By Linden Whitt —
A number of years ago, I was sitting on the bare floor boards of an elder women’s home on an island outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Nervously hunched over my sketch pad pencil poised, I was drawing her portrait. This woman, who’s worldly possessions didn’t even include a photograph of herself was smiling expectantly for the gift she was about to receive. There’s something so intensely vulnerable about drawing someone’s portrait. To be honest, I got a bit lost feeling that my offering wouldn’t be good enough but I didn’t want to miss the person in front of me and what this portrait meant to her.
It’s World Art Day! As a follower of Jesus and an artist this memory surfaces along with the face of the woman I drew that day. Asking myself once again what it looks like to give of my talent to show value to others in my neighborhood. Transitioning from the often-grandiose experiences of, in my case being a missionary, into my life today with the people I now encounter on a regular basis. We’ve all been gifted with talents, passions, strengths, all pointing towards our greater purpose. How do we then collectively as followers of Christ take action with our giftings, giving of our first, not last-ditch efforts. We often recite these words from the Lord’s prayer, “your kingdom come your will be done.” Do we believe it? That God has already created us with the tools with which to do so, developing them into action is up to us.
For me the first step was getting right with who I am and knowing what my giftings are. There’s no denying we get hit where it hurts the most. Right where God has created us for great impact there seems to be something simultaneously pressing on our deepest wounds. I have friends that have spotted this in me, pointing out my own denial in my creativity. It’s true, I’ve seen the gift in pieces in the past, marked by shame around even being an artist. People in my life that made me feel art or being creative was bad, cast a shadow over a beautiful gift longing to be redeemed. But then that’s the point! Jesus came to redeem all things! He’s redeemed the desire and drive in me to develop the gifts I’ve been given and He wants to do the same for you!
Collaborating within a life-giving community is equally important. The people around us; family, friends, coworkers, are all vital to encouraging our growth and helping us foster new ideas. I cannot understate the importance of being around people who encourage your giftings. Speaking directly to them and seeing who you really are, not inserting their personal opinions on what they think you should do or how you should serve others. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to learn, grow, play, try, and of course fail. It’s a healthy part of the entire learning process working through our mistakes, we learn along the way! For me the right group of people sparked new ways of blending my giftings together causing me to step out, igniting my greater purpose!
Beginning something new can be hard especially when it feels so uncomfortable and clunky trying to figure out where to start! This was certainly how I felt last year when I left my job in search of more creative endeavors. However, each job I was subsequently applying for had been almost identical to where I had just been. I found myself bewildered as to why I was so exhausted by this process but then continued to chase opportunities that weren’t right for me. Nothing changed until my mindset did, stepping outside my comfort zone into things I knew I was interested in and passionate about. I started looking for creative roles marked with a greater purpose and found a mixture of places to land that foster my strength of working with children, love of art, and desire to try new things.
One of my favorite examples of someone blending their strengths with their greater purpose is Mr. Rogers. Fred Rogers, of the children’s T.V program Mr. Rogers Neighborhood spent years blending his degree in music composition, love of puppets, interest in child development, and spirit of kindness to create a safe space for children as he discussed often difficult topics and current events. He once said, “You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.” And so, he modeled, preaching in effect on loving one’s neighbor using the gifts he was uniquely fashioned with to do so.
What would it look like for you to create a better future for your neighborhood using your talents? Our neighborhoods are desperate for beauty. Broken, raw people are all around us looking for hope and we know it can only be found in Jesus. Using art as an example, is a gift to communicate, but it’s never more important than people. When you volunteer do you share the best of your gifting’s with your community? Are you really great at graphic design but when you volunteer you lick stamps and address envelopes? Do you enjoy painting and hanging out with teenagers but never thought about asking the local community center if you could paint a mural with the kids on the wall of their otherwise drab parking lot? There are a lot of things we can all do but what are you uniquely designed to do? What would it look like for you to share the absolute best of who you are with your neighborhood? To contribute in a way that’s unique to you, remembering it goes missing without your involvement.
Celebrate Art Today!
Linden Whitt is originally from the Pacific Northwest Linden met Jesus at the tender age of 7. Artist, reader, maker of things, lover of culture, food, hospitality, and most of all friends and family! Years as a missionary and working for various ministries gave her opportunity to explore art, worship, writing, and new cultures, all within the context of sharing Jesus with others. She currently lives in Seattle where she oversees inventory for a boutique, teaches craft and sewing classes, and hangs out with the cool kids on Sundays, teaching mini art lessons at church.