T he singer Lorde is scared of being known. Lorde hit the ionosphere in 2013 with the song “Royals,” which contains the lyric, “We will never be royals.” Except of course that when the song blew up, she started being treated like a royal.
Now she speaks cautiously of her fame, and wants to return to her native New Zealand to make more music because being known isn’t helping her creative process.
She’s not the first person to discover the downside of creative success. Hemingway once warned his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald to ignore the temptation to be known. Ironic, isn’t it?
I use the word “known” because that’s the word Andy Stanley used in his prescient – at least to me – Catalyst keynote last fall. Here’s the part of what he said that day that I haven’t forgotten:
We each have an appetite for intimacy—for being known.
It fuels many of our decisions, good and bad. In a healthy relationship, it’s life changing. In the public sphere, it’s intoxicating.
As Andy said, we can never have enough likes or followers to satisfy this appetite. We start to believe we deserve it. We become addicted to it. Celebrities sometimes speak of their fans as if collective “fans” are a person, and being on stage is the same as being in a healthy one-on-one relationship.
But fans aren’t real. They’re fans, and their fawning fuels self-obsession.
Fans turn the spirit behind our creative work into a spirit of self-glory.
Creativity is a privilege, not an entitlement.They obscure our work. In my book Two Percent I call this a demon of creativity, because of what happens to Jesus in the wilderness. I call the demon Rex, because he tries to make us believe we deserve to be a king for our work when in fact we deserve nothing for our work. The creative process in fact is one of the highest honors God bestows on humanity. It’s a privilege, not an entitlement.
We can almost always expect at least some recognition for good creative work, eventually. And we pray for recognition, because we believe in our work and know it will help others. I’m praying right now for recognition for my as-of-yet unpublished book.
But with recognition comes Rex, and if you begin to believe his lie that you are royal, you will suffocate the source of your creativity. Soon you will become more interested in building platform than in being creative.
And when this happens, you’re toast.
There’s only one way to avoid the problem of being known.
Mark 1 says the whole countryside of Judea came out to hear John the Baptist speak. That’s tens of thousands of people in a time when most towns were only a few thousand big. John was a rock star.
John’s fans thought he was the long awaited leader who had come to overthrow Roman oppressors. You can only imagine the temptation to power John felt. It was all in front of him.
Yet he turned Rex away by saying,
A person can only receive what is given to him from heaven. – John 3:27
John knew that his creative power was not his own.
Fans tempt us to put our identity in our creativity. When people like what we do, our desire is to keep doing it, not for the original passion but for the validation it offers. John recognized that the danger.
Don’t think to yourself, my own strength and abilities have produced all this prosperity for me. – Deuteronomy 8:17
Our identity belongs not in our creative work but in the Creator who gives us our creativity to begin with. When we forget the difference we fall into a form of idol worship, believing that our own creativity led us to our success.
There is only one reason to create.
The solution is to say to yourself, and I have to do this every day, that I only create for one reason – not to be known, but because I am made to create. I am an aqueduct through which God’s creative power passes through to dry lands.
When we recognize this, we’re free to say, I’m okay with the idea that my creative work may make me known, or it may not make me known. Either way.
If it doesn’t make me known, I will celebrate that Rex isn’t hovering around, convincing me to pocket the glory. And if does make me known, I will both celebrate that my work might help change someone’s life for the better and be ready to shoo Rex away. In either case, I will do my best to not let what I do become who I am but to remember:
My identity is not in what I make but in Christ.
The more we remember this, the more we can sustain a good creative process.