When we forget the “co” part of being co-creators

by Kristin on May 28, 2013

in Belief, doubt & hope

I’ve been rather obsessive about planting flowers this spring.

It’s true that each spring I long to spend too much time and money at the garden center, but this spring there’s a sense of urgency that’s different—almost out of control.

In some ways it makes perfect sense. We are trying to sell one house, so it needs to be extra beautiful; we are also settling into a new home, where I want to put down roots and make it mine (and yes, there’s also a part of me that wants to assure our new neighbors that our yard will add beauty to the block).

All this digging and planting I’ve been doing also makes sense to me philosophically. We are co-creators with Christ.* I was created to help create beauty in this world. That yearning in me is natural and healthy—not only does it help the world be a tiny bit more complete, the act of creating makes me more whole (which is why not blogging much these past couple of months has eaten away my core).

I believe this chance we have to co-create with God is more than just a nice little perk—a way to get involved when we feel the urge, the way a child might suddenly feel inspired to help snap the green beans for dinner, because she happens to not be doing anything else and that particular job looks fun. No, I believe co-creating, bringing some beauty into the world, is our responsibility.

“Responsibility” is a word I don’t usually respond well to, but in the case of my faith it’s a big part of why I decided, several years back, to even continue bothering with Christianity. I want to participate. I want to know there’s work for me to do—that I matter. I don’t want to just go along for the ride, down a road that’s already been completely directed and built by generations of Christians before me.**

*  *  *  *  *

After lunch, I take a break before turning back to the day’s desk work. I cut the tag off new garden gloves that promise to be “ultra cool and breathable,” collect my shovel and spade, and set out the New Guinea Impatiens I bought yesterday, standing back to gauge the spacing. As I dig and plant, a different thought about what it means to co-create crosses my mind: You aren’t CO-creating because you aren’t willing to relinquish control.

Is it possible that my flower obsession points to a need to control more than I possibly can or should? Perhaps that’s why I’ve bought so many annuals this year, rather than perennials. They offer that quick fix—instant color, instant beauty that doesn’t require cultivation.

There must be a tipping point, a moment when our desire to help create order and beauty in the world becomes a desire to grasp power. I may not be literally reaching for the fruit of knowledge, but in some almost imperceptible way I’m shifting from being the Adam and Eve who tended and loved the garden to the Adam and Eve who wanted to control it. You might not see that in me or my actions, but I can feel it, an unsettled tilting inside me. I can spend hour after hour working to create order around me, but it doesn’t change the lack of groundedness inside me, the unsteadiness that’s causing everything to tumble.

*  *  *  *  *

The roofers arrive with their dumpster and tools and material at the old house (we call it the “old house,” even though both the old and new houses were built around 1920). They are there to handle work I cannot do, so I try my best to let go. Over the course of the week I stop by once or twice, but I can hardly bear to see the mess that so often goes with making things new.

When their work is finally done, Jason and I stop by the house, hoping there is more to admire in the new roof than there is to bemoan on the ground. I don’t really bother looking up—it’s too hard to see results so far above me, or even to understand the beauty of a well-made roof. When I look down, my eyes fill with tears as I survey the decimated hydrangea bushes I’ve been cultivating since I planted them eight years ago, and the crushed hostas and coral bells. I also see all the annuals I bought and planted this spring—flats of lobelia and dianthus and impatiens—flattened into the soil that had supported them, their tiny blue and pink petals ground into the dirt.

This is where I wish I had a nice, tidy lesson or neatly wrapped package to leave you with. But all I’ve got is this: The beauty and order we try to create on our own in the world is tenuous, at best. And I have a lot to learn about what it means to co-create with God. It doesn’t just require my own vision and the busy act of doing; it’s also about letting go, waiting, and listening to discern what my next task might be.

- – - – -

* 1 Corinthians 3: 5-9 5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

** It was Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis that so clearly spelled out this sense of responsibility that we have, as a new generation of Christians, although I can’t put my hands on the book right now—I think it’s on the bookshelf staging the other house.

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  • Dave

    One of my favorite phrases from a wise friend is “Plow, plant, pray.” Applicable in many, many endeavors!

    • kt_writes

      Hi Dave, I like that! So simple and wise. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • http://www.brennadambrosio.com/ Brenna

    Gah. All the tears this morning. I have found myself striving to make life beautiful for my girls. I want a house, the garden, the green space and I don’t have it and I drive myself batty trying to fight for something I don’t have and gain control over something out of my hands. And it leaves me frustrated and tired. There’s just too much control. sigh. As always, thank you for that nudge to just let go a bit and lean in to co creating, not solo creating.

    • kt_writes

      Sorry about the tears! That’s just sort of where I’ve been lately—glad to have such wonderful company. And thanks for pointing out how this ties to parenting. That’s definitely a big part of creating/co-creating.

  • http://lisadelay.com/blog Lisa Colon DeLay

    That was a heartbreaking ending. But, it’s interesting that you include it the way you do. Hopeful. I think this also reminds me that the renovations can spoil our pretty things. Our creating can include what looks like a perfect waste. But, I don’t suppose any beauty is every wasted. :)

    Always lovely to read you.

    • kt_writes

      Yeah, it’s tempting to edit out the heartbreak, isn’t it? Or to over-dramatize it. One of the challenges of writing (and of trying to understand God). I’m so thankful, in the midst of that struggle, to be able to believe that no beauty is ever wasted, as you pointed out.

  • rayhollenbach

    A friend once asked me to collaborate with him on a creative endeavor and, because I looked up to him so much, I eagerly accepted. I quickly discovered what he actually meant was he wanted an assistant–someone to carry out his vision and will. It was a deflating discovery.

    For me, one of the astonishing things about God is his willingness to turn over so much of life and circumstance to our control: the heavens are his, but he has given the things of earth to the daughters and sons of humanity. We–who are without foresight or insight (and rarely even hindsight)–are allowed to do things that matter. Part of his glory is the true freedom he allows to us, and somehow in the midst of the dizzying choices made by each one of us, he brings forth beauty, tenuous and fragile, at which we can all marvel.

    • kt_writes

      I think “collaboration” is one of the most misunderstood and misused words in the English language right now. Everyone likes to talk about it, but not many people are really examining what true collaboration looks like. That’s one of the problems with being a stickler about how words are used—it’s easy to assume (wrongly) that others are being as careful as we are.

      And speaking of words, I love these: “…somehow in the midst of the dizzying choices made by each one of us, he brings forth beauty…”

  • http://annieathome.com/ Annie Barnett

    Oh, I’m so sorry about the flowers. Eek. So many good (hard) thoughts here, Kristin. This was a completely new idea for me – the idea of that subtle shift in Adam and Eve from tending the garden to grasping for power. I mean, I know the story, but you’ve given me something new to wrestle here. Thank you.

    • kt_writes

      It was a new idea for me, too! It just sort of came to me as I was writing—I guess the garden connection helped bring Genesis into my framework.

  • http://sarahaskins.com Sarah Askins

    This is probably my favorite post that you’ve written, Kristin. I want so badly to understand how to co-create and maintain control, but it doesn’t work that way. I’m learning slowly to be okay with that part of creation.

    • kt_writes

      Thank you Sarah! That means a lot. (And I’m glad I’m not the only slow learner around!)

  • Kaye Sims

    This is helpful to me in my own season of new house/old house transition. Thanks.

  • Ron S

    Thanks so much for the reminder that is all at once theologically sound, practical and empirical everyday, and a huge issue not just in our personal lives but in our world. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could become more real and more realistic about being co-workers with and before God? Family, Culture, Church, Land, Vacation, Job, Writing…each and so much more an opportunity to both thank and work with God in amazed gratitude and creativity! Yet, I so quickly forget. Thanks again for the reminder.