In her half of the talk, “Creativity as a Spiritual Discipline” (available here), Jennifer Trafton says creating is an act of hope, a practice in looking at the raw material in front of you, be it your life or an empty plate, and envisioning something new. When you go to the kitchen and gather together a bunch of ingredients, envisioning dinner, you’re practicing hope, she says: you’re imagining the nourishment to come. When you face a blank computer screen and eek out a first sentence, that’s hope again: you’re imagining completed thoughts on the page. You could talk yourself out of it. You could say, “Let someone else do it instead.” You could think of all the ways your work won’t meet your own expectations and opt for instead for silence or passivity. You could choose not to participate at all. But when you choose, on the other hand, to try, to make, to do it, you evidence something inside of you that hopes, in spite of everything, that wants to believe you can.
“When I sit down to be creative, I am engaging in a spiritual battle against my fear, against my pride, my perfectionism, my tendency to compare myself with others, my envy of others’ talents, my mental distraction, my despair over my own inadequacy,” she says. “I have to lose myself. I have to become like a child again, with room to play again.”
This resonates with me so much that, despite my own fear, pride, perfectionism, comparison, envy, distraction and despair, I am here today, back at the page again, eeking out sentences again, even knowing the misunderstandings that could result. As best I can, I am envisioning less of those misunderstandings and more of the possibilities because, if I have learned nothing else from the last year (or two, if you include pregnancy and previous pregnancy, which is how they’re all wrapped up together in my mind) of my life that we celebrate this month, it’s that, at every chance possible, I want to choose not fear, but hope.
This June, as most of you long-time readers will know, marks a year of our life with our little boy. That tiny nugget who announced his presence last June 27, screaming in the operating room, has grown into our chubby, happy, mercifully healthy, light-haired child. We love him. We loved him the moment we knew he existed; in some ways, before then, when we first began to hope for him, after we’d lost the brother or sister he’d not meet in this life. I cried when we heard his first heartbeat. I cried again at his first ultrasound. Together, sleep deprived and barely thinking, Tim and I cried when his body emerged from mine into the world.
In the last twelve months, he’s changed a thousand times or more. He’s ever surprising us, confusing us, making us laugh. Every day, he reveals some new habit, new reaction, new capability, and, every day, our ability to love him expands again to delight in him a little more than it already had. Recently, when he stood on his own for the first time, so excited about a story Tim was reading that he lost himself in the moment, clapping in the living room on his own two feet, I thought my heart would burst. Another day, at the library, I clutched him to me in the pouring rain while I raced him to the car, both of us soaking wet as I strapped him into his seat, his eyes gazing happily at me, not a sound of protest. These sentimental memories, and there are many, are tucked away into my mama’s heart with joy. I’m so thankful for them, for him. The man he will become will hear them often, I expect.
But this post is not about the precious child I love. It is about what God has begun to do in my heart by giving him to me. Namely, as I have been forced to take the responsibility of, with Tim, parenting this one specific boy, I have been surprised to see my own fear of being the one in charge.
Until this situation in which I have been forced to be the authority, the one, with Tim, making decisions, I have usually been able to leave decisions up to someone else. There’s a great comfort in passivity. Yielding to everyone else usually frees you from blame if and when anything goes wrong. But, with our son as with nothing else I’ve experienced, I have to do it. I am the mom. There was no one else to carry him, no one else to nurse him. He’s been given no parents but us. We are the ones given this unique opportunity to love and shape him in the beginning of his life.
“This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God’s way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness,” says Elisabeth Elliot. I can’t shrug off this task; it’s the unique calling given to me. I, and only I, can learn to do it.
Accepting this responsibility is not a weakness for every woman. Obviously, it’s not. Many mothers and non-mothers alike are happy to express opinions and give directions, without fear, with authority and confidence. But as Rebecca Reynolds says, “There are women who live transparently and openly from an early age, not needing to be stripped down like I did, women who are naturally more mature than I was,” but, for me, personally, becoming Rocco’s mom has meant facing this specific weakness and the ways parenting highlights it in me. It has meant having to become more comfortable owning responsibility. It has meant having to step into the role God has given me, trusting Him as I do.
Accepting this role as Rocco’s mom has meant, sometimes, saying no to what someone else desires, even when I don’t like to say no, for example. It’s meant doing things differently from the people around me, even when I don’t like to stand out. It’s meant stepping into the unknowns of medical decisions and feeding schedules and who to leave him with and when, all while feeling that craving for sureness of someone telling me exactly what to do with a practical decision, so I can know I make the best choice. But as I have practiced using this authority, believing Tim and I are exactly this child’s parents at exactly this time, and no one else is, accepting responsibility has been like exercising a muscle. It’s gotten stronger and stronger. It’s affected not just my ability to take responsibility as a parent, but also my ability to take responsibility for me.
Truthfully, something I have seen recurrently in this first year of Rocco’s life is that it’s pretty easy for me to want someone else to fix a bad day, someone else to be the one to blame when something goes wrong, someone else to have to be the voice of affirmation moving me onward. It’s always been so natural to shrug my shoulders and say “sure” to what someone else asks instead of thinking through a response. For years I’ve tried to slay the idol of people’s approval, and, by God’s kindness, having Rocco has yielded a new weapon in the fight.
It’s been in Rocco’s first year that I’ve come across these words from Sarah Clarkson in The Life-Giving Home: “I began to look at the spaces of my life and home as a kind of kingdom over which I ruled. To rule my time, to clear my mind, was a choice of mental sovereignty, a reclamation of the direction, rhythm, and source of my thoughts so I could root them in the people I loved and the life I wanted to create.”
I like that imagery, seeing my responsibilities as spaces over which I rule. As a believer, I see everything under God’s ultimate sovereignty, and yet even that does not negate my sub-ruling the spaces He’s given me, under Him. In fact, when I abdicate the roles in which He’s allowed me to rule, someone or something else always steps into its place. The media, a friend, a family member, some stranger at a party—everywhere are people happy to assert authority over children, homes, marriages, careers, etc. that aren’t theirs.
But on the phone last week, I said it to a friend like this: “One of the biggest things I’ve learned since having Rocco is that I have to own my own life.”
The way I write, parent, entertain, befriend, believe, clean, decorate, cook, eat—it’s all nobody else’s fault. When I wake up in the morning, I can choose where I set my affections. I don’t have to passively wait for something to give me a reason to smile. When I face heavy traffic, frustrating conversations, bad news, what I do in my own mind can change the way the experience feels. I’m not a victim of my life; I’m a player. The kind of realization some people have in early childhood is hitting me with power now.
I am me, no one else. This is my task, mine and Tim’s. This is the place where God chooses to meet us. This is our life.
Dorothy Sayers, in The Mind of the Maker, says the power of a work is in the way it’s spread out into the world. After it’s been envisioned (idea) and created as a post or a painting or dinner (energy), it’s shared, given a chance to expand by the ways it intersects with the ones who take it in (power). It seems to me that she describes a clear commonality in all the many types of creative work when she says this, be they writing or gardening or cooking or parenting. Moving raw experiences into new energies of photographs or journal entries or picnics in the park is a way to practice hope, just as Jennifer Trafton says in that talk I mentioned up above. It’s a way to venture forward, in spite of your insecurity and perfectionism and fear and doubt, to take a step, to do something, to make something, to hope for what could be.
Learning to parent, for me, has been like this. Pregnancy is a case study in hope, as you look at your swelling belly and try to believe what will come. The newborn days are much the same, as you step forward into decisions about plugged ducts and sleeping arrangements and what certain diaper discoveries mean, imagining the possibility that your decisions will be good. And when that infant grows into a baby with teeth and a small vocabulary, you’re so high on hopes fulfilled, it’s easier to believe in good to come.
Writing this post, for me, is another way to confirm and celebrate the something that’s been established this last year, with hope, with joy, believing that doing so is worthwhile and good. And as I’ve turned these ideas into energy here, it’s been with hope that it might help someone else, maybe you, feel less timid in your own roles, too.