Before we dive in today: CONGRATULATIONS to our dear Andrew—Adorning the Dark was named Arts & Culture book of the year by the Gospel Coalition! I love what they said about it. Click here to read more. (And click here for BTLOG info—Andrew’s 20th annual Christmas tour is underway! And it’s being livestreamed next Monday, so if your city isn’t on the tour or is sold out, come to the livestream!)
And now, onward.
Here’s a strange memory: when I was a kid in Illinois I discovered a pile of shoveled sidewalk snow in someone’s front yard. At some point I decided that that snowpile needed a boy-sized tunnel dug right through the center, so on the way home from kindergarten I stopped every day for about a week and worked, though I had no idea whose house it was. After fifteen minutes or so I’d head home so my mom wouldn’t be worried. All day at school my mind was occupied with that tunnel. It wasn’t as if I had never dug a tunnel in the snow before, and I’ve often wondered why I remember this one so vividly. But there was something simple and delightful to my little six-year-old self about working at this tunnel alone, in secret, a little at a time for a whole week. The day I finally broke through to the other side I brushed the snow off my pants and stood there, mittened hands on my hips, admiring my work. Then I felt someone watching me. I turned around and saw a woman in the house at the window, peeking out at me with a kind face. She might have waved. I pretended not to see her. I was deeply embarrassed as I realized that she had probably been watching me for days.
Memories choose us. Of all the things that must have happened during my childhood—little adventures, moments of shame or joy or comfort—only a few images, like this one, rise to the surface. And they don’t just rise once. They come to me again and again as if there’s some mystery hidden in all the plainness, as if someday I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and understand why that snow tunnel is stuck in my head.
The next week as I passed the house (on the other side of the street) I noticed that the pile was gone. I’ve always suspected that the woman and her husband never intended to leave it by their driveway, but they noticed a little boy stopping to dig every day and graced me with a week of peaceful, pointless work. I wonder if it gave her something to do, someone to watch for, something to talk about with her husband at dinner during a long, featureless winter.
Earlier today I was working on a new song, alone in the house, and it felt just like digging. I wonder if someone was watching from a high window?
While the obsessive tendency can be a boon to someone with a career in the arts, the thing can come back to bite you. Because, like it or not, if you want to get paid to do this stuff you have to actually do the work. And once you realize you’re responsible for your family by either caring for the children or providing a full-time income, art—no matter how fun it was in the beginning—becomes work. It becomes a chore. It becomes burdensome. It’s suddenly so much easier to get excited about that other project that just won’t leave you alone. And so you start something new, which is natural and quite welcome. But then that gets old and you start four more new things, and you realize you’ve bitten off more than you can chew and nothing gets done, least of all the project that got you going in the first place. So as much as I may gripe about my teachers and parents and the busywork I was expected to do, there comes a time for us all when we have to reckon with it. Sometimes you have to do the work even if you don’t feel like it. Sometimes you have to put away your wants and do what needs to be done, which really means dying to self in order to find life. This is a way of practicing resurrection. …
Those of us who write, who sing, who paint, must remember that to a child a song may glow like a nightlight in a scary bedroom. It may be the only thing holding back the monsters. That story may be the only beautiful, true thing that makes it through all the ugliness of a little girl’s world to rest in her secret heart. May we take that seriously. It is our job, it is our ministry, it is the sword we swing in the Kingdom, to remind children that the good guys win, that the stories are true, and that a fool’s hope may be the best kind.
If you’re called to do this sort of work, then keep those dear ones in your mind as you fight your way up the long mountain of obedience. You’ll be tempted to slow down, or take an easier route—but it is only by discipline that you’ll finish, and it’s only in finishing that you’ll be able to offer up your humble work to those weary souls who may need it.
Discussion: What stories or songs have met you in a dark night?
Do you have the trouble Andrew does in focusing on a project long enough to finish it? What do you think that’s about? Can you think of any times you’ve been able to push through it? What helped?
Come on over to the forum for more conversation. (I love hearing from you guys. You’ve engaged and shared so bravely.)