Yesterday, my 4-year-old daughter and I were working on a puzzle together. She was working with one piece for a few seconds and couldn't figure out how it fit into the picture. She handed it to me and said, "Here, Mommy. We don't need this one."
I had to laugh, because she is so sure of herself. She reminds me of her mother...me. I am really good at seeing the big picture of my life and how all the pieces fit together. Until I'm not. Until it's really hard being a stay-at-home mom with three kids 4 and under. Until I am suffering and I don't want to be in this place.
I laughed kindly at her (and at myself) and helped her fit the piece into its proper place. "No, Lily," I said, "this piece goes right here."
This episode got me thinking of something I have been learning about in this season of my life--just like a kid with a puzzle, I am trying to make sense out of everything that is happening to me. A new church tradition that calls me to repetition and regular feasting and fasting? It is stretching me to run this marathon of the life of faith, rather than the 100-meter dashes of spiritual exuberance to which I am accustomed. A new job in a small town with no indoor playground? It is stretching me to take joy in the city park, to meet my neighbors, to delight in being outside even when my hair protests the humidity and pollen of spring in East Texas. I can see how these pieces fit.
But almost-crippling anxiety in the midst of daily tasks? Debilitating depression when my kids are dependent on me to help them to survive and to thrive? Emotional distress that drives me into the arms of ever-comforting carbs and chocolate, to my detriment? These pieces I have a harder time fitting in to the puzzle "The Life and Times of Amanda Martinez Beck."
I am finding creativity to be a powerful ally in putting the puzzle together.
1. Being creative helps free me from the tyranny of the urgent.
So many things (and small humans) demand attention from me during the day, not to mention household chores. When I make time to draw or color or write or play music, I step back from the demands of daily life and just enjoy myself. I can only try to communicate how refreshing that is--because it's just fun! I think that simple creative activity is an exercise in the freedom that we were created for.
2. Carving out time to be creative helps me prioritize my life a little bit.
"Should I watch another episode of FIxer Upper or sit down with my journal and write that poem that has been nagging me all day?" Don't get me wrong...I love me some Chip and JoJo. In fact, I am inspired by their drive to create EVEN WITH four young kids. So, I am learning to turn off the TV and put down the handheld Facebook device so that I can create. And--guess what--I am learning that while I may not be as talented as Joanna Gaines at design and color (yet!), I am actually pretty good at this writing thing. And now I am giving myself the time to practice and get better...and it's fun!
3. The creative process helps me sort out my LIFE.
Maybe I'm overthinking it, but I think that God put a drive in us for creating so that we could have a powerful tool to make sense of our lives. The more I sit down to think and write, the more the different parts of my life make sense. Or, if they don't make sense yet, I can see that eventually I'll see the bigger picture. In the process of creating, I become aware of the time it takes to make something good. When I am writing a story, I learn how I have to put my characters in hard situations to get to a certain plot element. I'm not saying that God is some sort of puppet-master orchestrating the details of my life to get me to a specific plot element without my free will, but I am learning the patience that creativity demands. And it helps me wade through these trying times with depression, anxiety, and the boring day-in-day-out rhythm of raising small children with hope--it will not always be like this, there is something deeper going on here, and I can make things in the meantime.
4. Creating curbs consuming.
I don't know about you, but when I take the time to make banana bread from scratch, I am much more likely to slow down and enjoy it, instead of just gobbling it up. I have found that as I engage in creation, I am learning to enjoy what others create for me to share in, whether it be art or music or baked goods. I can truly appreciate the time and energy and money and design that went in to that beautiful cake. I can hear the different instruments in a newly-released song and imagine the lives of each performer and what they are bringing to the performance. I can see the handmade nativity pieces and know that they were carved with gentle care and attention to detail. As I participate in my own creative acts, my heart and mind are attuned to the things that other people are creating in a special way. I can marvel at how other people are bringing truth and beauty to the world through their own gifts of creativity.
Have I convinced you to take up some sort of creative activity yet? I hope so. Because now I need you to share what you're creating with me.
The power of sharing what you create is simply amazing. Imagine what life would be like without Beethoven's symphonies, Sandra Boynton's books for children or C.S. Lewis's and J.R.R. Tolkein's novels.
That would be a sad and dreary world.
You might object that these people are professionals. This is what they do for a living.
But I can bet you that they didn't start that way. They started with doing what was fun and enjoyable to them, participating in a creative act. And then they shared it with someone--a family member, a friend, a colleague at work. And that someone told them, "Hey, this is really good! I would like to hear/read/see more of that. Oh, and my sister would, too." And their audience for creativity grew into, well, millions of people. But they started small. Any beautiful piece of art or literature or architecture or music started with the first step: a thought that was teased out into something we could interact with.
Through the creative process, we make sense of the events of our own lives. And that can help other people make sense of their lives, too. The stories we have inside us and the stories we tell are powerful engines for redemption. Whether we tell these stories through the meals we cook, the silly songs we sing to our children, or the blog posts we never thought we'd have the courage to write--we are changing the world around us by facing our fears and taking the risk to be vulnerable.
Start small--share with your spouse, your parent, your best friend. And maybe me, too.