Seen, heard, accepted

“I sing to be heard; I draw so that my pieces will be seen – I create in the hope of being appreciated.”

As creators or creatives, it seems perfectly natural to feel this way. After all, that is in part, the point of the whole creative process, isn’t it? Why produce or perform something if there is no audience or recipient? How can I make an impact on the World around me if I’m not concerned about who sees me, hears me and whether they accept me or what I have to say?

As a musician and writer, I often find that I place myself in situations of incredible vulnerability, usually after I share my pieces or after I perform – Did anyone see me play that riff? Does anyone realise that I intentionally chose to use this word in the lyrics instead of this ‘other’ word? Has anyone noticed? Is anybody going to tell me I did a good job? Why hasn’t anyone commented on my post/video/article?

It’s probably an understatement to say that I’ve been tussling with those questions for years. In the words of Jon Foreman, when it comes to these issues, I feel like “a plane in the sunset, with nowhere to land”.

The desire to be seen, heard and accepted is real. The possibility of being rejected on all these fronts (and the emotions that come with it) is real too, and often leaves me feeling like the authenticity of my creative work has been diminished somehow because of the need for attention to be brought to it.

Like a pendulum, I’ve swung back and forth on this many times. Some days though, I find that the easier path is to stay clear from sharing any of my creative work or putting it ‘out there’. It’s just too tiring to fight this battle time and again – I want to be content with what I’ve produced, and yet, I can’t enjoy it unless I know someone has seen it, heard it, and accepted it (thus, accepting me too).

3:16 Church Worship Service

About a week ago, I had the privilege of hearing Pastor Dan McCollam (“Ps Dan”) speak at an event about pursuing excellence in our creative pursuits instead of perfectionism. With impressive lucidity, Ps Dan wasted no time skirting around the issue, and cut to the heart of it like a knife through hot butter, and cast a spotlight on a word that has probably reverberated in the hearts and minds of all creators for ages: Significance.

This ever present desire of wanting to be heard, seen, and accepted for the work we produce returns to the essential question of whether we believe or think we have any significance in our respective communities.

By drawing on the story of Leah in the Bible (Genesis 29:31-35), Ps Dan explained how Leah struggled immensely with the issue of significance in her life.

Her marriage with Jacob started on the belief (or fact, however you see it) that she was never really wanted or valued in the first place. In gist, her father had to trick someone (Jacob) in order to marry her off, and the person she eventually married was actually interested in her sister instead. Talk about comparison, competition and sibling rivalry! Like many of us who have been scarred by comparison in our lives or in our creative work, Leah carried that wound around with her, and spent most part of her life seeking an answer to the question of value and significance.

As a result, when Leah bore children for Jacob, she was producing/creating them in the hope that she would finally be seen (verse 32), heard (verse 33), and accepted by her husband (verse 34):

“Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.”

Though I’ve never carried or given birth to a child, I feel that I can totally understand and identify with Leah’s emotional pain in childbirth. One child after the other, Leah created, wondering which child it would be that could bring a definitive answer to her question: “Am I valuable and significant in someone’s eyes?” It brings to mind the many times where I’ve thought that that one piece of writing or performance would finally help me know that “I’ve arrived”, or that I will finally earn the validation or affirmation of a particular person through that piece of work.

After three children, Leah seemed to finally find an answer to her question, and although the passage doesn’t really explain why, it does tell us how she found her rest on these questions of value and significance (verse 35):

“And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.””

This time, I will praise the Lord.

After what must have been years of experiencing the pain of rejection time after time, it seemed as if Leah finally understood that her question of significance and value could never be answered by her husband or her father, even though her wounds were caused by them. The definitive answer to her question could only be found in one Person – the God who created her.

X Conference - Genesis 29:35

It is poetic and beautiful when Leah says that she will praise “the Lord”, the name she uses is the name Jehovah (יְהֹוָה), which is the same word used to describe the God who created the heavens, the earth, and Man (see Genesis 1).

Leah’s (and our) question of significance can only be definitively answered by one Person, and her life-giving creative work was meant to lead to one thing only – worship of the One who created her. Anything less would have left her with an insatiable abyss of yearning and set her on a lifelong journey of seeking other ways to answer that question.

The inexpressible need and compulsion to impress people with our creative work returns to the issue of our value and significance. Most of us carry a wound or a hurt somewhere along this journey – when we thought we were of lesser value because of what somebody said about something we poured our hearts into creating – I understand that; struggled with that; and lived that out. Perhaps I may be the only one, but chances are that I am merely giving expression to something that many have quietly experienced in their hearts at one time or another in their creative journeys.

As creatives who seek to create and produce masterpieces for the glory of God, we need to un-learn our old patterns of creating, where we (consciously or otherwise) create from a place of insecurity and inner turmoil; where we try to impress in order to find value, significance or validation for ourselves. We may find those questions answered once or twice, but alas, the same question and pain comes back to haunt us and we find ourselves caught in a cycle of creating in order to know that we have been seen, heard and accepted by others.

We need to learn new patterns of creating. To create from a place of worship and security in our identity – where we can simply delight in the joy of creating; allowing it to culminate in our giving praise and thanks to the One who kick-started this whole creative process by making us; by knowing that we are already seen, heard, and accepted by a God who has done everything necessary to prove His love for us, and that we need not do anything to impress Him – for in fact, He was already impressed with us the moment He made us.

Jonathan Cho