Identity in the Depths

By Hillary Asbury

Lately I have been reflecting on the unique challenges one faces when maintaining a creative career.

It’s a little odd, building a business by manufacturing products based on one’s private thoughts and feelings. My thoughts are inspired by many things—by experiences and certainly by Scripture. Those thoughts coalesce into a vision, and that vision eventually becomes a piece of artwork, which I will likely sell. Sometimes it feels as though I am selling my heart, my mind, my soul. It’s why, as a young artist, I found it difficult to let go of my work or sell it. It’s why many artists struggle to price their paintings.

How do you put a price on a piece of your identity?

How do you let someone else walk away with it? It becomes easier over time. You get used to sharing pieces of yourself, and eventually you see that allowing others to have them makes them more valuable. Each new viewer sees something different, which adds meaning to the painting. Over time, the work collects countless untold stories of those who have beheld it. The process is quite beautiful, I think.

But with this gift of sharing creativity comes great challenges as well.

Like many creatives, I have often struggled with varying degrees of depression and anxiety. Most days these are a low hum in the back of my mind, always there but usually not very disruptive. It often fuels my work, giving it depth, allowing me to explore difficult ideas and see beauty in otherwise dark places.

But what happens when depression takes over?

What happens when tragedy strikes or the unthinkable happens? What happens when your work is so tied to your spirit but your spirit feels like a crushing weight? What happens to the heart of your creativity when your heart seems empty? How do you press on and continue to work? How do you bare your soul to the world when your soul feels like its been chewed up and spat out? I don’t know if I have answers to any of those questions. I try to cling to the promises of the Gospel. I trust that as much as my spirit is depleted, it is filled to overflowing again and again (even if I can’t always see it).

I live in the hope that my incomplete and unworthy heart has been made whole by Christ.

Perhaps I am very blessed that my work forces me back to the Gospel over and over again. That when I feel miserable and in despair, if I am to work at all, I must work with Scripture. That even if the only thing I can do that day is pick up a paintbrush and stare at my painting, it is almost always a painting that brings comfort to my weary mind. My work brings me back to God and reminds me of who I am and what I have been given. I hope, with everything that I am, that it does the same for someone else, even just once.