Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic addresses the widespread idea that creative people must suffer for their work. Stereotypes of the starving artist and the drugged-out musician are as dangerous as the one of the damsel in distress. People start to think that the arts require sacrifices of blood, sleep, tears, and health. For decades legends like Stephen King and Steven Tyler believed they needed drugs or alcohol in order to create. Thankfully they have lived long enough to learn differently, but this idea of suffering for our work persists.
Even the Ecclesiastes writer embraces it. For him our work is all that defines us and we are nothing without it. Since no amount of effort or treasure keeps us from dying, work is as pointless as it is painful.
Yet he realizes how depressing this argument is. Since work is necessary, how do we live with the drudgery it involves (at least on some days)? Ecclesiastes suggests, There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil (v. 24). The writer concludes that we should enjoy what we do. He does note that when joy comes, this blessing is from God. Apart from [God]…who can have enjoyment? (v. 25). His ancient lines remind us that finding joy means living close to God.
Defying the idea that creative work must harm those who do it, Gilbert says that we can let a task become “an act of prayer” instead. “My ultimate choice, then, is to always approach my work from a place of stubborn gladness,” she writes. May we always seek the Creator’s company when we approach whatever work we do.
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (New York: Riverhead Books, 2015), 218-19.
What aspects of your work and hobbies do you most enjoy?
God, thank you for providing profound enjoyment in this life. May you bless us with the wisdom to seek your presence in all that we do. Amen.