I'm stealing today's post from a comment I wrote on a friend and fellow artist's blog yesterday after he posted about finding your creative voice. What I answered him with was something that, as I wrote it, I was keenly aware had kind of been a part of my artist's struggle (and I think is a part of the struggle with anything any one of us does) but I had never quite been able to articulate in such a way as I did off-the-cuff last night. I wanted to expand on my thoughts a little.
Like most people, I'd always thought the words "gift" and "talent" were interchangeable. Whatever you were talented at, that was your gift; and similarly, whatever you were gifted at, others would see you as talented. In new words, I'm not so sure that is the case.
What my friend was writing about was how easy it is when you're working in your own craft - whether that's music, word, construction, business, service, whatever is your craft - to find yourself slowly slipping out of what is purely you and entering into a mimic of some of the artists that inspire you. I've been there. You're just moving along doing what you're doing and you suddenly realize that your offering is buried in there in someone else's voice.
That's where the interplay of gift and talent comes in.
Your gift is your heart. It is your way of thinking, of processing things, of connecting with the world around you and the heart of God. It is everything He pours into you for the sole purpose of your pouring back out. It is what erupts from your heart in moments of humbled glory. There's no effort in it. No work. No labor. It is that thing that simply is and that comes out raw. Pure emotion. Pure heart. Pure pour. And usually, purely a mess. That's your gift.
The balance to gift is talent. Talent is your craftsmanship. It is the work you put into your gift to transform it. It's what turns the song of your heart into a song for the church; the story you're blurting out into a story worth reading. It's the polishing touch that is a combination of discipline and skill.
In the same way that we know faith without works is dead and works without faith is wasteful, gift without talent is wasted and talent without gift is futile.
The mark of a great artist...is both. This is true from the novice painter to the Creator of the universe. God's gift is His love poured out; it is His heart. It is everything He wanted to give us. His talent, though, is His majesty; it is the work of His hands all around us and the craftsmanship with which He created this world. Can you imagine one without the other? A world where darkness is not separate from light, where there are no trees or birds of the air or creatures that crawl along the ground, where we are amorphous consciousnesses in a sea of something so intangible as His love? By contrast...a sterile world of science and molecules and impersonal processes of creating mechanical 'beauty' from petri dishes?
Talent takes discipline. It takes practice. It takes throwing yourself into the mess your heart can make when it's trying to say something and making some semblance of sense of that mess so that it can speak. And yet it cannot be whittled down to a process. It's not something you're doing to do the same way every time and find the end result you're looking for. True talent - while it is both discipline of the heart and inclination to skill - incorporates a vast amount of grace. It treats the offering you're trying to bring with tenderness. It embraces what God is pouring into His world through you and honors what you're offering. It does not simply assign a lyric a note; it assigns a lyric the only specific note in the scale meaningful for that lyric. It does not simply put any old word to a feeling; it chooses the one word that both says what you know you're saying and implies what you can't quite put your finger on. It brings the attitude, the passion, and the truth to the offering of your heart: your gift.
That's part of the place I think we can get a little lost. I know I can. I get the two confused sometimes and I'll find myself trying to put discipline into my gift instead of my talent, thinking it's the words that roll off my heart and the inspiration that I have to search for. Then I find myself backed up, blocked up, and completely shut down and that only makes me work harder for the gift. On the off chance I get it - get something - from my backward endeavor and the words do pour out of me as though my talent were my gift, I'll be honest and tell you that when I read it again, even I don't understand it. But when I let my heart break free and let my true gift start to fill me up, I know I am back in this place: gifted and working toward talented. Angsty and on the edge of my seat, thirsty to get this offering out of my heart in a language that makes it meaningful to what He's doing here. And that throws me back into the discipline of talent, pushing myself and practicing and developing the inclination toward skill He's put in my hands that makes me the artist - the create-r - He created in me.
So as I told my friend as he pondered the challenges of finding his creative voice, and I say to you as you contemplate your gift and talent: Our job is to pour out our hearts. That is our offering. That is our gift. Just pour ourselves out. Then use our skill, our discipline, our talent to polish that up and make it worthy of our calling. That is our art.