This week, please welcome author Dorothy Littell Greco to the blog. I love what Dorothy has to say about the power of creativity, and I pray you will find a spark in her words today as you face the challenges in your life with the power of your God-given imagination.
The Power of Creativity in Relationships
by Dorothy Littell Greco
Because I work as a photographer and writer, people often compare their lives to mine and say something along the lines of “You’re so lucky. I’m just not that creative.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
As men and women made in God’s image, all of us are inherently creative.
This is a good thing because the ability to imagine and create is essential in every phase and every aspect of life. It will help us to figure out how to remodel the bathroom on a budget and what to feed our families night after night. Imagination and creativity are equally important in the relational realm. Resolving conflicts between co-workers (or your own children), establishing boundaries with in-laws, or breaking through to something new with your spouse all depend upon our ability to look beyond the problem and come up with a solution. Once we see creativity through this larger frame, we can then rely on it to help us navigate any type of relational challenge.
A Gift for Everyone
God has chosen to endow all of us with the ability to create because He’s a good God and because He knew we would need this faculty. As such, engaging our imaginations and living creatively should not be seen as child’s play or as a privilege for select vocations such as a sculptor or musician. To think along these lines is to deny our heritage. Poet Luci Shaw asserts, “We who believe we bear God’s image must realize that the image includes the capacity to imagine and create, because God is himself an imaginative Creator.” In fact, God is the ultimate creator. He came up with the idea for snow, giant sequoias, watermelons, rainbows, hummingbirds, dolphins, and the particulars of procreation.
You may not write books or take photographs, but you have the capacity to bring order, solve problems, and make beautiful things—which is what being creative is all about.
When you successfully motivated your kids to do household chores or resolved a budget issue at church, you imagined a solution and then brought it to fruition. That’s creativity at work.
How Hope Can Ignite Our Imagination
A vibrant, rooted-in-God imagination serves all of our relationships. All of us go through seasons when we feel—or actually are—stuck. Perhaps you and your best friend can’t find your way through a conflict or maybe you have a child with long-term health issues. In these situations, imagining something new, according to theologian Janine Langan, “is an act of hope.” By choosing to believe that there is a future and that we have some agency in it, we confront any of the powerlessness or hopelessness that linger due to our current circumstances.
In the context of our relationships, a hope-filled imagination can help us to move from unhappiness to contentment and delight. By consistently praying, “God help me to see this relationship’s potential. Help me believe that change is possible,” and then waiting in holy anticipation, we become open us to new possibilities and can begin the process of change. Granted, sometimes that change takes years of hard work—including counseling, extended prayer, and staying present in the difficult moments—but choosing hope is typically the first step.
True hope can only emerge when we’re rooted in reality. Denial leads to magical thinking and ultimately, disappointment or bitterness. Relationally speaking, one important component of rooting ourselves in reality means acknowledging what’s broken or where we’re stuck. When a marriage or friendship is floundering, set aside some time when both parties are well-resourced and engage in an honest conversation. Explain how things are not working for you and own your contribution to any broken dynamics. Having these conversations from a humble and curious posture helps us to understand each other and the situation more fully. For these conversations to go well, we also need to understand how criticism factors in.
The Role of Criticism
Critical thought is an essential part of the creative process. However, it’s also dangerous:
Nothing douses creativity more quickly than incessant or insensitive critique.
Regardless of whether we spend our time parenting young children or performing open heart surgery, we all make hundreds of critical decisions every day. Will we go to the library or the playground this morning? Will I use the number ten or number fifteen scalpel for this surgery? Feelings rarely come into play with this type of assessment. Applying the critical process to relationships is often more emotional and therefore, more complicated.
While critical thought is necessary to any form of creating, when it becomes criticism it has the potential to shut-down the creative process and alienate us from each other. Here’s a snapshot of what that might look like:
Amanda wants to discuss the family’s budget with her husband, Dan. When they sit down to talk, she begins by communicating her concern about their inability to save money. In her mind, she is opening up a conversation about a shared problem. However, he gets defensive and immediately criticizes her for spending too much money. They both end up frustrated and nothing is resolved.
Picture the two of them on a tennis court. What just happened is equivalent to Amanda hitting the ball to Dan and Dan slamming the ball down and walking off the court. Game over. All he needed to do was hit the ball back to her, joining her on the court for a creative back and forth. He could have done this by saying, “OK. I hear your concern about our budget. Tell me more,” or “I need help figuring out how to feed our family of six on a tight budget. Could we work on this together?”
Once we pinpoint the problem together, we can shift from criticizing and blaming the other person toward the creative work of imagining solutions.
How to Apply the Creative Process to Relationships
- Identify the specific issue or area of relational discontent. (e.g., “We frequently disagree on parenting strategies,” or, “We’re not on the same page with regard to how often we see each other.”)
- Acknowledge your contribution. “I’ve been so exhausted from taking care of everyone that I just don’t have the energy to be intimate.”
- Apologize and forgive each other as necessary.
- Invite the Holy Spirit to inspire your imagination. Be attentive to what the Spirit might be saying to you as you go for a walk, listen to music, make dinner, or engage in a more traditional form of prayer. Write down any thoughts or ideas that come to mind.
- Be open to each other’s ideas. Use phrases like, “Tell me more!” Or “Help me understand why that’s important to you,” rather than immediately jumping to critique.
- Regularly ask questions such as, Where are we in sync, where are we out of sync, and how long has that been true? Are there places where we need to course correct?
- Prioritize working on one issue at a time and reach out for help if you get stuck.
- Don’t rush the process. Changing behaviors and relational patterns is often much slower than we want it to be.
As we face the inevitable conflicts, disappointments, and crises of life, remember that the creative process is meant to bring hope, break through despair, solve problems, and energize us. Because God passed down his creative DNA and because the Holy Spirit dwells in us, it is part of our spiritual work to imagine and then create healthy, joy-filled relationships.
Dorothy Littell Greco is a photographer, writer, and the author of Making Marriage Beautiful and Marriage in the Middle. You can find her work and sign up for her monthly newsletter at dorothygreco.com