Today’s guest post has been written by Dan Cumberland
“We see you as an artist,” he said. His hair was long, thick, and wavy. His face thin and defined. His gaze intense, yet gentle.
Sixteen of us sat around a big solid wooden table, eating a meal together. We were all part of an Artist Residency at the graduate school I attended. After classes ended for Christmas Break, the school offered its space to artists in the community to come and create.
Somehow I ended up among them.
I didn’t think of myself as an artist. Though I studied music composition in undergrad, I always felt a bit like I was faking it— everyone else had a much greater mastery of their instruments and musical concepts. I just liked to make something that hadn’t existed before.
I did know that I was a maker. I loved to build things and eagerly tackled new projects. But “artist” seemed too grand of a title. Though I could consider myself creative, if I said that I was an artist, I felt like I’d be faking it.
As the school term came to a close, the invitation to participate in the residency went out, and something in me felt compelled to respond. I thought it would be fun and maybe I’d make something interesting. But I didn’t expect this.
As we sat around that table, I had just told the group that though I loved seeing them do their art, I felt out of place (are you sensing a theme here?). It was then that Tos told me, “We see you as an artist.”
It took a while for it to set in. Gradually my fear of calling myself an artist and not being one was replaced by my fear of never letting this part of myself out into the world. If I let this be true of me, who knows what things could come to exist because of me. I knew I loved bringing something to life that had never been before. Being an “artist” — at the risk of being seen as a fraud — was a chance to live into that desire.
We are co-creators with God
The desire to create, to make things happen, to bring about something that hasn’t been before, and to exercise your agency is a God-given desire. The creation narrative tells the story of God creating all living things and giving Adam the privilege to name them (Gen. 2:20). In ancient near-east culture to give a name was to give a destiny. Throughout scripture God renames people when he changes the trajectory of their lives (Abraham, Sarah, Israel, Peter, & Paul).
When Adam names the animals, God is bringing Adam into the creative process. Humanity is, in this moment, given the role of co-creators with God.
Our agency is a gift from God to be used to continue to create. The creation mandate to “subdue” and “rule” are categories for co-creative engagement in the world.
Your art is your work in the world (you have a mission)
Whether or not you see yourself as an artist or creative, my invitation here is to understand that you have something to make in the world that is deeply connected to who you are, who God has made you to be, and God’s hope for humanity.
Your deepest desires for how you use your agency — what you want to create — is your part of God’s kingdom to create and build. Whether or not you consider yourself an artist, you have something in you waiting to be brought to life. You have something to bring about that hasn’t existed before. You are a co-creator with a God-given desire to make something good in the world.
Pursuing your questions and deepest desires for purpose, calling, and vocation are the pathway to the work that God has created you to do.
Hopefully it will not take you as long to accept your identity as a co-creator with mission as it did for me to accept the idea that I might be an artist. Even if it does, it will be profoundly worth your time.
Dan Cumberland is on a mission to shake you awake to what really matters, to help you find where meaning and life intersect, and to inspire you to push into those places. He has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Entrepreneur Magazine, MSN, Careerbuilder, The Work Buzz, and Relevant Magazine.com. He is the author of the ebook, The Meaning Manifesto: Six Foundational Truths for Work Worth Doing, which he is giving way for free on his blog. He lives in Seattle with his wife and dog. You can follow his blog at TheMeaningMovement.com and on twitter @dancumberland