If we are brave enough to step in faith and speak our words to others, we must be ready for the next step. Listening. Any time you choose to do something hard, you can expect to walk through a refiner’s fire. The refiner’s fire is not comfortable. It involves intense heat. But it is in this fire we are purified. Our brilliance and usefulness is honed. And believe me, friend, this is worth the process. Just as we have to trust God with the outcome of our expression of faith, we also have to trust Him to continue to work in us through our own art.
As a child, I spent a lot of time outdoors. To entertain myself, I found the dandelions. I don’t think our yard had grass, probably due to the proliferation of seed scattered by a 6-year old. In fact, no yard within 100 feet stood the chance of having lush green blades to carpet the property. You’re welcome! Every summer, little yellow flowers covered our back yard and full cotton puffs followed. I’d run out in sandals each day to reach small hands around the stems and collect white seedy fluff until my hands were full of bouquets.
Then, one at a time I would breathe deep and blow hard to see if I could get every feathery seed to release with one breath. By the end of a dozen weedy flowers, I would be dizzy enough to fall over. But on that last puff, I’d try to re-catch the parachutes. I’m sure I was the amusement of the neighborhood. Some of the seeds scattered far when the breeze caught them. Some would land one foot from my toes. And some would dance around me on the current and end up in my own hair and face.
This is what happens with art. You start to share your heart and story, and some of the story goes off where you will never see the impact, some lands close to you – touching people you know and love, and some ends up back on you, driving the fruit deeper into soul.
One of the first articles I wrote and posted on my blog demonstrated how words don’t just move away, but often come back. Trusting God to use my post, I shared my words on social media. Within 48 hours I had my first hit of criticism. The person on the other side of my message had their own experience and instead of encouragement, my post elicited feelings that brought fighting words. At first I thought, ‘Well, my words are not for you.’ I’ll respond with “thanks for sharing” and be done. But before long my thread grew and I quickly discovered I had hit a cord that brought deep pain to this person. And I had an opportunity to look within.
No, my words were fine. My heart was in the right place. This person was not my audience. But my words were back in my face. Even though I thought carefully about my message, I could feel my own words and the resulting conversation lingering and swirling just like the parachute pappuses of the dandelion. And some of the seeds were sticking to me. Now I had to grow. I had to reconsider the message, evaluate my heart, and be refined by the process.
And I did.
Now. Don’t go looking. You won’t find that conversation anywhere. But you will find a bigger and deeper heart in me. I allowed God to speak through the criticism, and my own words and experience has led to more growth, both as a writer and as a person. I want to speak, not for myself, but for that person on the other side. I had a great take-away that week of exchange. I learned to take criticism with a humble heart and gentle response.
But this is not the only way our art refines us. We discover more about ourselves as we begin to share ourselves. We wrestle. We receive encouragement. We look deep within. If we are willing to lay our reputation down, and receive from the Lord in the process, our message gets the chance to be truly effectual. It gets to improve in quality and influence.
Let’s not forget that we are all in process.
The best advice I was given as a young adult was, laugh at yourself. Often. In order to do that, we have to take ourselves less seriously. We have to release ourselves of the idea that it all depends on us, and that we must get it right all the time.
Know that you are one voice in many, and honestly, you can’t screw up God’s plan, so when you are done speaking, don’t be afraid to listen. God’s spirit is faithful to blow and move in His own way. Be okay when it moves your words back around to rest deeply in you.