In our new house, I have a little room of my own. Well, technically it’s not “my own” – it doubles as a guest room. But since the guest bed is a hide-a-bed, I’ll just go ahead and call it my “office” so that I feel like a proper adult. I’ve always had a bit of a laugh when serious well-meaning folks ask me about my “writing space” as if it’s a magical area. Nope. I have done 99% of my writing at the kitchen table or a noisy coffee shop or the public library. But now I have my own little room at the bottom of the stairs in the basement: the carpet smells a bit musty, there’s a hearth for a wood stove that doesn’t work, and cedar paneling that has endured since 1983. I love it mostly because I’ve established a No Tinies Allowed Here rule.
The other night, I had to do a few final checks on my book manuscript and it was urgent. It has been a busy month with our move in particular, so busy that I hadn’t really properly written or worked for the entire time except as snatches during 30 minutes of Phineas and Ferb for the tinies, so that night after we had cleaned up the supper dishes, I passed the baby to Brian, he set up the Monopoly board with the tinies, and I went downstairs to get my work done. I turned on a bit of music, made a cup of tea, lit a candle, and entered into my work with my full attention for the first time in far too long.
I came up to nurse Maggie an hour later and tuck her into bed. Brian put everyone else to bed. He came down to check on me at our usual bedtime four hours after I had begun, and I turned to him as one resurfacing after a spectacular deep sea dive, my grin wide and my whole being excited. He laughed at my euphoria. I said, I’m just so happy to be working! I love my job! I love having a quiet spot all to myself!
I finished the manuscript checks, got organized for the next week or two, made some plans, outlined some articles, that sort of thing. Hardly any great creative work but it was the kind of work that lays the groundwork for creativity. When I set up the scaffolding, it’s easier to build, I find. I sent the final docs off to my publisher, shut down the computer, blew out the candle, and floated off to bed. I slept like a champ, nursed in the middle of the night with joy, woke up in the morning singing, all of my energy restored by the simple act of doing the work I love to do. I felt more alive, more engaged with my life, in every way.
Virginia Woolf identified a woman’s need for “a room of her own” for creative work, both figuratively and literally. I haven’t had a literal room before and so I’m deeply grateful for it now. But the big thing I realised at the end of that evening was how important it is to also create the figurative “room” in my life altogether, to create just a bit of the emotional and spiritual room necessary for living out my calling.
I’m happier when I’m doing what I love to do and what I’m called to do and what I enjoy doing. The truth is I’m a better person in every way when I’m doing the work I feel called to do.
Life takes over at times, we all get it. We need to shelve our dreams or our creative work for many good and important reasons or make it accommodate the rest of our lives and the schedules of everyone else for whom we bear responsibility. My work right now revolves around Maggie’s nap schedule and the tinies school schedules and the unpredictable tiring rhythms of a young family. It’s not perfect and sometimes it’s frustrating, for sure, but the priority is there for me in this season of life. (When I was still working full-time outside of the home, I would write blog posts on my lunch breaks because that was my only free time.)
But here is the thing that I believe: we need to do the work we were meant to do in order to be who we were meant to be. And what’s more, I believe that honours God.
We are whole beings. We aren’t living out of just one aspect of our humanity to the exclusion of all the others.
Sometimes I can think that pursuing my calling is selfish. I don’t know where I picked that up – perhaps it’s cultural conditioning, leftover bad theology, or something. On some sub-conscious level, I can feel guilty for taking time to create, for taking time to do the things I love to do, simply because I love to do them.
But the truth is that I start to falter without it. I become frustrated, tired, empty, if I’m not creating something, even if it’s just as simple as a few hundred words a day. I know this but I forget it sometimes. I skip creating in some grand self-sacrificial way but then everyone else ends up missing the best and most whole version of myself altogether. It isn’t until I sit down and do my work again that I return to the rest of my life – homemaking, raising children, community, church, school, marriage, all of it – as my most true self.
I’m better everything when I’m doing the work I was meant to do, however humble or unimportant that work is to anyone else.
That night of work downstairs reminded me of a quote from novelist A.S. Byatt that Elizabeth Gilbert shared on the first episode of her brilliant podcast, Magic Lessons.
And on the flip side, I find that my whole life informs and enriches my work. The way I was raised informs my work. The ways I encounter and experience God informs my work. Falling in love with my husband all those years ago, the way our relationship has unfolded over the past sixteen years informs my work. Becoming a mother and now the experience of raising my children informs my work. Ordinary life enriches my work. All the things I do and experience and live out inform my work. If I didn’t have all these other things, what in the world would I have to write about anyway?
I’m not sure, but I think this tendency might be more common for women. I think we struggle more with the perceived “selfishness” of living out our calling or vocation with abandon. So we feel guilty when there is no need for guilt, sometimes even adopting a martyr complex of all the things we are denying ourselves in service to our families.
In reality, God placed those gifts and callings inside of you for a purpose and it’s profane to stifle them in some misguided attempt at honouring God. If you want to honour God, come alive.
It’s entirely right and appropriate to bring your whole self to your whole life. I think God created us for an abundant life, filled with joy and meaningful work and service. And I think it’s important for our children to see us working, to us loving our work (even the kind we do just for the fun of it, because it makes us feel alive).
I saw this in a friend recently. She is a gifted Bible teacher and she kept putting it off and putting it off because it was hard to figure out a way to make it work in her season of life as a mother to young children and a full-time job. But when she made space to engage in that aspect of her calling – teaching, leading, training others how to study and love the Bible – she came alive! It was incredible to see. She came home from the nights of teaching as if she were on an adrenalin high. The joy of it would carry into her whole week, affecting her family and all the rest of us. The work she did mattered, of course it did, and she changed lives with her work. But the act of doing the work itself was also life-changing for her and for the ones who loved her.
If teaching or preaching or writing or managing or leading or painting or film-making or delivering babies or studying astro-physics or whatever it is makes you feel more whole, then darling, do it all to the glory of God and you’ll see that the way it makes you come alive will stain your entire life with joy.
The work is good and purposeful and necessary in and of itself, absolutely. I’m always flat amazed at the ways that my words, tapped away on this smudgy laptop wing into lives all around the world in ways I never would have expected. That’s worthwhile! But I also love the gift that the act of working gives to me. Isn’t that just like God? For even during the Fall, when we were “cursed” with work, we find goodness hiding there, too.
Because it’s never just about us. That true version of yourself – the one that needs the wholeness of creativity and work and service altogether – exists in a family and in a community and as part of God’s love letter to the world. When you are fully alive, as Ireneus famously said, it glorifies God. And when God is glorified, all of us are drawn to the light and life of that moment.
It doesn’t have to be pretty. It doesn’t have to be seamless and easy. It doesn’t have to come together without struggle. In fact, I can pretty much promise you that it’s going to be hard at times to create the room for your calling to be lived out. But it will be worth it. Because if it makes you feel alive, if it’s what God gifted and called and created you to do right along with everything else in your life, then we all need you to do it and also you need to do it.