I spent the bulk of last week in Chicago for Story, a conference for those who are engaged in the creative world—storytellers, musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers, among others. I went to this event a couple years ago and found it… weird, but interesting, and a bit scattered in its message. This time around, it had its elements of pretension—the standard “You are creative and the world needs you!” type stuff—but it wasn’t all rah-rah this time. Instead, I noticed a pretty consistent theme come through all the speakers’ addresses: this idea of courageous creativity.
What do I mean by that? Being willing to take risks—real risks. Being willing to try something and fail.
This is something few of us are good at. In fact, it’s not something I’m entirely sure I know how to do. Working in the non-profit world, where we deal with money entrusted to us by donors, it sometimes feels as though we can’t afford to try something and have it fail. We can’t really take risks, which means we can’t really innovate.
Or so we think.
I wonder, though, how much would change for us if someone just said these five words: “You are free to fail”?
Would we be more willing to take risks? To experiment?
To maybe even have a little fun with our work?
And moving beyond creative work, consider how these words affect our relationship with God. Just as many of us who work in the non-profit world believe failure isn’t an option, many of us believe the same thing about following Jesus? That if we’re not “all-rise” in our approach to the Christian faith—always more baptisms, more bums in seats, more services—we’re blowing it?
Why do we keep forgetting that, although we will always progress on our march to holiness, it’s going to be of a stumbling, faltering sort? That there is a sense in which we are told in the gospel, we are free to fail? Not in a way that minimizes or blesses sin, but in the sense that it’s our failures more than our successes that we see our need for Christ—and God uses to shape us into the image of Christ?
This, too, requires courage. A kind of courage we too easily set aside for the sake of appearances. We want to be seen as godly, without actually wanting to take the risks associated with becoming godly. Confessing sin is a risk. Repenting of sin requires courage. But the reward—while it may never be fully seen in this world—makes the risk worth it, doesn’t it?