I don’t know when I came up with the idea, and maybe the idea wasn’t even mine, but sometime shortly after the new year, I gathered together a few things I love–a couple of journals, some books about painting and gardening and poetry, my new sketch pad and colored pencils, a magazine or two–and stuck them in a basket near my desk.
My thought was that if I had a few minutes in the evening or on a Sunday afternoon, I could grab this basket full of my favorite things and get right to work creating, or at least enjoying, art of all kinds.
In the weeks since, I have pulled that basket out a time or two. I’ve now filled three pages in my sketch book and I wandered (wondered might be more like it) all the way through my illustrated copy of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons: Objects*, and I thumbed through the current issue of Southwest Art* given to me by a friend.
These things energize me; they give me life and hope; they remind me who I am. So it’s strange indeed that most days I don’t even turn a thought to the little basket in the office.
It’s not that I’m too busy being someone else; it’s just sometimes I don’t make time to be me.
In her book A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live*, Emily P. Freeman talks about who it is we are made to be.
“At the most basic level of our identity, your job and my job is to be a poem, the image bearers of God, made to reflect his glory. The art you and I were born to make is released out of the core of who we truly are, where our spirit is joined in union with the Spirit of God. Any movement coming from that place reflects the glory of God. This is our highest purpose and, ultimately, our greatest joy.”
When I think about my identity in this way – that who I am and what I make are directly connected – I begin to understand how easy it is to lose my sense of who I am, swept up in the dailiness of other things. But it’s not just about the art, not really. Because as Freeman says, her definition of art here is big and broad and encompasses all the things God calls us to.
“In coming up with a working definition of an artist for the purposes of this book, perhaps we could say, then, that being an artist has something to do with being brave enough to move toward what makes you come alive. Art means believing that the God who created the world with words alone creates with words still, through us – whether it be on a stage to thousands or in a corner with one.”
It’s a good clarification. For one, this book has just as much to say to computer software designers as it does graphic designers, and musicians and magicians and mathematicians all could find hope and strength and courage for their calling here. But distinguishing between my art as the embodiment of my identity and my art as an expression of my identity is even more important because sometimes I get those two mixed up.
“You are art and you make art, but you are not your art. You are God’s art . . . trust that God is intuitive enough to move in and through you no matter your fear or insecurity,” Freeman writes. But on the other hand, later in the book she clarifies, “It isn’t about finding those things that make you come alive so that you will be awesome and admired. It isn’t about discovering the art your were born to make because that is the highest goal of humanity. It isn’t about getting in touch with your desires so that you can forsake all responsibility and obligation and do what you want because you deserve it. It isn’t about becoming famous. It is about becoming yourself.”
I created my art basket just before I began Freeman’s book, and as I read the first few chapters, I began to think the point of my reading had something to do with the nascent art contained there. I need to draw more, I thought. And write more poetry and plan my spring garden. But as I got further into A Million Little Ways, I recognized other themes that have been running through my life, other ways Freeman’s message might apply.
My first clue? When I saw the word “limits.”
“Our limits can be gifts if we let them be,” Freeman writes. And I thought of all the things I have said “no” to recently, all of the “unsubscribe” buttons I have clicked, all of the items on my to-do list I have simply deleted even though they were undone. She continued, “They might show up like failure, season of life, fatigue, disability, grief, burnout. But the limits tell us important things about ourselves. They help us draw lines for margin. They pave the way for vulnerability. They sometimes show us what our passion isn’t. And that can be just as important as knowing what it is. In some cases, our limitations can actually become our inspiration.”
I felt the lightness of confirmation as I read that, because honestly, in the last few weeks, I’ve felt the relief that can come from seeing the edge of things. At least I don’t have to go any further in that direction, I sigh. And when I turn around to find the other borders, I see sunlight glistening on the water. It’s a good sign.
But I fight the expectations I put on myself, that I feel from others. I should be able to do more, I sometimes think.
Freeman addresses this:
“when people say, The sky’s the limit! implying there is limitless potential and you can do anything you set your mind to, remember that’s simply not true, and if it were true, I’m not sure it would be a good thing. When it comes to your influence and your ability to affect change, something has to be the limit other than the sky. Identify what those things are, set your own boundaries, and leave room for your soul to breathe.”
And my soul has begun to breathe a little, lately. If anything, it’s because of this next lesson I am learning about even as I am reading.
In her chapter titled simple, “Offer,” Freeman talks about this scary, exhilarating aspect of creating in which we take what we have made and hand it over to someone else. In a nutshell, she says artists should think of themselves like the hostess at a dinner party.
“She looks them in the eye, meets them where they are. She doesn’t spend her time distracted during the party, hiding out in the next room, calling all the people who said they couldn’t come. She doesn’t try to please a group who has already said “No thank you” rather than serve the guests who want more.”
To put it simply, here’s how we should offer our art: “Issue the invitation. Serve those who show up with what you have and who you are by offering yourself and receiving the offering they bring as well.”
I have the art basket sitting next to me as I write. I pull out a book of quotes by Madeleine L’Engle. Perhaps no one has inspired my art over the years as much as she has. I flip through, and find this quote that seems like Freeman could have written it herself.
“Thy Kingdom Come. That is what co-creation with our Maker is all about, the coming of the kingdom. Our calling, our vocation in all we do and are to try to do is to help in the furthering of the coming of the kingdom-a kingdom we do not know and cannot completely understand. We are given enough foretastes of the kingdom to have a reasonable expectation. Being a loved and loving part of the body; praying together; singing together; forgiving and accepting forgiveness; eating together the good fruits of the earth; holding hands around the table as these fruits are blessed, in spontaneous joy and love, all these are foretastes.”
I breathe in, and I breathe out, and I remember again who I am.
AUTHOR: Emily P. Freeman
TITLE: A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live*
WHERE TO GET IT: Follow the link above to buy the book from Amazon
AUTHOR: Carole F. Chase
TITLE: Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life*
WHERE TO GET IT: Follow the link above to buy the book from Amazon
More Info about A Million Little Ways: The High Calling is reading and writing about Emily’s book in their Book Club. Check out the posts on their site.
*This website uses “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”