Quicker to anger.
Longer to grace.
A little depressed.
A little relieved.
I’m not sure what you feel like as you labor through an artistic or creative endeavor, but the phrases above describe me.
It’s crazy, really. This thing I get to do every day, this thing my partners and I have carefully and intentionally crafted so that it could become our professions, is also the exact thing that can leave me in the fetal position on the living room floor when I’m finished with my workday.
Creating art. (With an emphasis on the “creating” part.)
As I’m lying on the floor, it’s important to know what’s causing my knees to buckle. Most artists just dismiss this feeling, and vow to work harder or more efficiently next time. But I think these feelings run deeper than what’s on the surface, and I think an honest appraisal will help artists become more of a light to the world.
As I engage in any creative or artistic endeavor, there are three reasons why that creative process is so stinkin’ draining.
1. The Decisions Thing
If you think about it, anything you create requires a series of small decisions, often with the pressure of a hard deadline looming. When I’m cutting together a short-film, I’m making at least 10 decisions a minute. Which clip do I use? Which piece of cutaway? Where should the clip begin? Is the music loud enough? Too loud? Am I pushing the storyline forward, or just spitting out random information? Can I razor that statement and connect it with another statement? Is the color consistent with the next frame? Should it be shot in different lighting? How can I make the interviewee more inspiring? Should I try to cut that “‘um” out, or leave it? What will the client want? Does that music work?
If you’re a painter or a lighting technician or a visual worship leader or a storyteller or a worship pastor or a team leader or a blogger; you’ve got your own different set of tiny decisions. They’re different than mine. But that’s not the point. The point is that you’re making a ton of decisions, and you’re making them hundreds of times every day.
No wonder we end up on the living room floor. And when some well-meaning business executive or senior leader comes along and gives us the “it must be really nice to just play all day long” line, we explode – just a little bit, and we look for a loophole in Jesus’ words about murder.
2. The Endorphins Thing
The second reason creativity is so draining has to do with endorphins. I warn you that I’m a novice at even discussing endorphins and had to spell check the word several times before I got it right.
Endorphins are small protein molecules that are produced by cells in our nervous systems and other parts of the body. I know, I’m bored too. But stay with me. Among other things, these little guys control feelings of stress and frustration (they control a lot more, like chocolate and sexual appetites, and addictive patterns as well).
So when we’re pushing our creative projects into the wee hours of the morning because the weekend is upon us and we’re crazy-stressed about an unrealistic deadline, our endorphins essentially become imbalanced. They have to, because we’re stressed. The only way for our endorphins to get back into balance is for the stress to go away.
And here’s the key for our current conversation: The re-balancing mechanism happens automatically 36-48 hours after the stress-provoking event, and involves feelings of depression. We can’t choose when our endorphins decide to re-balance themselves. It’s entirely up to them. It’s like they have a mind of their own. But we’ve been on a high, and we need to come back down.
The bottom line is simple. If you create something for your weekend worship services, and if that process causes you stress and anxiety, then Monday night and most of Tuesday will feel like you’re swimming through mud.
When I was a pastor, I was always depressed on Tuesday mornings. This was true every week, unless I had taken the prior weekend off.
And my most monumental arguments with my wife always happened on Monday nights.
3. The Hopes and Dreams Thing
The final reason creativity is so draining has to do with our hopes and dreams. There are a variety of hopes and dreams that I carry with every artistic project I involve myself in. You and I aren’t just working our tails off for a paycheck. With every creative project we carry, there’s something in us that hopes heaven takes one step closer to our ever-groaning earth. That’s why I create short-films. That’s why we tell great stories. That’s why we learn new songs, and carefully choose the right motion background, and make sure parishioners can hear the snare so that they can clap on the two and the four.
We carry hope with us.
But when we don’t experience any fulfillment of that hope in some tangible manner, we get bummed out. We even get depressed. In the longer term, living without the expression of our hope will lead to burnout.
I can’t tell you how many times I engaged in the hard work of creating a special song to start out our church services, only to be met with a fraction of the congregation being present to hear it. The rest showed up later, because arriving on time for church was optional.
At Floodgate Productions, I can create what I think is a deeply moving and meaningful short-film, and it’s only purchased by a few small churches around the country.
We carry hope with us. And when the expectations of that hope are unrealized, we end up lying on the living room floor.
A Final Thought About Art, Creativity, and Awareness
Just one final word about this stuff. Have you ever noticed that many artists are entirely unaware of how they come across to the masses? We can be terrible listeners. We can be overly sensitive – always seeking to give an excuse about how it’s everyone else’s fault. We can be beyond disorganized. We can live for the applause of people, crafting an online personality that establishes a platform where we are the celebrated ones.
And we can be completely unaware of these tendencies.
I submit to you that what artists feel in that exact moment is somehow related to one of the topics I’ve highlighted.
The most beautiful thing in this world is when we begin to recognize what’s happening deep inside of us, and then invite the risen Christ into that exact place – not to become the magic potion for our fixing or medicating, but to reach out His hand and help us stand again.
Because the next creative project is on the horizon.