Balancing Creativity, the Intellect, and Duty
by Teri Severson
A kitchen Madonna with a broom in her hand sits by my sink as a reminder that the Mother of God had similar tasks in keeping a home (and in her home raising Jesus). I have always held the firm belief that my role as a mother has the utmost significance—in spite of what our culture may say or think. I am one who enjoys domesticity. I love making a house a home, making things beautiful and comfortable for my family, planting gardens, baking, decorating, et cetera. And yet, many times I find myself stuck on a treadmill in my many duties of raising a large family, homeschooling, maintaining the home, and helping with our family business. In every moment of supposed leisure time I seem to have a broom in my hand. I look around at my husband and kids who are spending their time doing what they love (their chores are already done) and yet mine never seem to end. I live the contradiction of loving what I do and yet becoming resentful—I sense something wrong here.
Brenda Ueland, the author of one of my favorite books, put it so clearly when she said:
“They [women] sense that if you are always doing something for others, like a servant or a nurse, and never anything for yourself, you cannot do others any good. You make them physically more comfortable. But you cannot affect them spiritually in any way at all. For to teach, encourage, cheer up, console, amuse, stimulate, or advise a husband or children or friends, you have to be something yourself. (99)”If You Want to Write: a Book about Art, Independence, and Spirit. by Brenda Ueland. Graywolf Press
And because we are always recipe experimenting, child admonishing, and husband ministering, we are completely neglecting our own imagination and creative power. Ueland then goes on to say, “Menial work at the expense of all true, ardent, creative work is a sin against the Holy Ghost” (6 note). Pretty harsh, but it rings true.
If your gift is writing, or music, or painting, or poetry, or whatever, seriously work at it with all of your intelligence. Find the time for it each day. Elisabeth LeSeure (a past Well-Read Mom read) wrote in her spiritual diary during the nineteenth century that we must never sacrifice intellectual work and must perform it regularly:
“It is a duty to develop unceasingly one’s intelligence, to strengthen one’s character, to become a creature of thought and will; it is a duty to view life with joy and face it with energy. Finally, it is a duty to be able to understand one’s time and not despair of the future. All this a woman can do. (51)My Spirit Rejoices: The Diary of a Christian Soul in an Age of Unbelief. by Elizabeth Leseur. Sophia Institute Press.
In my own experience of imbalance, my girls will often say, “Mom, come sit down and enjoy this movie with us.” As I sit down on the arm of the couch (with broom in hand) I respond with, “Oh, I really shouldn’t. I have so much work to do…” I walk away asking myself why I feel so much guilt when I do take stolen moments of time to relax. Why am I always seemingly harassed to keep working, to produce, and to make good use of my time? All this at the expense of doing what I long to do—to read, to study, to contemplate what I read, to think, to write, to work on a brewing novel…
I wonder who or what has me on this treadmill? It’s not my friends, and it’s not even my family. What are my concepts of leisure and my guilty allotments of it? Where are my thoughts and actions wrong on this? A verse from the Bible comes to mind: in John 8:44 Satan is called the father of lies (keep your foot on the peddle, no time to slow down), and the verse explains how he comes to rob (our time), to kill (the gifts given to us), and to destroy (the would-be fruits from creativity and intelligence).
I recognize the flaws in this mindset and so I want to change! Maybe some of you feel the same way. We need to put the brakes on—get off this treadmill leading nowhere. We should no longer allow the enemy of our souls to use dust bunnies and all the menial merry-go-round of duties to keep us from making time for the creative and life-giving growth God wants for us. We can sit down! We can join in and be attentive to the people in our families—play monopoly with them even in the midst of a dirty house! It is okay to stop in the day and give ourselves the time to read or study something we’ve been trying to think through, or to journal, or play music, or write a poem, or pray… It is for the greater good! The housework and duties will always be there. We have the choice and the power to make them wait. We need to find the right balance for our creativity (gifts, loves, and imagination), our intelligence (our mind and interior life), and our duties (we know what they are) in our daily lives.
William Blake, a great poet and artist, believed this creative power and imagination in us is God. And he believed that it should be kept alive in all people for all of their lives. Why? Because it is life itself. It is the Spirit. The only important thing about us. He said the only way to keep it alive is by using it, by letting it out, and by giving some time to it. To neglect it is a sin against ourselves. People who personally knew Blake said that his free abundant use of his creative power made him the happiest man who ever lived!
This morning my alarm went off early (on purpose), way before the kids would wake, so that I could have some time to read, pray, and journal. I sat up in bed, turned a light on, snuggled my blankets around me, and grabbed my books, notebook, and pen. I hadn’t slept well because I was worried about our business, our finances, and overall just struggling in spite of my self-proclaimed belief in God’s providential care. I felt like Peter trying to walk on water, but was sinking. For an hour and a half I prayed, and read, and wrote, and was so engrossed in the joy of having this time—I had my mornings back, my fears were dispelled, and my spirit completely uplifted from when I first woke up.
God’s presence and grace filled that hour that I was doing what I loved (and needed) to do. Snuggled in my blanket with books and papers spread around me, I looked out my bedroom window at the blistering wind and snowy morning, and wished I could spend the whole day continuing what I was doing with no demands on my time. “Oh, for just a longer segment of time like this… ” I thought dreamily. My dreamy thoughts were short-lived as my daughter, Maddie, started pounding on the door. Her pounding reminded me of what one teacher had told our writing class, full of worn-out and hassled mothers who longed to find the time to write, “If you would just shut your door against the children for an hour a day and say, ‘Mother is working on her five-act tragedy in blank verse!’ you would be surprised how they would respect you. They would probably all become playwrights!”
I suddenly comprehended the truth of that as the knocks became more persistent, “Mom, it’s time to start school!” I smiled smugly and replied, “Sorry sweetie, school is going to start two hours late today, I’m working on my novel… ”
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