I’ve talked to a lot of young, ambitious artists over the years. And as opportunities arise, I am quite open to discuss the intersections of faith and the arts with them. I’ve had a lot of great conversations with these young artists of faith, and I can’t help but see a little bit of me in each one of them. Passion. Drive. Enthusiasm. Talent. Discipline. And a healthy dose of naiveté.
Indeed, I think one of the most powerful things about youth is unbridled naiveté. I had truckloads of it when I was younger. And—for good and for bad—it fueled me into bursts of audacious boldness, to try things and do things and make things happen. Because when I was younger, I didn’t know that I couldn’t do a particular thing, so I just went ahead and did it.
I think about some of the preposterous, somewhat reckless things I did when I was younger, things that I might not have done had I known what I know now. Things like quit my fast-track career in aerospace to go into full-time ministry. Or start a project recording studio. Or a drama publishing company. Or a Christian jazz fusion band. But doing these things—in varying degrees of success and failure—have helped form the person I am now. And I wouldn’t change a thing.
I think about some of the young people I’ve mentored over time. I think about a friend of mine who is moving forward in a career as a jazz guitarist and educator. I think about another friend who has just moved back east, performing summer stock in Connecticut, with a goal to move to New York and perform on Broadway. Or a third young artist of faith who is, along with his wife, moving to north Africa to be missionaries. Or my own talented daughter, Rachel, who is building a promising career as a tattoo artist with great zeal and purpose. And many others.
None of these artists are necessarily being sensible or practical, at least in the world’s eyes. Reaching for the stars can be a dangerous thing. It is through a purposeful and determined naiveté that these young people are being propelled, in bold and surprising ways. As I said, young people can often do the “impossible” when they don’t know what is not possible. And here’s the thing. Even if they fail, it’s okay. The best time to experience failure is when you are young and the stakes are simply not as high.
So here’s a message for the older folk. First, think twice before discouraging a young person in their dreams. Rather, help them to negotiate the landmines on the road toward those dreams. (Ask the questions: Are these dreams from God? Do they honor Him? Where are you journeying with Him?) I’ve often told my children that they will inevitably make mistakes. The most important thing is that you keep moving forward, and learn from each experience. Second, surround yourself with young people. Because they have so much to teach us, so many ways to embolden us and help us reach beyond our stale paradigms. We need to be lifelong learners, and that includes learning from the generations in front of us as well as those behind us. And finally, don’t lose sight of the young person that you once were. We have the advantage of perspective, but also the myopia of it as well. Remembering where we’ve come from will help us understand where we should go.