English writer G. K. Chesterton has been quoted as saying, “Art consists in limitation.” Another common phrase amongst artists says that creativity thrives under constraints. But could this principle be true outside of traditional forms of creativity? Could it apply to the life we are creating or the experience of mortality that God has created for us? On this week’s episode of All In, Sarah Jane Wright, co-author, and illustrator of the beloved Lola Dutch children’s book series as well as the illustrator of Emily Belle Freeman and David Butler’s new children’s book, More Than Just A Star, shared the story of a priesthood blessing she received as a young teenager that has impacted her approach to life.
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Morgan Jones Pearson: You were talking earlier about how with kids creativity involves messiness. And it’s interesting to think that in our lives, there’s that parallel as well, that as we get older, seeking to create doesn’t get any less messy, that messiness may look different. But it is the same in many ways. And I think that’s an important thing to recognize. And, speaking of messiness, in the midst of all of this creativity, and all of the exciting things that you’ve been able to be a part of and do over the last 14 years, your family has also faced some health challenges, especially in the last couple of years. I wondered, what did you find to be helpful during that time? And how do you feel like you’re stronger as a result of those hard things that you’ve been through?
Sarah Jane Wright: That is such a great question. Because I think whether it’s health challenges or any other limitation, I think it’s really easy to say, “Okay, Father, you’ve put me on this path, we’re on this journey. And now all of a sudden, I have all these limitations.” It’s so easy to just say, “Wait a minute, you told me to do this, or you guided me towards this particular thing? Why am I all of a sudden having so many hiccups? Or why is it all of a sudden, so hard? Or why am I having all these limitations?” When I was around 13 or 14, I was diagnosed with a chronic condition that was pretty minor. But at the time, you know, when you’re 13, you’re like, “Oh, my life is over.” You know, I was playing basketball for ward basketball, and I was dancing, and in my school’s plays, and my body wasn’t able to do any of those things. And I had a blessing for my bishop and my dad. And he ultimately said in the blessing, “Your body is meant to have limitations. And you’re here to experience the limitations of your body as well as the abilities that your body has.” And I remember thinking at that young age, “Wait, that’s not what I want to hear. I don’t want to hear that I have limitations. I have this whole life ahead of me, I want to do so many amazing things.” And I’ve come to realize, though, a few decades later, that we say this phrase all the time in the arts, creativity thrives on limitations, and why is that? Creativity thrives on limitations because when you have limitations, all of a sudden, you don’t have everything at your fingertips, you can’t do it all on your own—you need a Savior. And ultimately, my power to create and my ability to create is going to come from Jesus Christ. And it already does come from Jesus Christ. So, whether it’s health limitations, financial limitations, social limitations, I mean, you name it, emotional, mental. It’s giving me an opportunity to rely more upon the Lord, which ultimately is going to give me more ability to create and more power to do his work. So that’s a lot easier said than done. I’m saying this in 2020 hindsight. But when you’re in the middle of it, it can feel like the Lord is closing a door. But ultimately, He’s giving me an opportunity to see how it can be done in His way, which is always so much better.
Morgan Jones Pearson: You’re speaking my language because I’ve thought about this so much. I had some health problems over the last couple of years and I’ve just seen so much how you experience the enabling power of the Atonement so much more when you’re dealing with like you said, those limitations, and I have never thought about it the way that you put it but I’ve said so many times like I can feel the Lord giving me just enough you know, that like daily bread principle, giving me just enough to get me through the one day and then the next day, and so I love that so much. Sarah, you have also experienced a lot of change over the past few years, for example, I had no idea that you had moved until somebody else told me. So what have you learned about embracing change? And how does that relate to our ability to create?
Sarah Jane Wright: So piggybacking off this idea of creativity thrives and limitations. You know, the Lord is so wise, He knows that we’re not going to learn and grow from doing the same thing in the same ways. I think because we have to experience change, no matter where we are in the phase of life we’re in. Every time I’m faced with those big decisions, where there are big changes, I’m given an opportunity to choose, am I going to choose Jesus Christ, or am I going to choose to just white knuckle it my own way? And so I think in this past experience with our family, getting uprooted and changing careers and plans, and even hopes and dreams were kind of put on the shelf, it’s an opportunity, Morgan, I think to really dig deep and say, am I willing to create this life that God knows that I can create? And so coming back to this idea of creativity, ultimately, we don’t know the end from the beginning. And when I sit down with a piece of paper, a white piece of paper, I ultimately actually don’t know the end from the beginning, either I can have an idea in my mind of like what I want to draw or what I want to paint, but I don’t know what it’s going to look like. And it’s the same way in our lives, you know, we can have an idea of how we’re going to approach these big hurdles or these big changes. But we have to trust the Lord. And so for me, creativity becomes more about the relationship between trusting the Lord and getting to work. And so I feel like I’m applying this principle every day.
Morgan Jones Pearson: I noticed as I was kind of going through your social media to try to prepare for this interview, I noticed that you mentioned that you moved in the middle of COVID. And so you’re like adjusting to this change, the whole world is adjusting to a crazy change. And I couldn’t help but notice that you posted several times essentially, I couldn’t say that I’m the same person that I was pre-COVID. And I think all of us can see that. And it may be in some positive ways. It may be in negative ways. But I wonder, talking about God being a creator and kind of shaping and molding us into who he wants us to be, how did you see that you were changed by that period of time when life was just different?
Sarah Jane Wright: Well, you’re right that we’ve all hopefully turned those experiences or that the Lord has turned all those experiences for our good so so much. Can I illustrate this with a story, please, from the scriptures, I have gone back to the story of the brother of Jared probably more than any other story. You know, we all kind of have our favorite stories, and that one is my favorite. And when I think about how the Lord has turned those really hard changes and experiences for my good, and how He is helping me learn how to create, I think about the brother of Jared, because he had to create something right? He had to build a boat. He had to build this, this vessel. And I think about how the Lord instructed him. He instructed the brother of Jared to build a vessel and the way that he already knew how to do, which I love, right? He’s starting where we are. The Lord is saying, Okay, I want you to cross these great waters. So go ahead and build a boat the way that you’ve done before. And I feel that shows incredible mercy and love that the Lord had for the brother of Jared but I also see this incredible opportunity that brother Jared had that isn’t in the Scripture. So I’m kind of like pulling this and relating it to my own experience, the brother of Jared had already built these boats before. And they were for the small waters, right, whatever that was. But the brother of Jared knew he was going to be crossing these great waters that he would require more air to breathe, and it would need light. And they would be in these vessels for a lot of days. And because he had built them before for the small waters, he had to have known, like, while he was building it, wait a minute, this isn’t going to be big enough or sufficient enough for me to cross the great waters. But it says in the scriptures that he built it to completion, he built those vessels like the Lord instructed. And I know for me, I would have probably gone to Heavenly Father way before I started and been like, wait a minute, this doesn’t match up, you know, like, I gotta do this big job, I got to have a big boat for this big job, you’re asking me to build a small boat. And I don’t think it’s gonna work. Brother of Jared didn’t do that. He was first and foremost obedient.
I think sometimes when the Lord asks us to do really hard things we have this, we know is going to be hard. And we go, Wait a minute, I don’t want to do this, or I want to do this a different way. And first and foremost, the brother of Jared was obedient. And the second thing that I want to pull from this story that I really had to trust and draw upon is that the Lord wanted to get the brother of Jared to the promised land. But even more importantly, I think he wanted to build a man of faith. And I’ve had to draw upon that principle, time and time again, that, yes, the Lord wants our family or wants me to go through certain experiences and have certain things. But most importantly, He wants me to become a woman of faith. And we know that because ultimately, the brother of Jared went through these amazing experiences of both coming up with ideas and relying upon the Lord for ideas. And ultimately he saw, he was able to see God, and the Lord needed him to become a man of faith before he crossed those great waters. And so when I think about the hard things that the Lord has asked our family to do, or myself to do, I have to remember that ultimately, He wants to create, I’m using that word very intentionally. He wants to create women and men of faith. And that’s going to require me to be a partner with Him then, and I have to trust Him. And I have to both be willing to figure it out myself and go to Him for ideas. And so when it comes to how do I navigate, you know, those big changes, and ultimately, come to the Lord in that creative way, it’s letting the Lord lead and letting myself choose and act. And that relationship is pretty awesome.