Imago Dei (or Why I Can’t Be a Creator Anymore)

I am not a Creator. I am a creative.

Lowercase and adjectival, not a proper noun. Still full of unique intentions, but not just my intentions.

My qualities do not make up me, but they are the little hints of my Father in Heaven. I am a description of God, but I am not God. Thus, I want to think about my work that way. Even though, as someone who makes things, it is so difficult to let them go. Christian community is so saturated with the truth that “we are made in God’s image” and that He spoke into being what didn’t exist before. But we twist that and subtly assume we must be able to do the same. We look like Him, so we must be able to, out of ourselves, speak things into being that are holy and good, and didn’t exist before.

We think we could “write the next C.S. Lewis work”, not realizing that what we’re really hoping is we write the next Bible.

We say we want to “be Christ-like,” or we want to emulate John Piper, but really, sometimes we just want to be our own version of Jesus when we speak.

And I’ve done it too.

During ages 13 through 15, I tried to write a book with someone about the powerful force of sacrificial love, without even addressing the idea that Love Himself should be part of that universe. I wrote about how I thought incredibly broken people can create real, sacrificial love if they just try their hardest. All I managed to produce was the truth that my love, on its own, was fallible, selfish, and incredibly human, along with the idea that it was going to stay that way.

It wasn’t until a year prior to quitting the book, I felt conviction, when I acted out in a stupid, small, negative way. Even though the moment wasn’t a big deal really and amendments were quickly made, what frightened me most was how my actions did not come out of my own personality. They came from my characters. It was something the main character would’ve impulsively done, not what I knew I should’ve done.

I let it slide and continued writing the book.

Then at 2AM, a year and a half later, as I lay in bed, God said clearly it was time to stop. I asked why, and He opened my eyes. It was like seeing all I’d hidden and numbed myself to in my stories for the first time.

When the Lord convicted me to quit the project, and after much prayer I did, I felt both freedom and shame. I hadn’t shared everything I wrote, particularly not with my parents, and it freed me to talk about it and let it go. Their grace reached me in ways incomprehensible and redemptive. But I was ashamed of the dark things I’d written. I didn’t feel I could write or make things honoring to God. To me, I’d lost my identity as a creator.

 

I stopped writing seriously, fearing that what I made was going to come out dark, untruthful, wrong, and not what God wanted. Ironically, however, I’d quit the book right before going to my first Christian writers’ conference. I felt misplaced among a people who wrote fiction similar to my old genre. Sometimes their stories carried beautiful worship and really pointed to God in unexpected ways. However, some also wrote things darker because they felt they were “reaching unbelievers better this way.” I was honestly bothered by it, because of how I’d let that level of dark writing change my thoughts, actions, and speech for worse, and I felt like they were working for a genre rather than working for the kingdom at times, like I had (This was not the case for everyone at the conference, but I’m trying to be honest about my opinions. I’ve sat on these thoughts for three years).

I knew there was a difference between writing for an audience and writing for God alone, but I struggled to find out how I fit in this community where they claimed to do both somehow. I didn’t even “market” myself as a writer. I had “student” on my name tag, while my friend had “Vlogger, Artist, Writer.” I didn’t have a genre identified either. Everyone put stickers on their tags with symbols of the genres they wrote. I drew a question mark on my own and wrote Bible verses about identity on the back of my name tag. It hung over my heart, weighty with shame and yet also an anchor I clung to.

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the back of my name tag – Luke 12:16-34, Isaiah 43:1-2, Philippians 4:6-9, and Psalm 23.

When I vocalized “not feeling like a writer” to someone the first day of the conference, they smiled and responded with, “If you write, you’re a writer. Don’t worry.” They meant it to boost my confidence. And knowing that, I did perk up.

But I still felt like a fraud. Because I wasn’t writing.

The sessions at that conference which reached me most were the ones not about a writer’s life but a Christian’s life. When we got into the Bible and the session leader, Steve Laube, read Isaiah 40 in a rapturous, powerful voice, I felt the Lord meeting me and saying, “All that is wrong with be redeemed. Comfort, comfort, My people.” He was talking about not just my writing, but the grief I was wrestling through in so many areas of life from moving to another country, to uncovering parts of myself I hadn’t liked to uncover before.

Throughout the following year, I explored NaNoWriMo and felt like a fake there too, unable to create under pressure and unsure of my work. I tried writing different stories with a theme in mind. I connected with online writing friends and tried to write about God and His reaching me in my ugly. I only discovered what I needed to fix or what I didn’t like in my stories. Additionally, however, I discovered my creative limitations. I dug into the old allegory stories God had whispered into my heart, away from my collaborative book, and read them over. I edited and finished some. I wrote new ones, processing and praying as God and I dialoged. He talked to me through my characters and the Aslan-esque character, “Creator.”

 

“All that is wrong I will redeem. Comfort, comfort, My people.”

That, I’ve found, is the core to our calling as creatives.

We and our work are to be speaking of redemption.

Not just screaming the message of how depraved we are without coming to the cross.

Not just saying God is waiting to take us in, without explaining why we need Him.

Not just speaking about redemption without showing how we get there.

Our work, the process of creating, our socializing, speaking, mothering, fathering, dying, living is a work of redemption in motion through what God’s done in Jesus Christ. Nothing less, nothing more.

I’m struggling to say this because I fear people think I am saying to be preachy in our work. I’m not. I’m saying if you work, no matter what you do, work with God. Let Him be in the process and let Him shape you through what you make. No matter your genre of writing, it should be forming you as His child, not someone who looks nothing like Him (Colossians 23). 

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Why work if the method in which we do it is not centered in eternal purpose? It’ll only be dust one day.

Why try to create what’s great in earthly eyes if our humanity is so failing?

This isn’t just about me writing or painting–this is about how we’re facing each day.

Are you living as redeemed creations, or are you living trying to eat forbidden fruit and be “like God?” Are you trying to please a market, a person, an audience, a genre…maybe even yourself, over the source of creativity Himself?

Do you realize He wants to get into the mud and work with you?

He wants to guide your hands.

Is what you do revealing hunger in us humans, but withholding the food?

Are you hesitant to share, as if afraid that someone will claim they’re gluten-free or aren’t thirsty while you’re handing out the bread and wine?

God is the One who makes people ready for the Gospel. That goes for everyone. Creative or observer. When it comes to living out being a redeemed creature, and sharing that, everyone’s journey is going to be different. I want to add, I’m not saying NaNo or writers’ conferences or certain genres of media are evil. Some I do believe can be more of a stumbling block, but God is going to use tools like these in our lives differently. (1 Corinthians 6:12-14) My point is, what fruit are you bearing, dear imago Dei?

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Are you following a plan God’s given or just following a plan you’ve scraped together, or been handed by someone else?

So, like me, you have a bunch of questions now, and are floating about, trying to figure out the purpose of your work.

What do you do with the questions?

Here’s how I’m sorting:

  • Pray, pray, pray. Then ask others to pray for you. Then pray for others. Pause every day to pray. Let your communing with God reorient you and change you.
  • Before you do any work, prepare to hold it up to God. Prepare to give it up. Make it with Him, not for Him. Dialogue with Him in collaboration, allowing your ugly and allowing His beautiful.
  • Rest. Intentionally set it down and acknowledge you can’t do some things, and you can’t do anything without God’s strength. But don’t accept defeat. Instead, accept God’s grace. Take in what He gives your heart to keep going, acknowledging that the work you do is not coming out of your own energy and efforts.

 

What do you think? Dialogue with me, no matter what you work doing.

I want to talk to you. I want to pray with you.

I want God to do great things with our fallen, redeemable hands. I want you to know He loves the way He made you and wants to bring you back to that original design while you create with Him.


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Extra Encouragement

  • This G.K. Chesterson quote I came across. It made me weepy to see God’s fingerprint upon my own creative nature, because this is exactly how I feel when I draw something I like to draw over and over:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

  • Something my Mom shared today:

“You can do something no one else can do in a fashion no one else can do it. Exploring and extracting your uniqueness excites you, honors God, and expands his kingdom. So ‘make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that’ ” -Max Lucado

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” –Galatians 6:4-5 (MSG)

[DISCLAIMER:]

I’m NOT saying I regret going to the mentioned writers’ conference or meeting the community from it, nor do I think anyone from there is less holy than I. I love the people I connected with, the perspective I gained, and all I learned about my calling as a creative in these environments and communities. I learned so much about my crafts, myself, and my God. I also was blessed by the people’s kindness, even if I wrestled with insecurities then or disagree with them on some things. That’s the Lord’s working, and I thank Him for it.

Now I’m in online college this year, and I was burnt out last week from English essays, so apologies for being almost two weeks past this post’s due date. But they’re kinda like babies. They could come out when expected, or late. I dunno about them being premature though…this analogy is weird.

This post was also late, because it’s heavy on my heart. I have been praying over this a lot, and really would benefit from hearing from you all.

Thanks for taking the time to read this all the way through.

Go forth in grace, dear frens.

-Heidi

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