Why focusing on yourself helps you to focus on others
I lay in bed that night, listening to the slow rhythm of my husband’s breathing, wishing that falling asleep was something I could will myself to do. The past few days, I’d finally felt like I was easing out of survival mode and into a new kind of normal now that Isaiah was a few weeks old.
I’d started meeting with my counselor again. When she’d suggested the idea, I’d tried to smile and nod. Now all my protests were swirling through my mind like a cloud of gnats.
She really thinks I should find a creative outlet? I don’t have time for that. I have a new baby! My brain has a hard enough time trying to figure out what to cook for dinner and when I last nursed my son. How could she think I would want to add something else to my plate?
I flipped over, trying to relax myself into sleep, but my mind wasn’t ready yet. What exactly was I passionate about? Not coffee, or sports, or posting craft ideas on pinterest. I didn’t even know if I had enough energy to be passionate about something.
Then a tiny idea wormed its way up from the back of my brain.
What about fiction writing?
My husband had gotten me a few books about fiction writing one year for Christmas. I’d spent a couple summers in highschool and college writing stories, some of which I’d never finished.
Could I really do this? What if, rather than letting story ideas sit on the wrinkles of my brain, I actually wrote them into a novel? (Enter “Go big or go home” personality)
I spent the next weeks working through a book on Plot and Structure and brainstorming ideas for my novel. I found podcasts to listen to and articles to read. I started reading novels again, snatching moments in the evenings when my husband was busy and my son had gone to sleep.
Giving myself the gift of intentionality
Isaiah’s nap time became my writing time. All my other responsibilities had to fit around that precious alone time. Sometimes vacuuming didn’t get done on the day I’d planned to do it. Sometimes laundry wouldn’t get folded for a couple days. It was like the world could keep turning without me.
Crawling out of the ditch of responsibility for that time each day made me excited about hopping back in to dig through those dishes, laundry, and cleaning tasks as quickly as I could. By not allowing the other tasks to drag out, I was able to have more time focusing on the needs of my son–not to mention more emotional stamina to deal with his crying.
I took a couple Saturday afternoons away to work on my novel, and came home practically giddy to be with my husband and son.
When we were out with people, I started letting a little of my passion spill out in my conversations between talking about our children and how we both were doing.
I entered my novel in a contest. . . and lost. But through the eight months of working on it and studying the craft of writing, I had gained so much more. Every snippet of advice I tried to tuck away, realizing that I’d only scratched off the first layer of complexity and possibilities in my writing.
Being creative was like taking off sunglasses that had been keeping me from seeing the true vibrancy of life.
But as I delighted in this new creativity, some fears wriggled their way into my mind.
Was it really honoring to God to have time for me?
Shouldn’t I be using that time to help others instead?
Worshiping God through creativity
One of the books Christopher had given me was called, “The Christian Imagination,” a collection of articles on the practice of faith in literature and writing. It sent waves of excitement through me to be reminded that creativity is a reflection of our Creator.
Abraham Kuyper said it better than I ever could. “As image-bearer of God, man possesses the possibility both to create something beautiful, and to delight in it.”
Another article quoted Dorthy L. Sayers, who wrote about artistic creation in trinitarian terms. “In every act of creation, there is a controlling idea (the Father), the energy which incarnates that idea through craftsmanship in some medium (the Son), and the power to create a response in the reader (the Spirit).”
By delighting in this new-found creativity, I was able to worship God for His wisdom, power, strength, and beauty.
Creativity also gave me new perceptions of reality. C.S. Lewis said that, “literature enlarges our world of experience to include both more of the physical world and things not yet imagined, giving the “actual world” a “new dimension of depth.”
When Isaiah was born, his senses exploded with new feelings–light, sounds, textures, and scents. Flannery O’Connor said, “The beginning of human knowledge is through the senses, and the fiction writer begins where human perception begins.”
I think that idea applies to every creative activity out there.
God didn’t make us unfeeling robots. He wants to connect with us on a skin-tingling level as we experience his creation. And when we see the creative endeavors of others (like my mom-in-law’s masterpiece quilts), we have yet another chance to praise the Father like crazy for how He’s using people to share His beauty.
So I believe there are two parts that make up our “me time.”
1. Time to be creative.
2. Time to enjoy the creativity of others.
My husband has experienced my B.C. state (before creativity) and has told me he much prefers the A.C. (after creativity) me. In fact, I like me better that way, too.
Here’s a list of 150 ideas to get you started.