When I was in elementary school I had a teacher who gave us the gifts of calligraphy and poetry. He wore a Mr. Rogers cardigan and wasn’t even one of our regular teachers, but for some reason we spent long portions of our days in his classroom where we learned how to put the nibs in our pens and hear the rhythm in a poem. He opened the world of goodness and truth and beauty to me, in thick books and papers dripped with India ink. He was such a fantastic man that I even bought him a Christmas gift.
Around this time I was inspired to send some of my poetry to a magazine, with a note assuring them there was “more where that came from” should they have a deficit of simple rhymes. I never heard back from them.
But that’s not the painful part of this memory.
An adult, whom the grace of God has made foggy in my memory, laughed at my audacity. I had revealed my inner self and desires to them and they had laughed, and thirty years later my inner critic laughs the same way.
This memory is a teacher: I am tempted to laugh at the absurdity of childhood sometimes. The bumbling and babbling of childlike faith, the dreams larger-than-life, the attempts at greatness with a paintbrush or an instrument or a basketball, all become humorous when my pragmatic inner-critic is in charge. I am tempted to move my kids back a notch to goals that touch the ground, but the painful memory of that faceless critic reminds me to let them be. Let them dream and be audacious and even foolishly creative.
Getting Back to My Childish Creativity
It took me years to get back to writing poetry, whether because of the sting of that first-remembered criticism or simply my own beliefs about the right use of time. When my kids were babies I had an excuse to read Dr. Seuss aloud, and I made time to write poetry about all the stuff of motherhood—the lovely and the foolish things. I began a blog in secret, in 2012, in a bend in motherhood when the kids could finally all buckle, wipe, feed, and read for themselves.
My husband bought me my own MacBook and gave me mental earplugs when he said to let the housework go a little, put the words out there, follow the Lord’s leading. Just moments ago, he put the earplugs in for me again when he walked silently into the room and handed me a large glass of water.
I felt foolish, putting words on the internet. I felt foolish when people heard that I wrote and asked me what about. Sometimes I still feel silly putting my thoughts into words. But I do it anyway.
A people traveling through the desert and living in temporary homes were once instructed to give their very best treasures to skilled artisans, who would turn them into a beautiful place to meet God—an extravagantly ornate but temporary place (Exodus 31). Once upon a time a mighty king danced like a fool before the Lord and maybe exposed too much of himself (2 Samuel 6). Once a woman poured a year’s wages out on Jesus, while the pragmatists thought of a dozen better uses for it (John 12).
Maybe once you created something in childlike faith and worship only to have it ridiculed or rejected. Or maybe you wanted to create something but your practical self found no real use for it in the lists that tyrannize your day.
Flannery O’Connor said,
Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe.
Christ is sanctifying me daily through humilities, extravagances, marvelous graces, and appropriate silence. Continuing to create in the midst of the struggles—because I’m convinced of God’s ability and desire to show his glory—is my effort at bringing the comical side of the universe to a too-wise world.
Cover image by Igor Miske.