We are told that in the beginning, God brought something out of nothing. Out of silence and darkness, out of ponderous expectation, came forests, waterfalls, and antelopes. We are then told something more amazing—that humankind bears a unique likeness, endowed with the Creator’s ability. In my day-to-day life, I doubt this to be true, until that moment when my husband’s eyes catch mine across the room as one of our five children whizzes by, giggling, chasing another. One of us shakes our head and creases a brow signaling, Where did they all come from?
I labor an essay into existence, an act not far removed from times I laid prostrate, swollen with child, my whole body buried beneath ice packs. Both are a miserable, glorious venture when God does so much behind the scenes we do not have language for that it seems to us something springs forth out of nothing. When in reality, like in childbirth, we just let forth that which was placed within us by grace. Creativity is often most evidenced when lost: when the page remains blank and the clear pregnancy test confronts us month after month.
How to make sense of the cocktail of our efforts and God’s? Perhaps this is why so many people declare themselves non-artists, even if they claim his creative spirit within them. The enemy has convinced them that creating art is for those with more talent and time, those with a clear sense of calling. They think of creativity as a luxury they are not afforded, as if creating were an option. The enemy, seething with jealousy, offers endless resistance to our creative efforts. He cannot create; sidelined to distorting, maligning, and stealing that which is created. But for us, we weak and fragile vessels, creating comes easily. Half of the time we don’t even mean to do it! It must really burn his biscuits when we do.
The war I rage on resistance, the agonizing and sleepless nights, might be worth it if I could perfect the craft. But this is never promised in art and certainty not in motherhood. There is such great pleasure when my babies, warm and damp from the bath, snuggle around me in our king-sized bed littered with books. There is such satisfaction when the letters I string together magically contain only and exactly what I mean to say. Both these moments envelop me in glory, and I want to hold them forever. Eventually, the spell will break. I will yell or the essay will wither and the outcomes will not be as I hoped. Perfection shows its hand as a mirage in the distance, beckoning me forward. I do better to accept that, although I’ll never get there; its illusory promise still got me further along than I would be without it. Against every natural inclination within me, I must settle for being good enough.
I settle, too, for beginning each day, like the Apostle Paul said, calling that which is not as though it were: faith, salvation, watercolors on canvas, and cookies warm from the oven. Little people clamor underfoot as sheets of dried pasta and canned marinara transfigure under my fingers into lasagna. The tulip pops above ground and takes its first breath of spring. No act of creation is unimportant to God.
We must beware, however, since postpartum temptations abound. Once born into the world, we follow our art around. We task ourselves with the concern that others ‘get it.’ I tightly tuck in my word babies and follow them around on the playground making sure the other kids are being nice. If I’m not careful, I might wake up one night on the dorm room floor, one of those parents who follows their freshman to college. The struggle to create is nearly matched with the struggle to let our creations go.
Here, Jesus shows us the way, as he utilized his creativity, not in meditative solitude, but in the muddy, trampling demands of other people. His best work performed among the mobs when he was most pressed, for space, for sleep, for food, (for just one second to myself, please!) He didn’t go back to the healed to monitor their progress, or to make sure they were using their new lease on life in the holiest way. And although our Lord never rushed a day in his life, his limited time still dripped grain after grain through the hourglass.
His life instructs me when I think I could become a better artist alone in a hut in the Himalayas instead of within this crowded life he’s given me. My task is to take pleasure and take notice, in the pudgy baby toes that kick me awake, the hollowed top of bread hot from the oven, the essay, imperfect, but offered anyhow.