One time, as a young man, I hitch-hiked with a buddy of mine, from Bloomington, Indiana, to Chicago, a distance of about 230 miles. Our second ride came outside of Lafayette, from an Italian man returning home from a business trip. Along the way, he asked us about our lives and told us about his. It seems that he had always had a secret aspiration to be an opera singer but because of the pressures of life including a wife and children, he had abandoned that dream and was now a traveling salesman. He expressed much remorse that his boyhood hopes had been frustrated. We asked him if he would mind singing for us right there in his car on Interstate 65. He blushed and said that his voice was really out of shape and that we probably wouldn’t appreciate it. But even though neither of us knew anything about opera, we begged and encouraged him to sing a bit of his favorite music. Reluctantly, he began, quite lowly at first, then with more and more power and vibrato in a resonant and deep-throated baritone. We two hitch-hikers were spellbound by the sincerity and quality of this man’s performance at 70 miles an hour. As he reached the dramatic conclusion of the piece and the last note was still ringing in our ears, we noticed tears in his eyes, as there were in ours. Life seemed to be frozen as in a snapshot.
Where we once lived in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, there are many people who are involved in artistic pursuits and the creative process is one they must deal with in order to be productive. Most people don’t know what to do with these folks because they are usually perceived as eccentrics at best, or just plain weird, at worst. They generally live lives outside the lines. They are either put down and ignored or elevated on pedestals that are way too high for normal breathing. The average person is afraid of his or her own creativity because your creativity is really who you are; it is that self-expression that reflects your uniqueness and originality that makes you different from everyone else. Small children don’t have a problem with it. They don’t think, “Maybe I’ll do something creative today,” or, “I think I’ll do a little finger painting.” They are compelled to finger paint or to build sand castles or to make up stories or songs. Most of us have bought into the idea that we can’t be creative unless we go for drawing lessons at the museum downtown. Or unless someone discovers our talent at an early age and helps to develop and promote it.
What creative spark we do have can be extinguished in our adolescent years. As teen-agers, we become afraid to be different, to strike out on our own, for fear of rejection. We want so badly to be accepted by others, especially by those of our own generation. So we find ourselves trying to mimic what we think are accepted behavior patterns, perhaps by what is portrayed on TV or in the movies. But the irony is that those who do have the nerve to “be themselves,” are most often those who are, in the end, most admired and respected and sought after.
One writer suggests that creativity and living the creative life are more about the way you do things than the things you do or create. Maybe our definition of creativity is too narrow and leaves out too many people. My parents were creative but didn’t think about it much. My mother decorated our home with meticulous attention to minutest detail. She made sure that her children were exposed to culturally enriching things. My dad spent hours designing layouts for his newspaper ads that would motivate customers to come to his store to buy the products he believed in. He planned the family vacations months ahead of time, making sure that everyone would be involved and have fun engaging in new experiences and going to new places. Neither of them is what we today would call artists. But why not? There is no doubt that there are gifted people out there, but why exalt an artistic elite? God is the great Creator. He has given man the ability to create. And historically, Christians have been, and should be, the most creative people on earth. God promotes the art of living. It is revival with a worldview. Every child of God, whether housewife, dancer, laborer, or entrepreneur, has something unique to give his or her family, church, social environment, or sphere of influence. That is the creative energy, in Christ, God wants to ignite at every level!
The Old Testament prophets were creative people. So was the apostle Paul. And so was Jesus. We don’t know if they were considered artists or not, but they led creative lives. They weren’t afraid to be different from the crowd. They listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit and responded to it. They didn’t mind doing extreme or unpopular things and didn’t consider the consequences of being judged as radical or wrong. They just did what they believed they were supposed to do.
If you find yourself in the same situation as the opera-singing salesman I met on the road years ago and think there’s no chance to redeem a latent talent, don’t be discouraged. God gives you opportunities to perform (to minister) in a way that moves or changes others just as that man moved me. His audience was two young men and he made an indelible mark on both of us.