The Artistry of Motherhood

“Do you tend to value the functional utilitarian side of things or do you value the artistic and the beautiful?” -Dave Cover

I find it’s much easier to write about birthday parties and preschool activities than say, you know- the artistry of motherhood, for example. It takes a lot less mental energy to post some pictures of how to make baby food than to share why I haven’t been able to stop thinking about a recent sermon. And by recent I mean almost two months ago.

My main job is to keep my kids clean (I use this in a very relative sense) and more importantly, alive. At least that’s how it feels a lot of the time. After being awoken by little voices, I often start my day by doing laundry & washing sheets from someone who wet the bed the night before. Then onto getting Ginger & Pearl something to eat & drink, change June’s diaper, dress her, get her a bottle, put the dishes away, and so on. Legitimately, meeting their physical needs is a big part of what I do.

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Some of today’s dishes. You should see my laundry mountain.

But there’s another side to me. The side that likes to use Alton Brown’s recipe to make a lemon meringue pie for the first time. [As a side note, if I could double date with anyone living or dead, btw, it would Alton & his wife]. The side that nags my husband to use his jigsaw so we can carve a Mother Goose out of plywood for me to paint for their birthday party. The side that is still riding on a high one month after throwing a block party for my neighbors despite being pregnant and having three kids 4 & under. Am I insane? That’s a legitimate possibility. But I often ask myself, “Why, when I’m so exhausted, do I feel the need to make Maggiannos Rigatoni D and chopped salad for my sister’s visit when we could make things so much easier on ourselves and just order a pizza?!” Is it all performance? Maybe that’s a piece. But there’s something else deep inside of me that aches to create something beautiful- whether a dish, decoration or an event- where I can stop and smell the roses. When I can take a break from the monotony of diapers and turn an ordinary evening into something special, something memorable.

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Stopping to smell the roses in our garden.

Recently I heard a sermon entitled “Filled with the Holy Spirit to Make Art” by our pastor, Dave Cover. It was based off of the Old Testament passage where the Lord calls two men “not as prophets, but as artists:”

“The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:1-6, italics mine).

Dave pointed out that this was the first time God fills someone with the Holy Spirit and it’s in the context of these men working with metals, fabrics, gold, engraving, stones, woodwork, etc to design and furnish the tabernacle. And although these men were called to a specific task at a specific time, there are some basic principles we can take away. Surprisingly, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how some of these principles apply to my life as a mom….

“God attaches great importance to the arts. So much so that He fills the artist with His Spirit- with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs. In fact, all human beings have been created in the image of an artist. In Genesis chapter one, you will see a God who is busy creating art and calling it good. God values not just propositional truth- the words of a prophet, for example, he does value that- but he values truth sensed through artistic beauty and artistic expression.

It was not enough for the tabernacle to be functionally laid out the right way (though it needed to be); that wasn’t enough. It also had to be artistically symbolic and beautiful. That was important to God, its beauty. In the color of its fabrics, sparkle of its gems, luster of its precious metals, shapes of its objects, symmetry of its proportions- all of this tells us that he wants us to worship him through spirit filled intelligent skilled artistic symbolism & abstract beauty” (-Dave Cover).

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The tabernacle was a tent-like structure that was a temporary copy of God’s heavenly dwelling to be later replaced by the temple.

So, what does it look like to not merely value the utilitarian side of motherhood, but to bring artistry to it? In the midst of meeting my kids’ physical needs, to bring a sense of beauty & wonder to things? I find it’s harder than it looks. It takes time. And effort. And thoughtfulness.

So, when we have company and I’m up late kneading dough for cinnamon rolls the next morning… or I’m using naptime to sew tulle for my girls’ Halloween costumes… or I’m bending my pregnant belly to weed our first flower garden… I’ve questioned myself at times: “WHY am I doing this?!?! Am I weird?!” Probably. Could I have made my life easier by buying coffee cake, cute costumes and avoided the work of planting and tending a garden? Sure. And yet, I’m drawn to- almost need to- have these creative joys in my life.

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Making our Halloween costumes. Can anyone guess by the fabrics what we’ll be?
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Lemon Meringue pie for friends. Is it possible that a simple pie could “point to the Transcendent”? It shouldn’t surprise us that the pleasure of food can point us to the God who invented it.

Dave ended his sermon saying: “Excellence in the arts always points to the Transcendent in some way.”

It struck me: Could it be that my handmade Humpty Dumpty piñata, my peach cobbler, the time it took to plan a neighborhood luau and the roses in front of my house… could all be used to point to God Himself in some ways? …That God could use these creative efforts from a tired mom to create a meal or memory that would speak in ways that words cannot? No wonder I enjoy these creative outlets. And not because I have some mom standard to live up to, but because I crave that beauty. And probably because I’m experiencing the God of these decorations and flavors and flowers as I sew or cook or tend to them. And the thought that God could use these creations to point myself & others to Him encourages my heart.

There have been many times I’ve judged myself-  “Why do I WANT to do this when it would be so much easier to just… not?!” And although I think it’s good to evaluate one’s motives- whether from guilt or performance- this sermon really encouraged my heart to keep creating because:

“Art done right inevitably declares the praise of its giver in ways that words sometimes can’t touch. And in some ways it always whispers that lingering question in the soul: ‘Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God and the Creator of the ends of the earth’” (Dave and Isaiah 40:28)

(***Note: Dave credits Phillip Ryken’s book Art for God’s Sake and Art and the Bible by Frances Schaeffer for much of the thoughts he shared throughout his sermon.)

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How do you bring artistry and beauty to your vocation?

6 Comments on “The Artistry of Motherhood

  1. Thank you sweet sweet Elizabeth for your writings that inspire my heart–and remind me of another reason that I love you so….

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    • Pam! My mentor and friend! You know I adore you and it encourages me so much that you would even read my post, let alone feel inspired. Love you tons!!

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  2. Could identify with so much of this! While there’s definitely been some performance-mentality and desire- to-impress mixed in, my making of fancy/pretty things is also just out of a love of beauty & good food. And I agree–I think God has made me to love that stuff.
    Have you ever seen/read Babette’s Feast? Your post reminds me of it…

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    • Jenn, thanks for your thoughts. After reading your comment, my husband said he’d heard of it so we watched the trailer- it was all in French with English subtitles. It looks really interesting & like something I’d like to see. Thanks for the recommendation & I’ll let you know if we watch it.

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  3. I love this post! Being similar to you in creative nature, I can really relate to the joys creating and hosting brings, and doing it in a God honoring way. How beautiful is it that God gives us a desire to work hard at creating beautiful things, just like he does with us!

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    • Rachel- I’m flattered you’d say we’re similar in creative nature because I would love to have half of the creative juices that flow through you & your family! I’m sure I had a creative side before I got married, but for me this whole side really began to evolve and thrive once I was married. So I’m excited to see what opportunities you’ll have now as a young wifey. Muah!

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