I’ve been reading Big Magic by Elizebeth Gilbert. It’s a great book on creative living, and I love it so far. One thing she shared caught my attention and made me ponder long. It is about the motives of creating, be it a service or discipline of art. She said: “You are not required to save the world with your creativity… at the end of the day, I do what I do because I like doing it.” (page 98-100)
She shared that one of her friends was a nun who had spent her entire life working to help the homeless of Philadelphia. She wrote:
“She is a tireless advocate for the poor and the suffering and the lost and the abandoned. And do you know why her charitable outreach is so effective? Because she likes doing it. Because it’s enjoyable for her. Otherwise, it wouldn’t work. Otherwise, it would just be a hard duty and grim martyrdom. But sister Mary Scullion is no martyr. She is a cheerful soul who’s having a wonderful time living out the existence that best suits her nature and most brings her to life. It just so happens that she takes care of a lot of other people in the process— but everyone can sense her genuine enjoyment behind the mission, which is ultimately why her presence is so healing.” (page 100)
I worked with a Christian non-profit for almost ten years in my 20s and early 30s. We did a lot of charitable work with orphans and the homeless cross-culturally, and one of my primary roles was serving as a translator. I had years of practising and was proficient with my work. But just because I was good at it doesn’t mean I loved it. I didn’t mind doing it because it became like second nature after a long while. But I could live without it, for it required little creativity.
Did I love the orphans and the homeless? I couldn’t say I loved them, but I had compassion for them and wanted them to live better lives. But that emotion alone was not strong enough to keep me there for another ten years.
I was striving to live out the Christian calling “love your neighbour as yourself“, not because I was a noble person but because that was what I was taught. Unfortunately, they didn’t do a great job teaching me what it meant to love myself.
Denying your creative outlets or malnourishing your creativity is not loving yourself.
Doing a job for years that only requires your skills and proficiency but asks nothing for your creative contribution is not loving yourself.
Showing up day after day for the task that might be beneficial for others but feels dreadful to you is not loving yourself.
I tried to live up to the “Shoulds” ( you should put yourself second and others first, you should serve others regardless of how you feel, you should suck up your feelings and move on…) but failed to listen to my own desires. And in the end, I left my team and work, feeling exhausted and confused. I thought I was living my calling, but it turned out that a true calling has to be more specific and personalised. It has to align with our deep desires, original design and season of life.
Undeniably, I grew and learned immensely in those ten years of service, to which I’m eternally thankful, and I believe in my organisation’s overall value and vision; however, most day-to-day tasks didn’t feed my soul. It’s like you love everything about a pair of shoes, their materials, colour, and style, except they are not your size. I’m not Mother Teressa or sister Mary Scullion, and that is ok.
Chances are, you also hold a certain standard you try to live up to. You listen to the “Shoulds” more than your desires and dreams. You think it’s too late to change the direction of your life /career path, as if your future is carved in stone and can’t be altered. I’m here to tell you it is not.
I’m 39; maybe you are 42. I live in a new country where we moved in a year ago, got my first driver’s license just a few months ago and trying to build an art business with my watercolour paintings and pattern design in between cooking, cleaning, and driving my kids to school and back. What about you? If I’m telling you that I love my life and am having a great time, it’s because I believe you can too— only if you could pay attention to your creativity and desires and start to work with them.
If you want to know more about how to find that creative outlet and nurture your creativity as a person of faith, I have an excellent resource for you! Click here to learn more.
Until next time! 🙂