As a creative who has been gifted with talents in many different art forms for as long as I can remember, I’ve grown used to people who don’t “get” it. I’ve often encountered loved ones who see little to no value in what I do, what I’ve done, and what I’ve accomplished (by God’s grace). I’ve been confronted by those who consider my road easy. It’s not easy.
Sometimes these misperceptions drift across my path when I’m in the midst of my own intensive self-doubt—I’m the worst writer who ever attempted to craft a story; my paintings are overly simple and useless; I don’t have the talent or time that “real” musicians are able to put in, so why even try?
There’s a lot of work, sometimes long weeks of long days, and little payoff by worldly standards. And even the little victories that might seem monumental to me—the smallest compliment from a stranger on the internet or a personalized rejection letter from my favorite publisher—receive uncomprehending stares from those around me.
It can be so easy to feel alone, to turn inward and wonder what’s wrong with me—why am I so different? Why couldn’t God have put me in a place to grow with other artists who have similar gifts and experience the same struggles?
There are days I crave to be seen, to be known, to be understood. Most often, I’m met with the reminder that it is only God who truly sees, only God who fully knows, only God who completely understands.
Seeking understanding from the world only leads to disappointment. I learned early not to share my brightest dreams; too often, people expect them to be realized easily, instantly, without years of effort. And when that doesn’t happen, every time they ask with that disappointed, sympathetic smile whether you ever finished that book, that painting, that song—whether your work, in short, amounted to anything—it drives in a knife.
It comes with feelings of disappointment and dread. Dread that I can never achieve those dreams (since they didn’t appear within a few months); I’m not “good enough” for something that unattainable (and dreams are for other people, anyway); I should set my sights lower (to avoid disappointing my loved ones even more deeply).
There’s a temptation to hide these gifts then, these dreams—because dreams can very well be gifts from God—to fit in, to seem “normal.” And then false humility sets in—a fear of standing out from the crowd, a desire to hide simply to remain unseen, to be unnoticed, because “I’m not worth all that attention.”
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”Matthew 5:13-16
After undergrad, I used to dream of moving to New York to work in the publishing industry. I had dreams of editing books, spending late nights talking about new stories I’d discovered. But at some point, after I came back to practicing my faith during my junior year, I realized that wasn’t what I wanted. Nor was it where God seemed to want me. And I panicked.
My reversion to Catholicism, I thought, was a disappointment to my secular friends. Moving back home would be a disappointment to my family. Abandoning my studies would have been a disappointment to myself.
So I built up a wall around my heart to keep disapproving looks or remarks from entering. I built it up higher and stronger to keep any hope from spilling out where another person might see it, where someone on the outside might have an opinion about it that would bring me tumbling down into the darkness below.
Inside the walls of my fortress, I did dream. I did hope. But I was careful not to do so where someone else peeking over the wall might see. I was careful to guard how much I cared about those dreams, how much my heart longed for them. That way, the disapproving opinions of others couldn’t hurt me, right?
Their flat stares and blank faces as I got carried away—talking about an excellently written point of view shift or the quiet way light falls in a forest or the meaning of a single candle (and why it’s so awesomely beautiful that it’s “rose” and not pink)—they couldn’t pierce through the fortified wall in which I’d enclosed my heart. Right?
Jesus has been teaching me to let my heart bleed. I have a habit, He says, of drawing away from Him the very moment before the needle (meant to stitch my wound) pierces through. I stop the healing before it’s done. I’m sometimes more inclined to stew in my wounds, to hide how much they hurt until I forget about the pain of them than to let Him examine them deeply and heal them fully.
He wants to heal me. He wants to lance open that wound, to let the sickness within it empty out.
“Let it bleed,” He told me during retreat. “Let it empty. I will catch and restore to you what is good. I will bind what is unduly broken. I will soothe its pains. But let it gush, Dearest of My Heart. Let it be filled with Me, for I can never leave you or forsake you. I will never abandon you or cause you pain. I am with you. I have sought without rest the love of your heart. I am yours, and you are Mine. Be Mine, Beloved. Let your heart gush out in time with the beating of My Most Sacred Heart.”
I am His, and He is mine. I want to be healed, to have those innermost wounds known and understood and loved into healing. And He, the Divine Physician, wants that healing for me. To heal me of that fear of hoping for gifts He Himself longs to give me. To heal me of that ache when friends and family neither understand nor care what I’m talking about. To be with me, intimately, in that loneliness when no one else around me “gets” it.
He wants to see me burn bright with the joy of loving Him, so radiant in that light that my hopes, my dreams, and my love are a beacon to others.
“Hope does not disappoint.”Romans 5:5
He is our anchor of hope. His is the slow work, the long work of humility, peeling away my pride and teaching me to open my hands to Him, to His gifts, to His promises. And as long as I keep Him as the priority of my life, then I can trust that my hopes are aligned with His will.
He is faithful.
I built myself a prison, closed myself behind walls where I wrapped up and tucked away my longing for the fulfillment of these gifts. But that fulfillment is not for the world to see. It’s not for the world to know. It’s not about the world understanding.
It’s all about Him. It’s all for Him. I lay it all at His feet.
He must increase. I must decrease.