“Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist:
Give me leave to do my utmost.”
—Karen von Blixen-Finecke, Babette’s Feast
Daniel was a slight, dark-haired young man with heavy-rimmed glasses and an apologetic slouch. He had an easy but awkward smile, unusual mannerisms, and odd outbursts of energy. He was quirky and artistic, two qualities that sometimes endeared him to people, and sometimes didn’t.
Daniel was a music major, a pianist, I thought, but I had never heard him play. It was likely he had some talent because the music program was rigorous and extremely competitive. But he had none of the confidence of a man with talent. He had the rumpled look of a guy who ate cereal for dinner and didn’t bother to match his socks. Whenever I saw him plowing his way across campus alone with a bag of music slung across his shoulder, I felt a pang of pity. He was a really nice guy. It just didn’t show.
As part of his graduation requirements, Daniel had to give a concert during his senior year. It was going to be held in the chapel, and the entire student body was invited. It was Daniel’s job to promote his own concert, so I made it a point to attend along with a group of our mutual friends. We were going to be his fan club. If anyone needed a fan club, Daniel did.
The lights in the auditorium were dim when Daniel walked out on stage. It was not exactly a grand entrance. Even a tuxedo could not hide the fact that Daniel was not at home in the spotlight. He wouldn’t even look at the audience but kept his head down and his arms held rigidly at his sides as he walked to the baby grand at center stage. It hurt to watch.
Daniel attached himself to the piano bench and ran his fingers quietly over the keys like he was reminding himself that he had seen them before. I couldn’t breathe.
Then Daniel lifted his hands and the notes filled the room. No one had told me that Daniel couldn’t play the piano.
He commanded it.
The entire auditorium resounded with the music of a master. His body rocked back and forth over the keys, his own flesh owning the music. Daniel’s stiff, clammy fingers came alive like they had been waiting, dormant, for just that moment. They flew fast and hard, radiating scores of memorized Rachmaninoff until his fingers began to bleed. Daniel paused to wrap them in bright white tissues and continued to play as if he was unconscious of the hindrance or the sacrifice.
When the music stopped and the roar of cheers rose up to the roof, Daniel stood, laughing an awkward laugh, and fidgeting with his now-useless fingers. His face radiated glory. Those of us who knew and cared about him were overcome. It was as if we had just met Daniel for the very first time, as if, for a brief moment, we were allowed to see him as he was created to be. It was glorious.
When I became a mother, I felt awkward and insecure, like Daniel walking around a campus where he was always out of place. I saw other mothers thriving in their role while I languished. I felt like God had misunderstood the clay that I am and had shaped me into the wrong vessel. Every day, it was all of weakness. Every day, it was hard.
It was not all terrible, of course, but I felt like an expatriate in a foreign country. Some of the scenery was beautiful and I came to love my new home, but even as the years passed, it was pretty obvious I wasn’t a native.
Then one day, when the twins were just over a year old, my husband asked me to make a costume for an event at the school where he taught. It was such a simple thing, a costume. But to me, it was profound. I had complete creative license. I could do whatever I wanted, whatever I could think of. It was such a gift, to be able to create. In the chaos that was the first year with twins, I had not had the time to think, much less create. I felt like I was coming home, like I was standing on a stage with an instrument that could communicate my soul. I felt like myself for the first time in what seemed like forever.
For many of us, the process of becoming a mother means laying aside some of the things we are most capable of and taking on a whole bunch of weakness. It is beautiful to be weak. But it is also exhausting and discouraging because we were not made only for weakness. We were made also to be strong. It sounds like an impossible juxtaposition, but it is not. It is a mystery. It is the mystery of God and man in one. In our weakness, we identify with Christ in His humanity. In our strength, we identify with Him in His deity. The two things, weakness and strength, work together in us to complete the incredible privilege of being ambassadors of Christ in this world.
By virtue of being human, each one of us has the awesome privilege and responsibility of being image-bearers of God. We carry about in our being something of the face of God. This is seen in our desire to create and be creative, to rule and tame, to subdue and to solve. In every single one of us, God has given slivers of glory in the form of gifts and abilities that are meant to reflect His greater perfection. The more we use our gifts with godly excellence, the more clearly we reflect Him.
It is a false humility to think that we cannot use our strengths for God, or that we should somehow restrain them. Not only are those gifts meant to be used, they must be used in the most excellent way possible. They are the things that build up our family, complete the body of Christ, and fulfill us. We were meant to do the things God made us to do, and when we are given the opportunity to do those things unbounded we feel a sense of deep satisfaction and contentment.
The turning point in my mothering came when I embraced the fact that my strengths were meant to be used in conjunction with my weakness. I had put my gifts on hold, so to speak, because I was so consumed with the struggle of motherhood. It did not occur to me that the most excellent way to use my gifts was by pouring them into the home where God had placed me, in the most excellent calling of loving my children and husband.
When I unbound myself of how I thought God was going to use my strengths and began to use my strengths where God had actually called me, I found joy.
This ministry does not look like I thought it would. It is a lot stickier, and a lot more glorious, than that. Because what I thought God would do was only glory. It was only strength. But here, in this home where strength and weakness meet, the glory is very clearly not my own. My profound awkwardness testifies to the fact that any strength I have is simply a gift of God.
Amazingly, when I use my strengths to the glory of God, I get to share in the glory too. I get to stand at center stage and enjoy the opportunity to be who I was created to be. It is like having the privilege of speaking my native tongue in a foreign land. It is the enjoyment of strength in weakness.
Please join us Monday for Day 18!
For further thought:
1) Read Romans 12:6. What are we supposed to do with the gifts God has given us?
2) Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that we are God’s workmanship, created to do the good works which He ordained for us to do. Why is it sometimes hard to embrace your strengths and do the things you are best at?
3) When I am feeling most discouraged as a mother, it is usually an opportunity for strength and weakness to work. If you are having trouble enjoying your children today, first pray and seek God’s help. Then, think of ways to serve your children through your strengths. Perhaps you are good at planning activities, inventing a game, baking cookies or building a blanket fort. Do what you are good at and watch how God encourages your heart.