“Am I doing it right?” That’s the first question many people ask me and the other art volunteers at our Icreate art class sessions. Icreate is a weekly gathering during Lent where we explore different forms of art. I am always surprised by the question, and my answer is usually: “It’s art; you can’t get it wrong.” Yet again and again, people ask “am I doing it right?” with a look of apprehension on their face. Sometimes people even apologize – “I know I’m not a very good artist.” The class is merely for exploring art forms, not for mastering them, and yet people begin with such a stance of self-judgment. Why are we so worried about getting it right?
I’ve noticed that the children who participate in the class never ask me that question. Each week, as we learn to create different forms of art, the kids immediately put their pen or paint to paper without turning back. They seem so free. It makes me realize that somewhere along the road, we learned we were ‘doing it wrong.’ Children naturally create without fear. Sometimes we limit that creativity and correct them. I remember meeting my mom after she had volunteered with the VBS at her church, and she was disheartened. She shared, “Sarah kids aren’t as creative. Every piece of art work they make is a strict copying of the example they have seen.” She wasn’t going to use the examples anymore. “Whatever happened to kids making people green and the sky purple?” Where did they learn they were doing it wrong?
I heard a man speaking on a TED talk about education. He shared the story of a bold little girl. She was drawing in the corner, and as she drew, a teacher asked her what she was drawing. “I’m drawing God,” she replied. The teacher, quick to correct her, said “nobody knows what God looks like sweetie.” “They will soon” was the little girl’s response. She wasn’t afraid of getting it wrong. Real inspiration isn’t afraid of getting it wrong.
In my own work I often wonder: am I doing it wrong?
In my writing I am plagued by the thoughts: Is my writing good enough? I am terrible at grammar. Do people laugh at my sentences and structure? I nearly shrunk from embarrassment when I signed the wrong page on someone’s copy of a book that I had submitted a chapter for. I am a novice, and clearly I will have many moments when I will get it wrong.
As a speaker and preacher I am plagued by the thoughts: Is my speaking as good as those that I look up to? Am I theologically correct? Am I getting it wrong? Would my professors be proud of me?
In my art it’s: Is my artwork pushing my boundaries of creativity? Am I creating enough to be getting better? Would anyone want it on the wall?
In my work, if I spend too much time worrying about getting it wrong, I am paralyzed. My worst work comes from when I try to do it just right. I can tell when I am trying to imitate someone else’s work instead of exploring my own. I will never be a better version of someone else. I have to let go of the question altogether of “am I doing it right” in order to create anything. Anything that authentically comes from me has to be unafraid of being the wrong thing.
Art imitates life and vise versa. If I am worried about getting it wrong in art, then I am petrified of getting it wrong in my faith. But if I am so concerned with getting it wrong, am I limiting what God is doing in my life, and in many ways, who God is? Am I missing out on the great I AM because I am too focused on who people tell me God is?
I think about how many people spend their time yelling “you are doing it wrong!” at other Christians. You have the wrong doctrine, the wrong style of worship, or the wrong understanding of Christ. This is an incredible waste of energy, and I think it makes us miss out on experiencing God in all of His creative ways. We seem to think the bible is the only way we can learn about who God is. Don’t get me wrong – I think the bible is primary, but it isn’t the only way we learn to experience God. God is creative and active now. I wonder how many times God has expressed God’s self and we say “nope that’s wrong, that’s not how God shows up.” I am pretty sure that is what folks said to Christ.
I hope that this Lent and the Icreate series have opened people up to letting go of the question “am I doing it right.” There is a deep freedom in having the childlike belief in responding to the statement “no one has seen God” and being able to boldly answer “Not yet!”