I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty versus utility lately. Is taking the time to hand-make something worth it when I can easily buy something similar the store? Sure, the smell of freshly baked bread is lovely, but is it necessary? A hand-made quilt is special, but can’t I purchase one, too? I wonder about things like this, I suppose, because I wonder if what I do is worth it.
I think we all feel that way about our work: we want to know what we do is valuable.
These thoughts lead me to two main questions: Why is it that I have a desire to make, to create? And is that unnecessary or even a frivolous use of time?
In a plastic world where I can place an order on Amazon and have it delivered less than 48 hours later, where we can order lattés on our phones, and where entire ready-to-assemble meals can be shipped to my doorstep, why should we create our own?
I think there are several answers here, but I’m going to look at three: quality, mastery, and creation.
The quality – especially of food – is generally better when we make it ourselves (although there can be a learning curve when we’re beginning any new task). But after we’ve mastered a new skill – whether it’s making yeasted bread or sewing a button – the sense of satisfaction overcomes frustration that we had when learning. And when we take the time to learn, we’re tapping into the knowledge of our forebears. We don’t have to bake our bread or sew our clothes, but when we learn these skills – skills that were necessary for survival not long ago – we are connecting with traditions that women have passed on for centuries, and this connection and mastery leads to self-actualization and pride.
There’s beauty in that.
But more than that, there is joy in creating because we are imitating the divine creative act. As humans, we are image bearers of God – and what I mean is, more or less, we are rational, emotive, beings with the capacity to create; therefore, we will find joy in doing, in imagining, in making, and in beautifying because it glorifies God who gave us these abilities in the first place.
In her book, Edith Schaeffer explained:
[We] should recognize the importance of living artistically, aesthetically, and creatively, as creative creatures of the Creator. If we have been created in the image of an Artist, then we should look for expressions of artistry, and be sensitive to beauty, responsive to what has been created for us.
The act of creating, whether it be a painting, quilt, or a meal, is both humanizing and glorifying to God. The creative act elevates and ennobles us because it simultaneously allows us to exercise a learned skill and glorify our creator.
The intersection of beauty and utility in the home is obvious – the skills required to cook are put to use feeding a family dinner; we sew rips and tears, blankets and dresses; we decorate an empty room with flowers and blankets, books and seashells. We just looked at how these endeavors benefit us, but there is a nagging voice that tells me still that they are unnecessary. Beautifying is ennobling to us, but does this benefit others in a meaningful way?
In other words, is the creation of beauty a frivolous use of time?
I think part of why cultivating beauty in the home can seem frivolous is because of its transience. Children make messes. Magazines arrive that create discontent. Flowers wilt, and candles burn down. We can’t create beauty on an eternal scale because we are finite beings, but that doesn’t make our creative efforts and investment of time wasted, rather it is an act of obedience. We create because God created. We beautify because God made us stewards of a beautiful world. Decorating, sewing, and baking aren’t to be belittled as women’s work or drudgery; they are worship.
Brother Lawrence famously wrote:
We ought not be weary of doing little things for the love of God who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.
We create because we’re rational, thoughtful beings made in the image of God. We love beauty because God made us with the capacity to appreciate it. We have the opportunity to elevate ourselves and our work by viewing mundane, temporal tasks through an eternal lens that allows us to see beauty in the everyday.
So go learn to sew a button so you can fix that shirt. Make your grandmother’s recipe for bread. Light a candle or fill a vase with cuttings from your yard. These things are not just necessary, they are good.
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