Welcome to Day 5 of the On Being Creative series! You’ll find links to all the posts as they’re added on the series’ homepage here.
You don’t have to be a millennial in order for your growing up life to have been saturated by the phrase “Believe in Yourself.” The longer I’ve been alive, the more this phrase fall flat like a cliche. For one thing, it has appeared in so many inspirational sports movies and Disney channel TV shows that it’s become culture’s favorite platitude. Not only that, but whenever I’ve been daunted by a challenge or outright discouraged by a failure, being supplied with the phrase “Believe in yourself” has felt more like a knife than a pat on the back.
Is there something wrong with me? Am I just chronically bad at believing in myself because of my own insecurities? Is this even a biblical concept- believing in yourself?
If you’re a creative discouraged by the unwieldy task of living out your art, and if being told to believe in yourself just makes you feel like you’ve failed already, than this one’s for you. It’s a longish one, but stick with me, because I think it’s important. If you’re LeBron James, feel free to skip this post.
Recently, I encountered a week of seemingly out of the blue discouragement, in which I felt overwhelmed by all the negative thoughts my brain could muster. My thoughts consisted of things like None of my creative work matters, and I have no impact nor will I ever; everything I do is merely to soothe my own ego.
I questioned and judged everything from my motives to my work itself, wondering if the little things I do- my little Etsy shop, this little written space-if they’re just my way of wallpapering over disappointed hopes. Or worse- have I just been trying to give myself an “image?” So I could look at myself and see something of value? Questions like this filled me with fear that all I am is a petty wretch.
Sounds pretty melodramatic, right? Well, it didn’t feel like melodrama. It felt much deeper. How did I get to this point, I wondered? What had I let into my spirit that had this kryptonite effect of immobilizing my ability to believe anything true or good about both myself and my gifts?
It must’ve been gradual. Discouragement and all its friends chisel away small breaks at the heart, until all it can do is bleed for awhile.
It’s not fun. It’s not inspiring. It sucks. However, this bleeding of the heart can lead to healing. But you’ve got to find the source first.
Feel all the feelings. I know it sounds funny, like a hashtag hormonal women might use (not that I’ve ever been or constantly AM one of those), but feelings are important. Maybe this sounds obvious to you, but as someone who has been a lifelong, intense feeler-of-things (aka overly sensitive) I began just wondering if they were just a nuisance this whole time, not to be trusted.
Sometimes, I tend towards the dramatic it’s true, but I promise you that without an ounce of melodrama I found myself thinking- and believing- that none of the creative work I do matters. That the smallness of my abilities and endeavors was matched in proportion to the mass of my pretension (how dare I have thought so highly or dream so greatly as I had thus far). Fueled by feelings of disappointment and frustration, these thoughts fanned themselves into flames that ganged up on me and choked out any breathable truth in the atmosphere.
Let’s pause here. Because I’d had flickers of thoughts like this before, but always reassured myself with the Word or called on friends who reminded me what the voice of God really sounds like.
But this time, I didn’t call anyone. At least, not right away. It all felt so heavy that I didn’t think any argument or encouragement could lift the weight. And I also felt a voice telling me not to just dump on others. And more than anything else, I knew I didn’t have the capacity to believe their words.
If any of this is you, let me urge you in the bossiest tone I can muster to CALL YOUR PEOPLE ANYWAY. You are in no state to think helpful thoughts, so find someone who is.
I waited a whole 36 hours before I mentioned a hint of this discouragement to a spiritual mentor of mine. You know what happens when God uses someone to come alongside your breaking heart?
I confessed to my mentor the unfamiliar sensation of being so overcome by my thoughts and feelings that I just wanted to bury the deep desires of my heart and the feelings that accompanied them.
I’ve never wanted to not want something anymore. Especially not something that’s hardwired into my being.
Instead of handing platitudes back to me, she handed me truth. She reminded me that feelings are good; just as your physical feelings can indicate something wrong in the physical body, feelings act as tools to gauge the state of the soul.
But she went further by pointing out that feelings are a partial picture if you don’t dig to their roots. Ask yourself- why do I feel this way? Your feelings are probably based on a belief. Arguably, the next step is the most crucial: ask yourself if that belief is based on truth or a lie.
You probably figured out already what’s taken many years plus a two-hour conversation for me to realize. That many of my feelings were based on lies, lies no one but me allowed myself to believe.
Among other things, I discovered that I was holding myself to an impossible and wrong-headed standard.
Take songwriting for example. Without exactly knowing it, I’d been supplying myself with every sort of reason why I wasn’t or am not a professional singer/songwriter. Everything from physical appearance to assuming my talent is subpar to heaping shame on my soul by declaring that those who ARE professionals simply must have a deeper and better relationship with God than I do.
(We wouldn’t say things like this to our worst enemies- why do we say it to ourselves?!)
It became clear I’d taken a desire and let it morph into an impossible standard that hung impossibly far above me. And then I read this:
You fear you’ll wreck it all up if you dare to reach for it. So you leave it up there in the clouds, sparkling just out of reach. And it looks pretty and you cower beneath it as if it were something too important for you to handle. What do we call things that are placed up high, things we bow down low beneath? We call them idols . And in a way I’m sure we don’t intend, denying the art and the dream may be the very thing that opens the door to making the art the god rather than God himself. You revere and respect the artistic potential of a dream rather than recognizing God as the Creator who gives the gift of co-creation to us.”
– Emily P. Freeman, A Million Little Ways
Yes! A thousand times yes! My thoughts of burying the dream and desire were just as mistaken as those that placed them on a pedestal far above me. In either situation, believing in myself was just something I couldn’t do.
So is this idea of believing in yourself even valid? I wondered this aloud to my husband. After all, God doesn’t call us to believe in ourselves; he calls us to believe in him. Right? But my husband pushed back a little on this and I came away from the conversation realizing (somewhat begrudgingly) that there IS truth to it. Maybe it can be more than a nebulous, feel-good hallmark bandaid over life’s gaping broken-hearted discouragement.
I searched the Word for evidence, and found this:
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 hepredestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. – Ephesians 1:5-6
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. – Romans 8:14-16
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy,which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. – Colossians 2:8-10
And we can’t forget this:
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. – 1 Timothy 2:6-7
What I hear from these verses is that there is strength in us; there IS something worth believing in inside of us- because of Christ. (I love the version of that 1 Timothy verse which says “sound mind” instead of “self-discipline.”) In fact, in light of our identity in Christ, doesn’t the phrase “Believe in yourself” hold MORE truth and become less of a cliche?
Maybe this believing is more of a partnership, like co-creation is a partnership. God graciously extends an invitation for us to be part of his infinitely beautiful, superior, good creating process through our own small creations. Their smallness is made big somehow through his life in us.
Remember, You are a poem written inside the person of Jesus Christ. You exist to carry out his inner desire. This is your good work. So this is our job, to carry out the inner desire of Christ. And the inner desire of Christ is to bring glory to the Father.
So, if the idea of believing in yourself is still valid through our identity in Christ, if we’re truly given a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind; if we’re image-bearers and all the glorious truth that goes with that, why is it so hard to do?
Why doesn’t it work?
Well, can it really be any surprise that we can’t properly believe in ourselves when we feed our belief a steady stream of lies? In that case, it becomes not a matter of SHOULD we believe in ourselves, but CAN we believe in ourselves?
If you’ve built something with rotten wood, renovation is inevitable. If you’ve built up yourself and your dreams with lies, that house is going to fall.
If you find it impossible to believe in yourself right now, if the weight of a broken heart threatens to crush you and bleed you dry, know that there is hope.
Because a breaking heart can provide breakthrough for your art.
And here I mean the art you create not only with your gifts, but with your life, relationships, successes and failures. Let yourself be hidden in Christ again, hidden in his creative work, which the Trinity is continuously accomplishing. Remember you are his poiema. That is something I can believe in.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:19
Realizing I am the poem and not the Poet reminds me of one other key part of this. Poems have limits. They have a start and finish. God does not. He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. If I have limits, then certainly my gifts have limits too. Yet I have viewed my limits as a handicap instead of a holy boundary. Instead of an opportunity.
This place of feeling our limits? It’s a sacred place to be. Instead of beating ourselves up and merely trying harder, let’s take off our shoes on this holy ground and worship. God can handle the seas of our can’ts. And through the Holy Spirit, he empowers us to part the waters and walk right through them.
One of my favorite verses is Psalm 44:4-8 which says:
You are my King and my God,
who decrees victories for Jacob.
5 Through you we push back our enemies;
through your name we trample our foes.
6 I put no trust in my bow,
my sword does not bring me victory;
7 but you give us victory over our enemies,
you put our adversaries to shame.
8 In God we make our boast all day long,
and we will praise your name forever.
Strong words from David, who through faith killed Goliath with a sling and a stone. King Saul outfitted him in armor, but he didn’t wear it because he wasn’t used to it. Saul didn’t even want to let him fight Goliath, except that David made this appeal.
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lionand the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” – 1 Samuel 17: 34-37
At this, Saul relents. The Bible says David took with him just his staff, his shepherd’s bag (into which he put 5 smooth stones), and his sling. That’s it. David approaches what no one dares to with what look like the standards of limits- of his limits as a shepherd specifically. But what is unseen is the path he walked in holy confidence in the Lord, the knowledge of who God is and what God has done (God had saved him from multiple dangers already). In this confidence- this belief in what is true and Who is true- David’s limits become a banner, his apparent weakness proclaiming God’s strength to the enemy of unbelief looming large before him. And you know what followed…
Did David believe in God? Obviously, yes. Did he also believe in himself? Yes. So in God’s upside-down kingdom, believing in yourself is not contrary to believing in God, but it is instead a healthy result of believing in God.
Much of the beauty in art comes from the struggle an artist wages with his limited medium.” – Henri Matisse
I love this quote. I think it pertains to our relationship with God, too, in that much of the beauty of knowing God happens when we come to the end of ourselves and begin to know the unending fullness of his Spirit, his love, his grace, his character.
Our limits leave room for his limitlessness.
I think it’s a gift God wants to give us, this coming to the end of ourselves. Not so that we dwell in discouragement, mourning our insufficiency. Instead, here is the place we meet his all-sufficiency. We’re hemmed in by holy limits so we can become true worshippers, so we can be set free. That is where we learn real courage.
Courage isn’t just ‘believing in yourself’…It happens in the deep, secret place of the spirit, the place where my life is joined with God’s.” – Emily P. Freeman, A Million Little Ways
I know there have been so many quotes from that book in this post alone, you’d think I was getting a cut of the profits. (I assure you I’m not.) But God used this book as one of several lights piercing a time of discouraging darkness for me. It’s something I’ve felt compelled to share ever since.
This post is something I labored over, postponed, wrote multiple versions of, and finally hit publish on today. It’s not perfect, but I hope it can be a companion to you, my fellow kingdom creative.
If you’re reading these words just knowing that you just can’t believe in yourself right now, I’m telling you it’s ok. I’m also telling you to go find your people. Let them remind you of the truth- the truest truth. The kind that sets you free.
My prayer for you is this:
May you learn to believe in yourself again- in the gift of who you are as one of God’s walking poems.
May you remember that a breaking heart can provide breakthrough for your art.
May you learn to walk confidently within your limits, rejoicing in the glory God is bringing himself through them.