Falling Short

The other night my husband and I watched a small-budget film. We cringed in places at the writing and acting. While it was clear the film had heart, we stopped the movie more than once to groan over its shortcomings.

Now I’m a huge proponent of doing whatever you are called to do with as much excellence as you can. And while healthy criticism has an important place, I want to bracket that for the moment to share the wave of conviction I felt later that evening as I went to bed.

God laid me flat with this thought: It’s easy to criticize; it’s hard to create.

Clearly, we live in a consumer-oriented culture. Everywhere we go, we are lulled into the sluggishness of consumption. Restaurants, grocery-stores, our televisions, even our churches let us limp along with the false assumption that our primary purpose in life is to lap up the fruits of others’ toil.

But God made us all in His creator image for a purpose: to model Him in creating. And that means everyone, creative types and those who would never apply that label to themselves. God calls each of us to create and bring order out of chaos.

But here’s the rub: to create, as an imperfect being, means to create with imperfections. It means even as we aim, we err.

Earlier tonight, my middle son sat crumpled in my lap in tears. He had labored over a drawing book, emulating a master artist’s creation of a blue jay. Despite my son’s earnestness and effort, his final product was not like the master’s. That gap between ideal and real undid him with shame.

As I gathered him in my arms, did I mock his work? Certainly not. Did I lie to him and tell him it was easily as good as the drawing in the book? No. But I truthfully told him that his drawings showed much more promise than mine did at his age. I praised his effort and encouraged him that even going through the process of emulating the master’s work he was learning and improving. I sympathized with the gap between our hoped-for creations and our actual-creations. And I told him I was so very proud of him and pleased that he was practicing his drawing skills.

Here’s my point. God calls all of us to create. To create is by nature a risk and we have no promise of perfection. But that risk by no means gives us the right to opt out. Like the parable of the talents, we have been entrusted with a sum. The master will by no means be pleased if we bury it in the ground (Mt. 25:14-30).

We consume on auto-pilot. That’s easy. Criticizing? Yep, that comes naturally too. But where is God calling you to take a harder route?

Creation requires mindfulness, effort, and vulnerability. Perhaps the fear and nakedness we feel as we do it, might just be the reason God calls us to it in the first place. “Take my hand,” he whispers: “I’m with you.” Falling short might just mean we have to fall up and further in.

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Awakening

Looking outside in this season of what Rosetti called “bleak mid-winter,” it is hard to imagine life is getting ready to burst out in splendid renewal. All we see are limbs standing naked of their glory, fields cowering beneath in their barrenness, and clouds shrouding the brightness of the sun. The earth beneath is hard and cold and unforgiving.


Just as the world outside us goes through seasons, I believe our souls do as well. In my life, I feel as though my inner creative world has been going through a long winter’s nap. Undoubtedly, for me the demands of five children under the age of 10 are such that the creative self has little room or time for blossoming. But lately, as I’ve pushed myself to truly practice Sabbath rest, I’ve felt a stirring.

The creative spirit needs Sabbath.

It began with just a simple yearning, a hunger I filled with His Word. It led from there to an ache for beauty. I slaked my thirst with gazing deeply at Jesus, but also beholding His glory in nature and poetry and music and dragging two toddlers with me to bask in beauty at our local art museum (this by the way, is not the ideal way to enjoy art). And it has led from there to tender shoots of inspiration—a gift, not a guarantee—pushing up through a cultivated soil.

“See I am doing a new thing,” the Lord says to the prophet Isaiah, “Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

As I meditate on these new awakenings I wonder. Perhaps the birth of all new things in our lives begins with a void. The emptiness gives ways to longing. The longing morphs into season of waiting, of aching. And then sometimes in the mercy of God, a new thing bursts forth, surprisingly in a way we could not have expected or imagined. “See I am doing a new thing,” the Lord says to the prophet Isaiah, “Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

From what I can tell, we don’t have much control over the seasons we face in our lives. But in every season, we worship God through a posture of faith, gratitude and expectancy.

Even the ache is a gift that can lead us to Him…

May I encourage you—if you are in a season of deep mid-winter—look with the eyes of faith. Even the discontentment, even the ache, is a pathway that will lead you to Him, if you are brave enough to follow it. God works wonders in the hidden places. Even resurrection began in the dark.

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A Half-Full Cup of Coffee: A New Perspective on Our Interruptions

coffee


The half-drunk cup of coffee is a running joke in our family. At the end of many a day, my husband will be loading the dishes into the dishwasher and will find my half-empty cup of coffee sitting cold in the microwave or resting idly on the counter. With four children under six, the morning ritual was of course interrupted by the baby’s cry, by the toddler needing help at the potty, by the fight which needed breaking up, by the “Can you cut my waffle, mommy?”, the tantrum over not getting to be first, and on and on the list goes.

There’s a glorious inefficiency to motherhood. It doesn’t seem to matter the task, there are always ample interruptions before it can be completed. This, of course, is because there are so many little people who depend on us to do the most basic stuff of life: from pouring milk to wiping noses to intervening in conflicts.

There are points in my day where I do nothing but hold. The baby needs holding because he is fussing. Just about the time I get him down for a nap, the toddler wakes up from his nap grumpy. He refuses to be put down and so I hold him, loving him happy again. About that time the baby has woken up again and needs feeding and a fresh round of holding all over again. And whatever task loomed large in front of me, is still undone.

By the time the day is done, the tasks are still half-done, like my half-drunk cup of coffee. There’s this tantalizing satisfaction that eludes us. If I could just finish… If I could be left alone long enough to… If I could even complete a thought… how wonderful it would be to finish something—especially that cup of coffee.

Perhaps it is because the work of raising children is so abstract, that we long to complete something, anything. But in our lust for completion if we’re not careful, the children come to be seen as obstacles, impediments to our progress.

It’s hard to remember amidst the pure drivel of mundane how deeply important all of those interruptions are. In fact, perhaps it would be better to see things in reverse: the tasks (laundry, dinner, cleaning, our work outside the home, etc.) might, in fact, be the things which interrupt us from the main work of loving these little people into mature adults.

So here’s another perspective: art has never been an efficient process. An artist doesn’t sit down to his canvas and think, “How can I finish this process most quickly so I can get on with the other parts of my life?” We’d laugh if we heard an artist say that. We might wonder: “Where’s his passion for his work?” “When did something of beauty come quickly?” we might rightly ask.

Van Gogh once said, “Christ is more of an artist than the artists; he works in the living spirit and the living flesh, he makes men instead of statues.”

Perhaps, mothers work in this same domain. It is a work which happens in cooperation with the Spirit of God and only through His empowering, but it is a work nonetheless. It is a work which does not belong to us, isn’t completed by us, and yet somehow, we get to participate in it for a time.

Did you have to stop loading the dishwasher to teach a child to share? You work in living spirit and living flesh.

Did you have to put a pause on supper to help a little one acknowledge his wrong and say he’s sorry? You are making men, not statues.

Did you put down your phone, or computer, or turn off the TV to hold a crying child, to let her know she is deeply loved. You are working in the realm of something which will outlast time itself.

Can we find a little dignity in our duties if we see ourselves as apprentice artists with Christ—allowing God to work through us in the clay of molding and shaping the character of our children, graciously chiseling away at the bad habits, quietly brushing away the debris of sin and selfishness? Can we be patient with the process—remembering that in His time He will bring completion to His work?

Most importantly, can our children become the masterpieces in our eyes and not the impediment to it? Maybe, then we’ll see that half-drunk cup of coffee at the end of the day in a new light. We won’t feel sorry for ourselves, but rather remember how caught up we were in the beautiful work—God’s beautiful work. Maybe we’ll see the glass half full.

 

Thanks for reading–I pray you found something here of encouragement.  Perhaps, there’s a line here that will help someone you know love a little child a little better today–would you mind sharing this post with your friends? And if you aren’t a regular here, consider signing up to receive these posts straight to your inbox. It would be great if we could keep on spurring each other on to live a deep and fearless faith.

Creativity: The Heart’s Cry of Hope

artist at work

It’s the end of a long day and the floor is strewn with toys. I’ve wrangled the boys to bed and have come downstairs troubled. I’m mulling over the display of attitude I saw in my two-year old, who has learned to sigh loudly when he’s frustrated with my commands, something which he learned from the four year-old, who learned it from me when I’m irritated and frustrated with them. It’s unsightly and unsettling to see my own ugly behavior walking around in front of me.

A phone call interrupts my self-reproaching monologue: a friend is calling to inquire about one of our family members who found out last week he is facing cancer. We talk of the unknowns in hushed tones and more aches and anxieties fill my mind, as well as a quiet confidence that the Lord is up to some goodness in the midst of all this hardness.

I’m sure my little life is not much different than yours: daily drudgeries, frustrations, sinful patterns—our own and those of others. On top of the mundane drip of these daily fatigues, there are the cold harsh realities of sickness, and brokenness, of bitterness and even mortality. And all these wear us thin and threaten to starve our souls.

As I hang up the phone, worn down from all of this life I’m living, tired from my day’s work, I find myself with this strange and almost overwhelming urge to go and make something. And I’m being quite literal when I say I’m overcome with a desire to get out my easel, canvas and acrylics and paint. Something or perhaps more aptly, Someone, is drawing me to splash some loveliness around, to soak in the brightness of color, to create something of beauty, and symmetry. I’m beckoned by the thought of standing back from my finished work and feeling that flash of satisfaction, that “It-is-good” moment.

And this overwhelming urge to create simply does not compute with how tired I am. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a non-sequitir of sorts. Why have I gone from the hardships of the day to a desire to make something new? And all I can figure out is that somewhere deep inside of us, all this brokenness and frustration and hardship calls out for a bit of beauty and grace. We long for a little plot of land, some small piece of territory where shalom—a sense of wholeness and rightness and goodness—can abound. I think God made us this way. And I think creation is not only good therapy, but somehow an act of defiant hope.

When we carve out a space in the midst of our overwhelming, broken-down world, to create something, we raise our fists to the chaos and declare that it does not have the final say. Beauty, wholeness, and order exist. They have existed eternally with God, and while they may or may not become a reality in our hearts and homes today, they will most definitely exist in the world to come. “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

Creation may look different for you: maybe it is gardening, woodworking, building a website, sewing, coaching, decorating, cooking, strumming, inventing, or photographing. Maybe you share it with others; maybe you don’t yet. But whatever it is, it is not merely a passive act, but an active one of creating order from chaos, of bringing something of goodness out from the nothingness.

Maybe you say you are not a creative person. I say false. All of us are made in the image of God and we all like Him are born with some desire to participate in creation and cultivation. The manifestations of that creative impulse will look very different in our lives but the God-given urge is the same.

If you’ve been stifling that creative urge, calling it frivolous, or numbing it in more passive acts of pinning, liking, and channel-surfing, don’t shortchange yourself. There’s an important place for enjoying the work of others. But that’s not all you’re made for. God has made you in His creative image also. You are more than a spectator.

Maybe you’re worried that what you have to offer somehow won’t be good enough. Do yourself a favor. Turn off the critic. Give yourself permission to be a learner and to make mistakes. God doesn’t want your perfection. He wants your participation. He wants you to rally your soul in bold hope by participating in some small act of creation.

 

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