Life can be hard and we all have responsibilities. This house isn’t gonna clean itself, and these bills gotta get paid somehow. But I think we should live to create.
You know that old adage (often used to shame those of us who really like food), “Eat to live, don’t live to eat”? Well, similarly, some of us do create to live. We have a creative work that translates into some kind of remuneration, some form of compensation. We create and then bills get paid. We create and then food fills the fridge. (The dirty house is another matter.)
But ultimately, creating to live and living to create are not mutually exclusive. In fact, as someone who does, at least in part, create to live, I believe that living to create is precisely what allows me to create for hot water in the shower, gas in the car, and food in the fridge. And that’s because living to create is simply orienting your life around what makes you feel the most creative.
But before we get into more of that what, let me dig into the why.
Consider the Creator
In our scientific age, it’s easy to focus on what the ancients got wrong about the origins of the universe and life on earth – or at least focus on how so many people have misunderstood this stuff for millennia. But perhaps our deconstructive tendency here needs to be balanced by something else: the firm and joyful belief in a Creator.
Don’t worry, I’m not going all young-earth, literal-seven-day creationism on you, I’m just saying that one of the most profound truths in all of Scripture is that God is the generous, expressive, and extravagant Creator of the universe and life on earth. If the process for creation is evolution, how much more creative given the One guiding the evolving! If that process gives up meticulous control for the sake of surprise and even a bit of intentional chaos, sounds like art to me!
The point is, we downplay and neglect God’s identity as Creator at great cost to our faith – but even more so, to our quality of life. I’d propose that we won’t really find true flourishing in life unless we are rooted in the creativity of God.
Similarly, regardless of one’s scientific interests and convictions, Scripture is offering us a parallel truth that is nearly as profound as this one: that human beings are uniquely created in God’s image with a mandate to create. While past generations may have industrialized this “cultural mandate” into something more akin to commerce than creativity, it is really best seen in context as co-creative work with and alongside the Creator.
This is what I’m trying to say: as Christians, we are living out a perspective on the world that says, “I was made to create – and creating is at the core of what it means to be both human and divine.”
The Consequences of Not Creating
The other day I tweeted this quote from author and researcher Brené Brown:
"Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes into resentment, grief, and heartbreak." / @BreneBrown
— Zach Hoag (@zhoag) September 4, 2017
In other words, there are consequences to not creating. And this, perhaps more than anything else, helps us to see why we should live to create.
Creativity is at the core of who we are as human beings, and creativity is fundamental to human flourishing. And neglecting to create will create a whole host of other spiritual and emotional maladies.
But not all creativity looks the same. We are all creators in different ways and in different media.
Yet all of us, if we do some soul-searching and reflecting, can probably identify the one or two activities, art forms, or practices that make us feel the most creative. And locating those things is the essence of the what in living to create, and the first step in orienting our lives around creating.
I recently asked my Z-readers on social media to locate these things that make them feel the most creative, and here were some of their answers:
- Going to a live show
- Listening to music alone
- Contemplative photography
- Playing thematic board games
- Skiing the trees
- Planning worship and retreats
- Morning prayer
- Graphic design
- Problem solving
- Playing the fiddle
For me, it’s writing and creating in the spaces of digital media and ministry. That’s when I feel the most creative, when the deepest human (and divine) part of me sings out.
But here’s the thing. We often have a tendency to wrongly relegate these kinds of things to the realm of hobbies – because we see creativity as inherently selfish. And truly, if someone were to neglect their responsibilities to others and society in the name of creativity, then it probably would be selfish. But that’s not what I’m proposing here.
I’m proposing orienting your life around what makes you feel the most creative so that your entire life begins to feel like a creative life. The joy that inhabits creativity will color every relationship and every responsibility, to the betterment of everything. That’s what it means to live to create, and that’s where human flourishing is found.
When (and When Not) to Create
Perhaps the last consideration in this divinely human creative life I’m proposing is when we should get to creating. Should all of us seek to make our career consistent with our creative pursuit? Or is creativity relegated to the passion projects of nights and weekends?
And if the latter, do the circumstances of our lives even allow for such passion projects?
One thing I’m sensitive to here is the effects of privilege and the lack thereof in how we approach creativity. Because racial, social, and economic privilege play a part in just how much time and brain space we can devote to things beyond our basic sustainability and, in some cases, survival.
So if this idea that we should live to create feels like browbeating to you, or a privileged person describing a luxury you don’t have, let me respond in two ways. First, as someone who has at least struggled with a lack of economic privilege, I believe that there is a social and systemic problem that must be addressed in regards to creativity. That is, the kind of flourishing in which we are able to orient our lives around what makes us feel creative will require changes to the social systems that oppress and increase hardship for underprivileged people. The “should” here, then, has a social dimension – we must work so that all people in society can live their creative life and find their true flourishing.
And secondly, no matter where we find ourselves in the social strata, because of the theological foundation we talked about earlier, I believe individually seeking out opportunities to be creative, even if they are scarce, will only help us to find a better life. And many, from all walks of life and in the face of incredible odds, have lived unbelievably creative lives (and have often changed the world in profound ways).
But in general, the question of when is not tied, in my mind, directly to one’s career, to the idea of creating to live. You can – and should! – still live to create even if it’s not connected to your job. The when is an integrated thing, becoming, really, a whenever. We create whenever we can, however we can. We orient our lives around creating by simply seeking it, and then intentionally finding it.
For me, I have been earnestly seeking a creative life for nearly a decade, and now, through that effort, I am finding it like never before. And a beautiful byproduct of that reorienting process has been discovering ways to create to live, and seeing my career converge with my creative calling.
But regardless of whether that happens for you, my encouragement is still: live to create. Because you’ll be living as a truer, freer, more divine human being as a result.
And that is worth far more than any other kind of compensation.