by Daniel Fusco

Think about the times in your life when you’ve felt like nobody sees you. That nobody knows you as you.

Sure, you may still have friendly neighbors or coworkers. You may still be part of a rec-league basketball team or a book club. But you feel as if, in the eyes of everyone else, you could be anyone. You could be replaced. You’re generic, not unique.

That’s the opposite of how we’re meant to feel.

It’s not just that we long for self-expression, for uniqueness—we were created for that by a creative God.

Even if we don’t think of ourselves as expressive people, we’re constantly expressing and broadcasting ourselves to others. The clothes we wear, how we wear them, and which occasions we wear them on. Music, hair, vehicles, hobbies, neighborhoods, food, sports teams, social networking, schools . . . the list of how we project our unique selves goes on and on.

The reason we can still feel as if no one sees us, or that we aren’t truly who we are meant to be, is that stuff like musical taste and clothing choices aren’t sufficient ways to express ourselves. (Yes, I’m hearing ’80s Madonna in my head right now, and I hope you are too!)

The only thing that will truly satisfy our need for creative self-expression is a lifestyle, not a new haircut or our team winning a championship. We limit ourselves to those narrow alleys of creativity as we age. We get used to the idea of being uncreative in nearly everything we do.

But we don’t start out that way.

On any given Sunday there are more than a hundred second graders in classrooms at the church I pastor. Second graders are a generally awesome bunch. They occupy a kind of sweet spot between younger and older kids. As I write this, my daughter Maranatha is a second grader. Much younger and you’re dealing with wet pants and tantrums, plus lots of drool. Much older, though, and you start to get stinky feet (and armpits), plus eye rolling.

One of the things that makes second graders awesome is that they know they’re awesome—which makes them happy. Like they’ll tell you they are the best puppy trainer in the universe or that they are the best at math. They’re not bragging, so much as they are delighting in the truth.

I bring up second graders and their general awesomeness because of our topic in this chapter: art and creativity.

If you go into a room full of seven- and eight-year-olds and ask, “How many of you will be professional athletes?” you’ll get a bunch of raised hands. Same thing if you ask about becoming president or living on Mars. Those numbers are completely out of step with reality, obviously. I’d bet good money that none of those second graders would end up doing those things. A few might, of course, but it’s still a safe bet.

But that’s not the only thing they’ll raise their hands for. If you ask them, “How many of you are artists?” you’ll see nearly every hand in the room shoot up.

Contrast that with a room full of adults. How many of us will raise our hands—5 percent? One?

I don’t bring this up to point out how silly second graders are. The opposite, really. Their attitude about art and creativity has a lot to teach us. They know more than we do! They naturally express their unique creativity in everything they do, from math to writing to conversations to forest exploration.

When Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,”I think part of what he was talking about is a child’s innate sense of creativity.

As we age, we lose our fearlessness. We become less concerned with expressing ourselves than with managing how others see us.

And not for no reason! Expression, at least as we age, involves risk. Over time we learn that some expressions earn us applause or money or approval, while others earn us ridicule or fear or rejection. So the spark of creativity we had inside us as kids, the one that set every idea on fire with possibility, fades to ember. And in some of us—most of us, maybe—it’s gone out completely.

Friends, that is not what God intends.

An infinitely creative God created us. And God continues to be creative in us, so that we can be creative—in his name—for the sake of the world.

Our call to express ourselves through a lifestyle of creativity is like someone turning on every light in a house at sunset. You’ve walked or driven past houses that are all lit up, right? What’s cool about them is that we can’t help but stare! There’s something attractive and compelling about a glowing house in a dark neighborhood. (The Bible uses a similar image, by the way, but I’ll let you find those examples on your own if you’re curious.)

When we give up on living lives of creative expression, it’s like we’re turning out the lights. We’re not talking about some lonely, isolated, creative genius brooding off in a cabin somewhere. We’re talking about real, everyday life. See, creativity and self-expression, which are part of how God designed us to live, are about better loving God and loving our neighbors.Creativity begins inside, but it’s not meant to stay there.

Creativity is a blessing from God, through us, for the world. And it breaks my heart to write this, but in the fifteen-plus years I’ve been part of various Christian churches in America, I have never once heard someone preach that truth.

You can rediscover the artist that God created you to be.

Think about that. We’re not talking about if you’re an artist or about if God designed you to be creative. Those things are already true, for all of us. Instead, we’re going to look at the how and the why. And we’re going to do more than satisfy our longing for creativity and self-expression.

We’re going to join God’s Spirit in transforming everything!

Daniel Fusco is the lead pastor of Crossroads Community Church, which has campuses in Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon. He is a conference speaker, a jazz musician, and the author of Honestly. He lives in Washington with his wife, Lynn, and their three children.