for the artist who worries her motives are wrong

lightAs soon as I saw her name pop up on my caller ID, my stomach dropped swiftly into China. It was a little after 3 pm on the afternoon of November 4, 2009. The kids ate graham crackers, watching Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Walking across the room, I picked up the ringing phone, shaky hands, pounding heart.

“Emily! We had a wonderful talk about your book during our pub board meeting today . . . ”

Now I was in the kitchen though I don’t remember how I got there.

“We all love your proposal . . .”

Sitting, I’m not sure what to think.

“. . . Would you be willing to write two books for us?”

And there it was. Until that point, everything book-writing was playing house. Now I was being offered a real job and I was scared.

I was afraid I couldn’t do it.

I was afraid I would disappoint them once it was done.

But one of my biggest fears at the time was I was doing it for all the wrong reasons.

Do I just want to say I wrote a book? See my name on the cover? Be famous? Be admired? Win?

The truth is, my motives were mixed. Three books and four years later, they still are. Sometimes that scares me. But if I always waited to do things until my motives were clear and un-mixed, maybe I would never do anything at all.

I have to be careful not to give too much power to motivation. I spend lots of time analyzing my thoughts and actions – wanting to live on the outside in perfect congruence with my inside. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can be too idealistic. It helps me to admit my own weakness and to face those ugly places where my motives are unclear.

But facing them doesn’t mean wallowing in self-hatred. Facing them means admitting I’m a mess without Christ. Face it, and then turn away. Because I believe I’m a spirit who has a soul and lives in a body, my deepest identity is spirit where my life is joined with God. This is where my true self exists, the seat of my desire, the beloved union with my beloved Christ.

In this place, there is no mixing, no deceit, no two-faced imposter.

I’m learning to do the next right thing, mixed motives and all. I’m learning to bring my motives into the presence of Jesus and trust him to work them out, recognizing He has put a new heart within me.

In my soul – my mind, will, and emotion – I am capable of both wholeness as well as brokenness, gratitude as well as selfishness. But my motives are not the truest thing about me.

Desire speaks of something deeper, something beyond motivation. Here in the deepest part of who I am, in the seat of my personality sits Christ.

Christ, in whom all things are made.

Christ, who came first.

Christ, who holds all things together.

Christ, who lives in me.

I worry with wringing hands and furrowed brow that maybe I want glory for myself. You know, sometimes I do. It really shouldn’t surprise me.

But in the deepest part, in the most secret place, this is no longer my deepest truth. I have been given a new heart, a new Spirit alive within me. He is my hope of glory.

31 daysToday is day 23 in our series on Living Art. Click here to see all the posts in the series.

If you would like to have each new post delivered into your inbox for free, simply enter your email address here and click blog posts.

If you’re following along with us in the book club, Chapter 2 discussion is up at Bloom.

You can watch the video here and listen to some of my own thought processes as I struggle through writing the book.


  1. says

    Yes. Yes. And yes! I agree whole-heartedly with everything you so beautifully expressed, Emily. You read my heart, putting to words what I also feel so deep in my soul. May Jesus continue to make himself so incredibly real to us as we live from the new and good hearts he’s given us. I’m so grateful he’s our hope of our glory! Just ordered your book yesterday; can’t wait to dive in!

  2. says

    Okay, THIS post is resonating with me so much. I always, always worry about my motives and for fear they are misplaced, I just don’t do anything. That keeps me from stepping out of my comfort zone. Thank you for your post! I’ve read it several times already. Hmmmm….

  3. says

    Recently I read an article about those trying to become ‘Christian Celebrities’. It struck a nerve and I thought well you know sometimes I think that is me and I felt awful. What a gift your words are today! I knew the Holy Spirit was convicting in the other article and now here you speak honestly about how yes, sometimes our motives are messy but what we can to do about that. Thank you!

  4. says

    I have a request. Will you provide an option for a “printable” view? The way some authors do for printing recipes?

    There are times – as with this post – that you write something I need to be reminded of so much I would do well to print it out and tape it to my forehead, or at least the wall above my desk.

    The message would be clearer and easier to read if I printed it out in “printable” format rather than the five meandering pages format my computer has come up with for this post.

    Thank you (in advance) for considering my request, even if granting it is not feasible.

  5. says

    I always feel embarrassed when compliments come my way, regarding my painting, or my playing the organ/leading choir in church, or leading Bible Study. I want to blow it away, knowing that what I do, I do to the glory of God, or at least that’s what I want it to be. I feel my friends build me up to be more than I am, a broken vessel, just trying to lead my life the best I can.

  6. says

    I just got done putting up my post for the day and then I started clicking around to read the blogs I’ve been reading lately.

    When I got to your blog, I realized that in my own way, I shared the same idea you wrote about this morning!

    You said, “Facing them means admitting I’m a mess without Christ.” and that’s exactly it. We need to see how wicked we are to see how GOOD He is and to be able to be glad in all that we have IN Him.

    I love it. :)

  7. says

    Being an artist is hard mixed up work. The desire for authenticity colliding with raw humanity wrapped up in Diety. Daring to believe that the way my heart was made lines up with the greatest command from heaven. Your book , letters of courage. Thank you!

  8. says

    Oh my…just THANK YOU for saying this. Who wants to admit before the whole world that sometimes she wants glory for herself??? Well, Emily Freeman, that’s who! :) Not that you WANT to admit that, but I’ve not heard anyone else say it. And unfortunately, yes, sometimes I want glory too, and I hate that when I realize it, but it’s the battle I’m in. Thankfully, this is not my deepest truth. :)

  9. says

    Wanting to succeed is not a bad thing, but it turns bad when we don’t attribute that success to Him. It is so refreshing to read of your insecurities…I mean you seem so successful at what you do. …and you are, but it helps.

  10. Anna says

    Thank you for this, Emily. I know my motives are soo wrong sometimes. It can be discouraging. Praise be to Jesus He is our deliverer! Thank you for your honesty and encouragement..

  11. dan smith says

    I have no idea how I stumbled across your site…especially as a guy…but I love your writing and am grateful God let me stumble across it as well as then being pointed toward your father’s work…which is another work of beauty all in its own. Great stuff….even for guys…our souls need to breath as well…blessings. Dan Smith- Devoted Husband and Father of 4 great kids. Raleigh, NC

  12. Kelly says

    Thank-you. We are more than our motives. Truth. This writing combined with a Jason Upton tune have me in tears. Analysis for me, has often resulted in paralysis. To quote Bob Goff, “love does..” in my case, love awakens an old dream and completes an application to graduate school.

  13. says

    Loved this post. Needed this post. Can’t tell you how many times I have tried to talk Him out of using me, tried to disqualify myself…all because I know there are some mixed motives floating around in my heart. Thank you for your honesty and encouragement. Truly.

  14. says

    This is absolutely my favorite post in the series thus far. Thank you for talking about this inner battle, it is perfectly timed. You’re a gift, Emily Freeman!

  15. Barbara says

    Thank you, Emily! I’ve been struggling to take a particular step that God is calling me to take for fear of my mixed motives and mostly for fear that other people will think that I have no business pursuing such a thing. There are so many more-qualified people than me. Just today I was pondering this. Your post is confirmation from the Lord that I should move forward. God is amazing. Thank you for being so transparent and for saying the things that most people are afraid to think, never mind say. God is using you in a mighty way in my life “for such a time as this.” God bless!

  16. Babs C. says

    Oh, wow. Uh huh from the depth of my inner being. Selah and Amen!

    Emily, reading your book now as part of Bloom and then also getting to know you by reading your blog. You are a daily blessing. I appreciate who you are! I appreciate your honesty in being you and that your art expression is helping me to become more fully alive to my own art too. Glory to God, Sister!

  17. says

    Wow… I’m sitting here in deep appreciation for how you were able to put into words an experience that is common to so many, especially the creative types, with candor and vulnerability, as well as without a speck of shame and or condemnation… I’m not a woman but enjoy your insight into the human soul on a journey of discipleship with Christ… Will keep on following your posts and meeting life and wholeness as they present themselves through the heart-mending way you write…



  18. says

    maybe you wrote freedom into hearts today. maybe i’m one of them. maybe i’ll come back and read this post over and over again. thank you.

  19. says

    Thank you. I love how you said if I wait for my motivations to be clear, maybe I wouldn’t do anything at all? I can already see that while I have only just found your blog, I am going to find lots of food for thought here.

    “Here in the deepest part of who I am, in the seat of my personality sits Christ” … absolutely beautiful, and thankyou for the reminder. I can be so hard on myself. But, He is he centre of who I am.

    I am going to enjoy perusing this lovely open air space very much I think!

  20. says

    Emily I love how grace filled your words are both for yourself and for me. I hear a hint of dear Brennan Manning in your voice and that comforts my soul. Thank you for pulling back the veil a bit to allow a peek behind…

  21. says

    I love it when you write something that seems like it’s just for me. I’ve been learning this all week, that I can be broken and messy, because that is the human condition, and still be loved by God powerfully and be able to have beautiful things flowing from me because of who He is.
    Thank you for this, Emily.

  22. says

    Emily, I have been reading your writing for years now and I have to say that this post is one of my all time favorites. The transparency here that’s met with the clear honest truth of Scripture is a breath of fresh air.
    I stop and start again and again with ‘bigger’ art inspired things in life, often stopping out of discouragement over motive. But, like Paul, I hear you saying…’I don’t work and create because I’m perfect but rather being perfected and full of longing.’

    Perhaps the beauty of your work is somewhat a reflection of the tension you are often feeling.

    Thank you!

  23. says

    It gets messy because obedience to Christ often brings immediate, earthly rewards. When I love my husband sacrificially, for example, he loves me back–and I like that! Not because I have some holy, heavenly motivation, but because I like when my husband buys me flowers and helps me clean the kitchen. :) I love him for all the right reasons–but I also fully enjoy the immediate benefits of that love. And sometimes it helps motivate me to continue on.

    Same with art/ministry/stewardship of talent. The payoff is both eternal AND immediate. It feels good to have people respond favorably to our work. It’s nice to have someone affirm your calling, your passion–affirm YOU.

    I think God set it up this way on purpose. I don’t think it needs to be an either/or thing. I think it’s holy to fully enjoy the benefits (eternal AND immediate) of obedience to Christ.

    Love this series. Thanks for provoking me to thought and allowing me to express it here. :)

  24. says

    wow, I so appreciated this. I’m struggling with this same idea & have really been encouraged by your #31days. Looking forward to jumping in on the bloom book read with ya’ll when my book comes today! :-)

  25. says

    LOVE, Love, love this post! Your honesty about writer-life is one of the things that makes you so endearing, it frees me to answer God’s call on my life.

    Mixed-motivation is something I struggle with very much. I find myself wanting to wait until I’m 100% there – totally ready. Ultra-mature. Then I pendulum swing and try to rush and force and fret instead of being patient and trust in God’s perfect timing for His plans for my life, regardless of my feelings – if they are engine-revving at the starting line or high-tailing it in reverse – whatever. And you know as I look back at some of the things I’ve done as I’ve been following God I might have had one idea about how this would look or what it would be like or what I hoped to gain by it and God has usually done something very different but way better.

    Thank you for being willing to share the messy places with us too.

  26. says

    You’re peeling back those layers again this morning Emily; stark revelation of self. And look at how many of us have responded in kind. Hearts truly wanting to serve our Lord, yet knowing that can be a slippery place needing ongoing attention.~ Beautifully composed.

  27. says

    Wow. Not only did your words speak to me, but I’m astounded by the number of comments I passed as I scrolled down here. It’s amazing to see how many other women feel similarly!

    Also, I second Michelle’s suggestion to make a printable version!

  28. says

    Completely undone by just how much I’m living in this space right now. Thanks for your honesty. Re-entry has been very real & bumpy this week. Praying God will work through my little typing fingers & I can find a balance this week.

  29. says

    I have had these same thoughts so many times when I’ve taught bible study and received compliments and didn’t know what to do with them –then I had this thought that God knows my intent and wish better than I do and maybe my concern of it glorifying Him is exactly how to keep it balanced. I don’t know if I’m making sense but it freed me from burden

  30. Elise says

    You have no idea how much I’ve been needing to hear this from someone other than me! I’ve been struggling with mixed motives and double-identities for a while, and have allowed myself to slowly turn my eyes away from God while doing so. I knew it was only hurting me more, but I didn’t know how to stop. As an over-thinker, I have found myself oftentimes looking at life through a toilet paper tube instead of getting a grasp on the big picture. Without Christ I cannot be my whole self. Praise God for helping me to see that once again.

    Prayers all around!

  31. says

    Ohhhhh my heart is pouring over your writings right now and Jesus is speaking to me. I’m in the process of having a new blog designed while I sit in this waiting season. I’ve been nervous to actually do it and have prayed about it for over a year (off and on) as my first blog under a different name, was for me and the comments and likes and pats on the back. This time I need it to be for Him. My heart is longing to express but it can’t be about me. It just can’t. Thank you for this as I will never ever ever be in the perfect balanced place that my heart longs for until I’m in Heaven. Thank you again today for allowing my heart to sing in grace and let Him cover me as He always does.


  32. says

    Thank you for sharing of your struggles and your mixed motives. This has been one of my struggles as well. I appreciate you bringing it to light and truth–yes we have them. Yes, we can admit them and move on in His light. I appreciate you.

    Deb Weaver

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *