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Is your adolescent creative? Does he find meaning and beauty in things most of his peers take for granted? Is she unusually sensitive, feeling things very deeply? If so, you may be raising an artist. Whether they paint, sculpt, write, act, sing, draw or play an instrument, these young people—given the right spiritual moorings—can expose their culture to our Creator in unique and remarkable ways.

It's not always easy to connect with artistic teens. They can seem moody and detached. Some parents mistakenly dismiss their talent as folly or belittle certain character traits. In his book The Heart of the Artist, Willow Creek Community Church music minister Rory Noland says, "Everyone with an artistic temperament has been told at some point in his or her life to develop a thicker skin. That's nonsense! The world doesn't need more thick-skinned people. It needs more people who are sensitive and tender."

If you have an artist in your home, as I do, count your blessings. Then brace for a tug-of-war as you try to encourage both free-wheeling artistry and the moral discipline and theological dogmatism essential to Christian life. That's a combination not often found in nature. Yet at some point you'll need to help teens strike the proper balance—for your sanity and theirs.

We've all heard about the left brain/right brain dichotomy. Compelling research by surgeon Joseph Bogen, Nobel Prize-winning psychobiologist Roger Sperry, and author Robert Ornstein (The Psychology of Consciousness) has suggested that the left hemisphere of the brain does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to logic, analysis and quantitative reason. It's more rational and verbal—essential for chemists, accountants, lawyers and sports referees.

Your artistic child, on the other hand, is probably more "right-brained" by nature. That hemisphere is more intuitive, imaginative, conceptual and non-verbal. Some experts believe curiosity, flexibility and a willingness to take risks are also associated with this predisposition. In heavy doses, this can make it hard for young artists to fit in and feel "normal."

Irving Stone's biography of Vincent van Gogh, Lust for Life, states, "No artist is normal; if he were, he wouldn't be an artist. Normal men don't create works of art. They eat, sleep, hold down routine jobs and die. You [the artist] are hypersensitive to life and nature; that's why you are able to interpret for the rest of us. But if you are not careful, that hypersensitivity will lead you to your destruction. The strain of it breaks every artist in time."

A grim prognosis. But it doesn't have to be that way. While extremely creative teens may be wired differently than their classmates, budding artists who abide in Christ can achieve healthy equilibrium, a divine perspective and a purpose beyond merely scratching a creative itch or seeking the applause of others. Help teens hone their craft in a spiritually supportive environment. Your local church is a good place to start. Of course, for more serious artists, Christian record labels, publishers and filmmakers respect and foster a passion for Jesus.

A number of years ago, I made a discovery that may interest aspiring young actors and set designers eager to work on Broadway-quality shows in a faith-based setting. Sight & Sound Ministries operates one impressive theater amid the cornfields of Lancaster County, Pa., and another in Branson, Mo. My family and I attended their edifying Noah: The Musical. Some of the jaw-dropping sets were 40 feet tall. As the curtain opened on the ark's interior, the audience gasped. We were suddenly surrounded by a 300-foot stage packed floor to ceiling with live and animatronic animals. Amazing! (For more about what's playing now, check out www.sight-sound.com.) During a backstage tour conducted by young actors from Noah, I got a sense of the heart behind the art. Sight & Sound's commitment to excellence is surpassed only by its commitment to honoring Christ. And where did it all begin? With a young boy who started to draw as soon as he was able to hold a pencil. Between chores on his family's farm, Glenn Eshelman later painted landscapes. This spawned an interest in photography, which led to multimedia slide shows and, eventually, top-notch stage productions that have blessed millions of people … including those working in the spotlight and behind the scenes.

Nurturing a young artist isn't always easy, but the rewards can be great. We need to encourage our kids and help them find appropriate, spiritually healthy outlets for their talents. As Noland writes, "Imagine what God could do with an artistic temperament that's completely yielded to Him. He doesn't look at us as 'those strange artsy types.' After all, He made us, He loves us and He understands us." Indeed He does. And I can't wait to see what's hanging on His refrigerator.

Published June 2012