At a conference for creatives not too long ago, I was asked by a college student if I write for myself, for others, or for God.
“All of the above,” I said. “I write for myself because I’ve loved the craft since I was a kid, because it’s how I process the world and make sense of things, and because I kinda suck at everything else so my professional options are limited. I write for others because as a human being created in the image of a relational God I long to connect with and communicate to the people around me and find great joy and meaning in that process. And I write for God in the sense that I hope my work glorifies God, delights God, and is a part of my most important calling to love God and my neighbors well.”
“So you’re saying you don’t write for an audience of One?” he prodded playfully.
“Well I guess not.”
I’ve had several conversations like these through the years. Among people of faith who create—who write books, make music, lead worship, speak, design, perform, blog, etc.—there is this myth that we create/perform for an audience of One. We create/perform for God alone.
Now, I understand and affirm the sentiment. Obviously, as Christians we are called to work in such a way that the praise of others does not bring us too high, nor the discouragement of others bring us too low, always keeping in mind that what matters most is the integrity with which we do our work, even when no one is watching.
But I don’t buy the idea that our motivation to create or perform should rest exclusively in the desire to please God.
God created us to be communicative creatures, relational creatures. So it is natural—perhaps even holy—to want to be heard, to be understood, to feel less alone. God created us to connect with one another over good food, good art, good music, good company. God created us to delight in these things and the people who nurture them in the world.
I love the feeling of looking out into an audience to whom I am speaking to see a man with tears streaming down his face, nodding in recognition. I love getting an email from a woman who, because of something I wrote, decided that maybe it wasn’t a waste of time to go to seminary after all. I love writing a blog post only to discover the real jewels in the comment section, among your thoughts and ideas, critiques and questions. I love hugging person after person in the book signing line, as we say to one another over and over and over again, so we never forget: “Me too. Me too. Me too.”
It is this connection to our fellow human beings that we long for most when we communicate. And so it is perfectly natural to feel joy when that connection happens, discouragement when it doesn’t, and frustration and elation and doubt along the way.
I’ve known many bloggers who approach me with questions about how to generate more readers only to follow up with a hasty, “Not that it matters if anyone reads my work.” And I’ve known many worship leaders who refuse to take a compliment on their mad piano, guitar, or singing skills because they are afraid of deflecting any praise or appreciation away from God.
I confess I kinda want to shake these people and say: “Don’t you see! You were made to want others to read your work! Don’t you see! Your talent DOES bring glory to the God who created you!”
Again, this doesn’t mean we have to have a massive audience to enjoy our creative work. As Eric Liddell so beautifully put it, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.” There is joy in creative expression with or without an audience of other people.
But the desire to share these thoughts and experiences—to be heard, to be understood, to be recognized, to be affirmed—is not inherently selfish. It’s good. It’s holy. It’s challenging. It’s fun.
How easy it is to forget that we are the result of the collaborative work of a relational Being who in the beginning said, “Let Us make mankind in our image, in our likeness,” and who looked upon that creation and called it good.
Even God did not create for an audience of One.