(Any other rough first days of school out there? Today was a harsh reality check around here, and I imagine in some of your homes as well. I kept coming back and re-reading this piece I wrote a little while ago, needing to be reminded to keep my eye on the process and leave the product up to the Lord.)
Have you ever wondered what the difference is between good, soul-saturating, thought-provoking art and the cheap, fast, and unfilling stuff? What makes bands like U2 last for decades in a world of one-hit wonders? What separates Tolkien and Lewis from the momentary peak on the weekly best-sellers list? What put DaVinci in galleries all over the world, while so many other paintings hide in attics?
In a word, process.
If you want to create something magnificent, something so thoroughly well-done, the product cannot be your focus. An artist who focuses on the product alone will turn out something contrived every time. “Here is the effect I want to have, now how do I get there…?” It might look good on initial glance, but such art usually has nothing to say, nothing that lingers in your mind hours or days after walking away. You see, a true artist delights in the intricacies of each stroke, the mixture of the paint, the mood of the room and the music of the background. A chef pays close attention to the quality of the ingredients, the coarseness of the chopping, and the precise heat used. A singer must work to craft diction, articulation, posture, and presence before the sound can ever be successful. The process is key, and it is those creators that delight in the nuances of the craft that are most powerful in communicating through it.
Now take this, and consider this quote from author S.D.Smith:
“Your family is the most potent art you’ll ever be a part of creating.”
That’s right, this parenting thing, these long days of scraping cheerios off the floor, these endless carpool lines, this is part of a beautiful work that you are helping to create. And if you’re anything like me, chances are you spend a lot more time worrying about the final product than delighting in the process.
For me, product-oriented parenting looks a lot like worry. Worry over how my kids will turn out in light of my school choice. Fretting over the diseases they’ll get from the GMO Fruit Loops they had for breakfast. It also looks a lot like anger. Anger over them fighting yet again over the same dumb toy. Anger at the teacher that misunderstands or the kid in their class that picks on them and might just destroy their precious self-esteem. And a lot of times, it looks a lot like control. White-knuckling in circumstances where I should probably let go. Feeling defeated by the permanent crust that is my kitchen floor and wondering what kind of adults they’ll turn into if they get accustomed to this filth. Cringing and imagining that this ugly moment right here might just be one more thing they tell the therapist one day.
But dear ones, we are not in control of the final product. We were never meant to be.
In her excellent book “Teaching from Rest,” Read-Aloud-Revival leader Sarah MacKenzie gives weary mamas this gift of a word: Diligence. She reminds the reader constantly that our job is not to secure their future, but to walk diligently step by step with them. Coaching them through the next melt-down. Helping them with this one page of homework. Guiding them through this difficult friendship. It’s about being with them in the process, not trying to control the product.
What would our homes, our families look like if we would put our stories into the loving hands of the Author, and trusted that he was faithful to complete the work he started? What would life look like if we took each moment as a small step towards unforeseen greatness? If I could focus on being patient in this one moment instead of worrying about what this tantrum will look like when they’re teenagers? If I could abide through suffering and allow my children to endure hardship, knowing that it may be the very ink in their most beautiful chapter? Perhaps the brushstrokes of monotonous, daily living are the background of a masterpiece. It may be that these bedtime stories read long after I’m tired will add more flavor to their childhood than any elaborate family vacation ever could.
Instead of a contrived life of control and worry, what would it look like to rest and abide, to simply take the next step before us? To be swept up in a story far grander than what we could scribble ourselves?
What our children need is not for us to snatch the pen and force our way to a happy ending. They simply need us to take their hands and walk through the pages with them, pointing out the hand of grace as the story unfolds, and teaching them how to read it themselves.
Like all good art, it will take a fight. It will take scrapping one thing and trying another. It will take meticulous attention the most mundane details. And like most masterpieces, it will end up differently than what we initially pictured. But by God’s grace, it will be beautiful.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”