Process and Pray Through the Arts

How can you shake up and refresh your rhythms of rest? Maybe try doing something new in the creative space. We’re continuing in our Refresh series today—approach your downtime with a new perspective.
—Hayley Mullins, True Woman Blog Content Manager

“Know thyself.” The ancient Greek maxim holds some truth to it. Though there is such a thing as morbid introspection, knowing ourselves can be crucial for the believer in Christ. We mainly find out about ourselves through reading Scripture, which acquaints us with our sinful nature and helps us get to know the character of God, but we can also get to know ourselves by taking time to process our thoughts and feelings. There is such a thing as healthy self-reflection and assessment in light of the grace found in Christ. If self-reflection and assessment leads to increased knowledge of God, and if it leads to a deeper love for and a closer relationship with Christ, then it’s healthy.

Leave Room for Silence and Reflection

Our culture, in general, is busy and fast-paced. We tend to overschedule and pack in as much as we can in our lives for various reasons—success, money, fame, anxiety, etc. We don’t leave enough room for silence, for the stillness and quiet to invade us and show us ourselves and the Word of God applied to our lives. God can still work in our lives during busyness, but we must fight against intentionally crowding him out due to idols of the heart. One way we can stop the madness and invite the stillness is through the arts: stopping to do something with our hands; laboring to make something beautiful—whether a loaf of bread, a painting, or a knit hat; taking a walk with a camera in hand; or carving out time to sit down and write, whether that be formal writing on a laptop or informal writing in a personal journal.

God created us to process. And we do a disservice to ourselves when we zoom past that and ignore or bury our feelings instead of acknowledging them and working through them. Our emotions are a gift from God and designed by Him as a signpost for us. We don’t need to be scared of emotions or automatically assume they are all sinful. But we do need to make sure that the Word of Truth is always our foundation and use it to test our thoughts and feelings. The end goal of acknowledging and processing our thoughts and feelings is always to love God and neighbor more. It’s not ultimately about our self-fulfillment or self-actualization, and it’s not at all about self-glorification. We process in order to understand and help ourselves, so we can then love others better. The end result must always be doing the right thing in accordance with Scripture; the end fruit is always virtue. And spiritual rest is another added bonus.

Follow the Psalmists’ Example

The arts can be one vehicle of providing rest through helping us process life, emotions, human experience, and even the truths of Scripture. We see a prime example of this from King David. Not only was he a giant slayer, a shepherd boy, and a mighty king—he was an artist. He processed many of the large events in his life through songwriting: dealing with injustice and betrayal (and trusting in the promises of God for the throne) when he was running and hiding from King Saul, and also when he was confronted with the most heinous sins of his life.

Many of David’s psalms consist of him wrestling with God and himself. One-third of the psalms are lament. David was raw in his honesty with God and even boldly questioned Him.

For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? (Ps. 43:2).

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Ps. 13:1–2).

But most of these types of psalms end with David and the other psalmists exulting God and preaching truth to themselves.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God (Ps. 43:5).

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me (Ps. 13:5–6).

In Psalm 88, we see there is room for another type of emotional processing. It’s a cry of deep dark despair to God. You can feel the pain. And at the end there is no hope in this psalm, for the psalmist ends it with: “My companions have become darkness” (v. 18). This is in the Bible, because the life of a Christian can be riddled with depression, and not every personal story in a believer’s life has a neatly packaged happy ending. We know from the other psalms that the psalmists didn’t always settle here, but the author did in this one instance. It’s how he felt in the moment, and he needed space to process those feelings to God.

Most likely the psalmists wrote these songs without knowing they would be included in the scriptural canon and read by every follower of Christ for thousands of years afterward. They, including David, wrote for an audience of One, not a particular market. He also plainly wrote for himself, getting out his thoughts and feelings before God. His writing was a prayer. The catechism songs my children listen to define prayer as “pouring out our hearts to God.” And that is exactly what David excelled at.

The arts can be prayers to God, because we can use them to pour out our hearts to Him. We can refresh ourselves through the arts—writing a poem, a song, a journal entry, or a blog post; crafting a sculpture; or painting on canvas—and find rest in Christ through them. We can use these activities as a way to process our emotions (and intentions of our hearts) through the lens of Scripture, so we can grow in our trust of the Father. This is a way to find rest for ourselves and bring glory to God.

About the Author

Liz Wann

Liz Wann

Liz Wann is the author of The End of Me: Finding Resurrection Life in the Daily Sacrifices of Motherhood. She is the Editor in Chief at Morning by Morning and regularly contributes to Desiring God, Think Christian, Christ and Pop … read more …

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