One day when I was 16, I was eating lunch with friends in the cafeteria of my Christian high school. We were discussing our future careers. After several people had related their dreams, I worked up the nerve to share mine.
“I’d like to write for a television show someday,” I said.
“You can’t do that,” the oldest student at the table replied without missing a beat. “You can’t follow Jesus and work in the entertainment industry.”
Everyone else at the table nodded in agreement. Case closed.
I never pursued a career writing for television (although I wouldn’t mind being part of that process someday). Because of that conversation and countless more like it over the years, can’t has become the enemy of my creativity.
Although I’m a Bible-believing, church-attending Christian with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I have allowed can’t to silence my God-given gifts. I have, like the servant in Matthew 25, buried the talents and ideas I perceived as unacceptable to other Christians because of my fear of disapproval.
I know I’m not the only person who’s done this. In my years teaching English at Christian high schools, I met countless parents who confessed, “I used to enjoy [insert random artistic talent here], but then I stopped.”
I believe there are thousands, perhaps millions of Christians who used to engage in some sort of artistic endeavor but then fell silent because of their fear of judgment. Someone said, “You can’t do that and be a Christian,” and they believed it.
But is can’t a message that comes from the Bible?
I don't think it is.
According to Dictionary.com, can’t is a verb “expressing incapacity, inability, withholding permission.” So, when someone tells you that you can’t do something, that person is saying you are incapable, unable, or not allowed to do it. Translation: There's no choice involved--you couldn't do it even if you wanted to because you aren't capable.
The semantics are interesting to note, especially in light of the Ten Commandments—generally acknowledged (even though I don't agree with this opinion) as the “top 10 things the Bible says you can’t do.”
Most English translations of the Ten Commandments use the word shall--present tense of the verb should (another limiting word I plan to blog about in the future). According to Dictionary.com, shall means “plan to, intend to, or expect to” and is often used “in laws, directives, etc., [to mean] must, is, or are obliged to.” Shall not implies one is capable doing something but chooses not to.
Allow me to illustrate what I mean.
The sixth commandment says, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14, ESV). Using our definitions above, that means "You are absolutely capable of committing adultery, but please choose not to." Implied is God's recognition of our free will and His desire that we choose not to hurt others by our actions.
In addition, our abilities to do amazing things appears to be sanctioned by a God in Whom all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)—a God who inspired the apostle Paul to say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV, emphasis mine). This message is the exact opposite of can’t.
So where is can’t coming from?
Over ten years ago, my son and I stayed home from church one beautiful morning for no other reason than we wanted to. After breakfast, he wanted to play outside in his sandbox.
“We can’t play outside until this afternoon,” I said.
“Because we live a block from the church,” I replied. “People driving to and from church will see us and know we skipped. But if we stay inside until after church, people won’t judge us.”
Isn’t that awful? I cringe now thinking of that situation and the message it communicated about God, Christianity, and creative play to my child. But that story illustrates where my can’t usually comes from—my fear of what other Christians will think of me.
Sadly, I have allowed that fear to silence my creative voice for most of my life. Even sadder, I have completely ignored how God might feel about my refusing to share the creative talents He has given me.
I’m through with can’t. I serve an “all things are possible” God, and I intend to put Him to the test and find out what really is creatively possible when He and I work together to overcome my fears.
I’m done burying my talent in the backyard for fear of other people’s opinions. I’m ready to silence the voices in my head that say, “You can’t do that and be a Christian.”
Instead, with God’s help, I want to say, “I can do that and be a Christian.”