There was a discussion in church this Sunday about whether it is more important to be or to do. (What manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?) The conclusion, of course, was that we must both be and do. It was an excellent discussion based on an excellent sermon.
A sidebar of this conversation addressed personal identity derived from one’s choice of profession. Is it morally wrong for me to feel that I am an artist from the womb, as if God called me to be such? Many people aver that God does not care what any of us do for a living, so long as we live righteously and provide for our families.
I agree with this only insofar as I believe God doesn’t measure me against my brother the lawyer, nor my next brother the software engineer against my sister the speech pathologist, or my other sister the pharmacist against my last brother the corporate middle manager with a food science degree.
God surely cares, and commands, that I meet my obligations, and I also agree that He doesn’t particularly favor whether I fund my mortgage with receipts from my labors as a cartoonist, an editorial or advertising illustrator, a storyboard artist, graphic designer, portraitist, caricaturist, or wedding painter (I have done all of these.)
But does He also not care that I became the artist and not the attorney or pharmacist? Here’s where I draw the line on that thinking. God created us all, spiritually before physically, and breathed into us each our gifts. Though cut of the same deoxyribonucleic acid, my siblings and I were distinct and individual before we chose our professions. My many-talented older brother could have been some kind of artist, and had I applied myself to it, I could have been a passable attorney. But I could not have been him, nor could he have been me, and we are both better suited for what we are.
I am an artist. I do not recall when this became part of my identity; it was too early in my childhood. Had I chosen some other profession, I would still be an artist. I would still watch and observe and dream in pictures. I might have found time in the margins of a busy life to organize these thoughts into some kind of Work that would be meaningful to the world, as did the unremarkable accountant (poet) T. S. Eliot. Or I might have relegated that “talent” to the realm of “hobby,” useful only to myself like my choice of exercise or taste in entertainment. Or I might have discarded it entirely as something of no consequence to myself, or to humanity, or to that great Creator who gave it to me in the first place.
Most of the work in my life has been just work. I work for clients just as my siblings work for their employers, and the Heavens don’t shake to tell me how to do it. (I do, of course, solicit the Lord’s hand in all that I do, and I give credit to Him when, miraculously, I manage to pay my bills.) But I believe my choice of a profession still has an effect on my Life’s Work. Doing an oil painting of some fine couple’s wedding is not my Life’s Work, as much as I, and they, love it. But it does prepare me for my Life’s Work, which will ultimately utilize these artistic gifts for some higher purpose.
The proponents of this philosophy that God doesn’t care what we do for a living will tell me that my true Life’s Work is what I do within the walls of my home— as a husband and stepfather— and they do so rightly. They will also tell me it is the work I will do as a disciple of Christ, serving in the Church wherever I am called and needed, and bearing witness and testimony of my faith throughout my life. This is also true.
But if they say that my Art has no part in my Life’s Work, they do so in ignorance of such a calling, because it isn’t theirs, and they cannot relate to the experience.
I was given a blessing early in my life that I believe to be prophetic. From time to time I reread the transcript, and find inspiration and direction in it. But I never have to unfold that paper to remember this line: “You will have a vision of your Life’s Work, and [if you are obedient] you will be blessed to go forth and accomplish it.”
When I was ten years old, the same year I got my first set of oil paints, I began reading Scripture in earnest. With my head full of stories about people who had divine callings in life, I knelt down and asked God to reveal to me what my Mission in Life would be. I had not been on my knees more than a moment, when I was filled with a warm, pleasing understanding that my Life’s Work would be revealed to me little by little, throughout my life.
I am forty-seven years old. My professional life has been unremarkable, and its success has not been constant. I have had personal failures, and my spiritual life has also had its turbulence. But all these things have prepared me to stand in the place where I am, and say, as Samuel did,
“Lord, here am I.”
I know who I am, and what I am. But I only know what I will paint one painting at a time. The purpose of this blog is to share with you, readers, the process by which I imagine, study, and develop ideas into paintings. I welcome you to share with me this, my Life’s Work.