Adapted from original post on godspacelight.com.
At the Mustard Seed House in Seattle, Washington, an intentional, multi-generational household, we share a meal once a week and rotate who cooks and chooses the communal activity for the evening. Since I moved in three years ago, we have enjoyed anything and everything from reading liturgies, to water balloon fights, to collage creation, to painting pinecones, rocks, and leaves, to other seasonal crafts such as Advent in a Jar. Recently, my favorite activity was a card game that allowed us to get to know one another better. We handed out different colored jelly beans that corresponded to ice breaker questions from a deck of cards that Tom and Christine, two of my housemates, gifted me for my birthday. Each housemate answered the question based on the jelly bean color they selected. These shared meals and activities, as well as our garden day, which is a monthly Saturday morning when we all garden together, are staples in our community of eight.
During one of our meals this past spring, a housemate had the lovely idea to paint pots together when the weather warmed up. I do not consider myself to be the artsy-creative type so I don’t engage in this type of practice very often. Making cards, sewing, and cooking are more my opportunities for creative outlets. Painting does not tend to be one of them. But since it would be a house activity, I thought I could give it a try.
My initial hesitation did not stop me from seeing this as a spiritual practice, though that realization came later, after reflecting on the experience. It gave me a chance to try something new, not in the norm of my daily routine, and learn from what I experienced. The process of painting pots also pointed out lessons that I can apply in other areas of my life.
As a recovering perfectionist, painting is a challenge. The endless options of paint type, color, shade, texture, and the right painting implement are too much for my unexercised right-brain. I decided to stick with what I know and love: blue. Once my color choice jumped out at me, I decided to cover the whole pot in blue because I figured I couldn’t go wrong with at least establishing a base layer. So far so good. But then…the sponge I used worked against me by not absorbing the paint in the way I thought it would. It globbed on so thick and uneven, I thought even the base layer was ruined. I kept going, hoping it would fix itself. Eventually, with the addition of an even layer, the base coat was finished. Nice and blue, I thought. My lesson from this was not to panic; just keep painting and see what the next stroke would bring. NOT an easy task when, in my head, it was already too far gone, but perseverance seemed to work this time.
In between paint layers, I found myself getting impatient. It was a slightly breezy time of day and the sun was out, but it seemed as though no amount of waving a flimsy piece of newspaper around my pot would dry it. This so-called solution of mine only led to a tired arm and a still wet pot. So, I thought it would be a good time to go around and mingle to see what my housemates were up to.
The envy that rose in my heart over the other painted pots was very evident in that moment. Our housemates are truly creative people, as you can see below. The snowy mountain with pine branches across the top is my husband’s. There were Celtic designs, free-form spray painting, symbols from New Mexico, each unique and thoughtfully designed in its own way. But I felt like mine was just a product of globbing on blue paint with some clouds. My lesson here was that, as in life, comparison and envy were unhelpful and caused me to miss the point of enjoying a fun activity with my housemates on a beautiful day!
I am proud that I finished my pot and that I chose to engage even though painting isn’t a skill of mine. In reflecting on the photo above, I am grateful for the diversity that each pot gives to the garden. It brings me joy and gratitude that they will provide a safe and stable home for a seed, seedling, and, eventually, a flourishing plant. They bring color to the garden year round and hold memories of our house gathering that store-bought pots cannot. These pots are a symbol of our community, too. The diversity of generations, cultures, likes and dislikes, favorite movies, etc. all add to the beautiful dynamic that is the Mustard Seed House.
I am also grateful that this activity gave me a chance to reflect on the character of God. As I think about God as the Creator, I know that my struggles when painting this pot do not surprise God and they are not challenges that God faces, either. Creator God doesn’t waiver in trying to make perfect things; they just are. Impatience does not well up within. And why would envy creep into the Divine’s thoughts? Everything else fails in comparison! God’s character does not contain a striving towards perfection, the impatience and limits of time, or the envy of others. Instead, perfect peace, incredible patience, and unconditional love abound. I am thankful that when God interacts with me as part of Creation, these character traits are expressed.
God has truly used the Mustard Seed House community to help me on my faith journey. Living in community comes with joyous moments, fun times shared together, and deep relationship-building opportunities. Our pandemic experience was drastically different from that of a single-family home; I could not imagine going through this time without built-in support. We found ways to stay connected, meeting together safely, sharing our weekly meal while sitting more than six feet apart in a well-ventilated room or outside. Relationships grew out of our need for in-person connection as most of us were working from home. Innovative ideas arose from our desire to enjoy holidays together when we could not celebrate our normal traditions. I am deeply grateful for this community. We come alongside each other in encouraging times and in times of hardship. We grieve deeply and pray fervently when someone in our community or their loved one needs it.
Living in community also comes with challenges that force me to face my own character defects and learn to practice patience daily. I know that these housemates see me at my worst, best, and everything in between. But the love and grace that come in these moments from my housemates are reflections of God’s love and grace for me.
Photos by Christine Sine and Ashley Davis Gavila, used with permission.