I thought I had to figure out a way to make my living from it.
I’ve learned since that God doesn’t frustrate fulfillment of our gifts. When we’re frustrated it usually means we are looking at the wrong doors—those that are closed, not the innovative or creative ones he has already opened to us. I know that was true for me for way too many years. The podcast we did last week, Stop Doing, starts with some opening reflections from some of my sharing in NY city with a group of artists and entrepreneurs. That might help. The reality is for every one person that gets to live their dream creatively, there are hundreds of thousands of people who would like to. It’s just what our society rewards, big scale to a tiny few. There isn’t much we can do to make that happen, and those the doors open for are not necessarily the most gifted or the most healthy. It’s part of the chaos of our world and its distorted priorities.
We all want to be ‘discovered’ and fulfill our dream that we think others are living, instead of touching the lives that are already in front of us. We can do that with art, music, writing, encouraging and in every other way, right in our own community, inside the relationships we have already. As they bear fruit, God may open other doors. Or, he may not. But I can tell you that this much is true. You will find more joy in one person being changed by something God has done in you, than walking onto a stage and being the superstar of the evening. The latter is 90% ego and the fruit of it will not endure.
God can certainly put us in that space if he desires, but I’ve found there’s not much we can do to make it happen. So serve him well where you are. Do what he gives you to do with the best talent and hard work you can muster. Creative living is not for the lazy. And live deeply in him so that you know that your loved. Someday your creative dreams and ambitions will be consumed by the shear delight of living as his son in the earth, then you can live at peace, enjoy the doors God does open, and feel no frustration about trying to make something happen that is not in our power to do.
That’s probably not what you wanted to hear, but I think there is life in it. Luke 14 has a great story about those fighting for the best seats at the banquet, and Jesus’ quiet instruction was for us all to take the last place, and if the Master of the banquet wants to give you a greater place, he will come and get us. That Scripture was given to me by numerous people over the first 20 years of adulthood. I hated it. I kept thinking God was telling me I wasn’t humble enough to have one of the front-row seats. Instead he was loving me enough to help end my frustration at the back table and to simply enjoy where I was at, knowing that further opportunities were in his hands no mine. I’ve been able to rest there the last 15 years, and I love it! And I’ve found the best doors didn’t open overnight, but resulted from very small decisions to love or serve someone that had consequences I didn’t see at the time.
But I do now that God has to win you to this. This is not a matter of us just changing our minds about vocational success. This is knowing his love deeply enough, that if you would truly know that if he wanted you to have a different opportunity, you would have it by now. I know how much I would have hated someone saying this to me twenty years ago, but I still wish I would have listened if they had.