Blog posts are so much easier to write when there are emotions flowing through the writer at the moment of writing. Which is funny, because I also just wrote a Discussion Board post for my Biblical Counseling class at Southern Seminary.
So this all goes hand in hand, which is typical of how the Lord works, isn’t it?
Today, I’m dealing with discouragement.
It happens a lot of the time this time of year, and if you’re a photographer in the middle of winter (albeit a very mild one), you can probably attest to it:
..PEOPLE AREN’T BOOKING YOU.
And with that come specific emotions: discouragement, sadness, a dissatisfaction with your work, a questioning of whether or not you’re in the right field, etc., etc.
So how are we to deal with this as artists?
And why in the world did I title this post “THE PRIVILEGE OF CHRISTIAN ARTISTRY?”
I’ve read so many articles about what to do when clients aren’t booking photo sessions, and all of them say just about the same thing: you need to reconfigure your marketing; you haven’t updated your website in two weeks; perhaps you should spend some time portfolio building; your prices are too cheap or too expensive.
I’m not going to give you any of that (mostly because I have no idea what to do from a business standpoint).
But we live in a spiritual world, and there’s a spiritual aspect to this problem of discouragement.
We’re living in a time when people are peddling a lot of feel-good mantras as a remedy for dealing with sadness and despondency. I have a couple musical artists in my mind right now whose songs revolve around just forgetting about what others think about you and “doing you.” I can think of a handful of photographers on Instagram whose message to the world is to “just be yourself. Everyone else will get over it. Just let go. Follow your dreams. ‘Wanderlust’ is the key to happiness.”
So what happens when you devote all your time and efforts into building an artistic identity, and yet you still fall far short of what you had in mind? Forgetting everybody and saying “haters gonna hate” while following your dreams does not guarantee that those dreams are going to come true.
And that’s a good thing.
All too often, we create idols out of our dreams and desires. In the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah (by the way, if you want to complain about discouragement, just spend some time with Jeremiah. You may come away with different eyes) declares, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
This passage comes in the midst of a passage about trusting in the Lord. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,” Jeremiah writes. “He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
The person — for my purposes, I’m going to substitute the word “artist” — who trusts in the Lord is like a tree planted by water. This is an object lesson! A tree planted by water is a very happy tree! In fact, it “sends out its roots by the stream.” This tree is growing, just like a tree is designed to do.
But this is my favorite part when I think about my discouragement: “[he] does not fear when heat comes.” Why not? I’m dealing with discouragement, aren’t I? Here’s why: because “its leaves remain green, and [he] is not anxious in the year of drought…”
This where being a Christian artist has its eternal perks.
In seasons of discouragement, we are called to rest in the Lord. As one who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ and has turned from and is continually turning from sin, you have an amazing promise straight from the mind of God: your leaves will remain green.
Now, please don’t misplace my words.
I’m not saying that God is promising that things will get better. In fact, if I’m being truthful, it’s quite possible that this could be the end for your artistic career. I’m not pulling any punches, because Scripture doesn’t pull any. There’s no sugar that I can put on this, so here it is again: nowhere in the Bible does God promise that your life will go as you plan. In fact, here’s another passage that buttresses it from Proverbs: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Prov. 19:21).
But here is what God DOES promise:
“The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied…” (Prov. 19:23).
There are many, many times when God does not allow your plans to succeed. And at those times, Christian artists need to rest in Him when He promises, “Your leaves will remain green.” That is not a promise that your plans will finally succeed at some point. That’s a promise that God’s plans will ultimately succeed and are succeeding. And that’s FAR better for you.
So the answer to my initial question, “What do I do when I’m experiencing discouragement,” is to look at your priorities. It’s quite possible that you’ve made an idol of success. Far more important is to fear the Lord, for it leads to life, whether your art is noticed or not.
But what if you’re an artist but NOT a Christian?
God has promises for you, as well, but they begin with this truth: your lack of photography clients and artistic noticeability are the least of your problems.
In Malachi, God promises that “I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and DO NOT FEAR ME, says the LORD of hosts” (Mal. 3:5 — emphasis mine).
Your ultimate problem isn’t that fashion houses and magazine editors aren’t noticing you. It’s that you do not fear the Lord, and that’s a far, FAR worse offense.
But the Lord is so, SO kind.
As sinners, none of us deserve life. And yet YOU’RE ALIVE. You have so many things in your life for which you can be thankful, and none of us deserve any of them. If you’re reading this, you have an electronic device that allows you to. You’re living, you’re breathing, you’ve probably drunk something today, etc. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.
You have so many things in your life for which you can be thankful and can consider as the Lord’s kindness to you. Here’s what Paul says about that: “…do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4). All these kindnesses are meant to lead you to repentance for sin and to place your trust in Christ. Don’t assume that things will simply go on as they always have. That’s called “presumption,” and the passage deals with that, as well. Don’t presume on God’s kindness. Don’t take advantage of all the good things that you have in your life and forget that each of them comes directly from the Lord as a gift to you. And ultimately, don’t neglect that final portion of Romans 2:4: “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” Every time you go on a shoot, remember that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” Every time you touch your brush to the canvas, remember that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” Whenever you buy a coffee or eat something delicious, remember that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” When a loved one gives you a kiss on the cheek or shows you ANY sort of love, remember that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” You’re surrounded by it, and that’s by design. God has surrounded you with kindness, in order to lead you to repentance. Don’t presume that you have years and years ahead of you. You may not. Because: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Prov. 19:21).
I repeated that phrase a lot in the previous paragraph: “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” And that’s on purpose. Whenever you experience good things, I want that to come into your mind. I want you to remember that, because it’s TRUE. And you need to act on it, because there are eternal consequences for not doing so.
For Christians, I find that when I’m dissatisfied with where I am in life, I discover that I have been putting expectations on God’s plans for me. I forget that promise in Proverbs, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” God’s plans WILL succeed. Yours may not.
Take this season of discouragement as an opportunity to renew your trust in the Lord. He hasn’t given you the desires of your heart in your artistic endeavors. And that’s for the best. Because His plans are constantly succeeding. If it were for your good that your business would boom and thrive, then it would. But for now, you’re called to trust in the Lord and continue in what He has called you to, whatever that may be. Rest in Him. Rest in His kindness.
Remember that to fear the LORD is far more important than to book more February sessions.