“I’ve spent my whole life searching desperately
to find out that grace requires nothing of me[i]”
Blank pages were once exciting to me, an empty canvas waiting to be filled with sweeping strokes of black and white carrying within themselves all the vibrant colors of my thoughts. I found joy in the stumbling process of fitting words together like puzzle pieces and watching the image take shape. I was an explorer, striding boldly forth into the unknown, each breath shallow with anticipation at the beautiful things I might discover under the next rock, around the next bend, or behind the next tree.
Over time, my feelings have slowly shifted. The process of filling those blank pages has become more and more uncomfortable. The moment words spill onto the crisp white sheet, it loses its sheen of perfection. It has become messy. The possibilities are no longer endless. Though the story in my head was once a vision so sharp and clear, it loses something when translated into clunky words and misshapen sentences.
Instead of enjoying the work of creating, I find myself wanting to have created. I am impatient for the finished work, and not simply any finished work, but a work perfected.
Whole. Complete. Without fault.
Something worthy of acclaim and capable of lasting through the ages.
Ironically, I could not even tell you whose standards of perfection I ultimately seek to attain, nor could I reveal who exactly I toil so hard to impress. The industry, readers, myself, God? As though I must prove myself worthy of the gift that has been given. Or perhaps I believe that once I have convinced others, I will convince myself that my creative work has merit, and in it, so do I.
Yet in this steadfast pursuit of perfection, I can be guilty of crafting a new object of worship, an idol of an ideal of achievement, and even as I strain myself to the bone, the hollow ache inside of me knows that it is unattainable. Like a traveler staggering through the desert toward mirages of water and shade, I chase an illusion that is forever out of reach. And still I stumble on, and still I push myself, and still …
And still …
Caught in this continual cycle, like a hamster on a wheel, I am forever being brought back to a knowledge of my own limitations.
The concept of limitations should be familiar to us as humans. We know that we are finite creatures, bound to time, dependent upon necessities like air, water, food, and sleep. Our days are defined by the rotation of the earth. The years of our lives are unseen dials winding down. Our wits, our skills, our strength and endurance only carry us so far before brushing up against our limits—or crashing into them if we are slow to apply the brakes—reminding us that we are rarely capable of achieving all we dream.
This knowledge can be frustrating, and has been ever since the serpent seeded doubt into Eve’s mind in the Garden of Eden, inviting the limited created being to covet the limitlessness of the Creator. So often we rage against the boundaries and limits in our lives like the wild and chaotic sea, and yet I begin to realize that the knowledge of our limitations can also be freeing.
How so, you ask? Well, what if our limitations are invitations to trust in and rely upon God’s grace instead of upon our strength? (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) And what if perfection in our creative work is not, and has never been, the goal? What if the ultimate goal in our creative work is not to create something so incredible, so perfect, so right that it leaves people in awe, but to create in a way that redirects our hearts toward the Creator of all?
So many of the measurements I use to judge whether or not my work is on track toward “perfection” are external. Writing quality. Aesthetic and pacing. Style and depth of meaning. Reactions from critics and readers. None of which are bad measurements, and yet they are not the truest measurements, for God sees into the hearts of men and women and is most concerned with what is occurring internally. Within me as the writer, in how I approach the work, and in how the work reveals my heart and its reflection of His. To delve into this topic further, I encourage reading The Story of With by Allen Arnold.
Planning out my writing for each year is something I surround with prayer and Scripture reading. This year, one of the verses I wrote on the top of my brainstorming page was Psalm 127:2-3 as a reminder that “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for He grants sleep to those He loves.” (NIV)
We stand now in the final quarter of this year, and after finishing a harried race to meet a deadline during which I failed on so many counts in the struggle against idolizing perfectionism until I felt wearied to my very soul, I find that I need this reminder yet again.
Only through trusting in the Lord can I rest fully. Only then can I breathe freely and embrace the messy, meandering creative process, knowing that worrying will not add a single hour to my life or another iota of perfection to my work. Only then can I relinquish my grip upon my imperfect creative efforts and offer them up with childlike love into my Father’s far more capable hands, knowing that the outcome has never been mine to control.
Whatever sorrow there may be in yielding my aspirations toward perfection in my creative work, there can be even more comfort in knowing that it can be declared finished and set aside without being perfect.
There can be peace and hope in knowing that our imperfect offerings are received with grace and love. After all, the One who received two fish and five loaves of bread and used them to feed more than five thousand hungry humans (with basketfuls to spare) can do abundantly more than we could ever dream with our words, our songs, our paintings, our hearts, our lives.
This is the beauty of the restorative work through which He creates life out of nothing, causes dead hearts to beat again, and from the meagre, the less-than, the weak and the failing, brings forth overwhelming abundance. And if He can do all that, then surely He can restore my joy in the creative process too.
[i] Sleeping at Last. “One.” Atlas: Enneagram. Asteroid B-612, 2019. MP3.
The exquisite featured image is from Julie Jablonski and used with her permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project. We are grateful and rejoice in celebrating her beautiful work.
Gillian Bronte Adams is a writer, wanderer, and wordsmith who is rarely found without a coffee in hand and rumored to pack books before clothes when she hits the road. Working in full-time youth ministry left her with a passion for journeying alongside teens as they follow after Christ. Combined with her lifelong love of story, that passion drew her to pursue the art of writing young adult fantasy novels, like The Songkeeper Chronicles, that ring with the echoes of eternity. Her favorite stories feature outcast characters traveling down broken roads, through epic battles, and onward toward adventure. At the end of a long day of typing, she can be found saddling her wild thing and riding off into the sunset, provided she has not already settled down a mug of coffee and a very long book.