I remember as a child seeing a television clip that featured the proper tactics for trapping a baboon. It was a painfully simple strategy:
Step 1: Make sure the baboon is watching.
Step 2: Dig a small hole in an ant mound and place seeds inside.
Step 3: Watch the baboon wait for your absence, put his hand in the mound, and refuse to loosen his grip.
Step 4: Go fetch your baboon.
The entire plan hinges on the unwillingness of the baboon to let go of the seeds inside the hole. With the bait in his clenched fist, he cannot pull his hand back out. He is effectively pinned down. After the trapper approaches him and hauls him off, the narrator says something about the baboon that is both obvious and snarky:
“Now he lets go, when it’s too late.”
Artists have a bad rap. They’re moody, brooding, lazy, self-absorbed. They’re couch-surfing drifters with arrested development. They have little to no employment and make few commitments. And while some have fed this narrative, most of the artists I know are anything but the traits described above. They’re industrious and ambitious. They’re the ones likely to create something that powerfully ripples through culture. They have a hand firmly planted on the lens of how the church sees the world. They dream big and work incredibly hard to make the beauty, sights, and sounds inside them become a tangible reality. They take the rawest parts of themselves and bravely put them on display for public consumption.
That said, a dark side exists in most of us because of how we involve our ourselves in our work. We deeply identify with the song, sculpture, or computer code that we create, and we often have a hard time seeing where we end and our work begins.
I have found one antidote, more powerful than any other I know, to push back against this dark side: rest. There isn’t a more essential or difficult spiritual discipline for the creative than rest.
I would argue that creatives in the church have two strikes against them as it relates to practicing rest. Outside of our tendency to overwork because of our art, we work in ministry. Ministry work matters. We deal with the souls of men and women, and the weight of that can drive us even further away from giving ourselves permission to rest. Our fists hold furiously tight to our roles, our projects, our timelines, our inbox, and our mobile device, because we’re dedicated to serving our congregation. So if you’re an artist in the church, it’s even more imperative that you seek and practice rest.
With this in view, let me offer a few practical tips on resting well in this next season.
Rest With Intention
Rest is something that gets suffocated and squandered because it’s important, but never urgent. If you won’t plan it, it won’t happen. Plan short times of weekly rest and bigger slots way in advance. Take vacations. Seek environments that help you disconnect. Spend time in solitude and silence, where you can listen to the Spirit, take time talking to the Father, and dream about the future.
Rest In Connection
Who do you have fun with? Who helps you see God more clearly? Who is life-giving? Make time to be with them. Especially if you are in ministry, the amount of time you spend pouring out is often disproportionate to the time you spend with others that charge you up. Be known and transparent with a few that you trust. Being known is a basic need of the human soul and that need increases with any form of leadership. Barbecue with friends. Have a picnic with your spouse. Visit family you miss. Host parties. Be with people that fill your tank.
Rest In Identity
We hold on to nonessential things the tightest when we have forgotten who we are. If we misalign the order and priority of our roles (e.g child of God, wife, father, pastor, designer, songwriter, etc.), we are destined to become weary and feel trapped. If you have trusted Christ for salvation, you are, first and foremost, a purchased son or daughter of the most powerful and kind King ever. Jesus is your rest. You belong to Him forever, and nothing that you can hold or create will change that.
Don’t Waste This Summer
Anyone who has worked in ministry or served through many seasons knows that summer is a time where churches tend to take a breath. Summer is a time to work on your craft and not just in it. Get away from the office this summer and think about your next year while you have the margin to do so.
There is nothing more disheartening than seeing someone ignore rest and in turn find wreckage. The narrator’s commentary on the baboon says it all:
“Now he lets go, when it’s too late.”
Ignoring rest is costly. We get weary. We become lifeless. Our creativity drains. In some cases leaders have disqualified themselves, largely because their exhaustion lead to morally compromising decisions.
If we are willing to let go of the busyness and chaos that rules us, we realize that peace is closer that we think. Surrender the need to be busy and experience real freedom in Christ. Creating space in your life will deepen your love of the Savior, make you a better friend/spouse/employee, and ultimately bring about your best creative work. Loosen your grip—it’s worth it.
P.S. You can watch the original baboon video here.
Donald Zimmerman is the Worship Pastor at Doxa Church in downtown Bellevue. Donald moved to the northwest with his wife and kids in early 2015. He’s led worship for 17 years in churches of all sizes and loves investing in leaders, and helping artists find their place in ministry.
He coaches worship leaders all over the country and blogs about leading artists in the local church at zimmermanband.com.