Spontaneity - The Discipline of Un-Discipline (#SmallWonder Link-Up)

“I’m working on being more spontaneous,” she said with a straight face and all the seriousness of someone for whom spontaneity is struggle.  She was one of my first mentors and the comment was made in passing, but it's stuck with me for sixteen years. 

It’s a pleasingly ironic intention, to try hard at not trying, to make it a goal to deviate from set goals.  I smiled at the idea from the moment I heard it.  These days I'm thinking again of spontaneity as a spiritual discipline and recognizing the trust involved in embracing the gift of each moment.    


By the time all of the kids are in bed, around 8:45 pm on these long light-filled summer days, I’m done, so very done.  When at last I lay down my mothering hat after fourteen hours on duty, I have two options left – read a book or watch TV.  Occasionally, a third option presents itself – go to bed.   

If, however, I sneak away by 6:45 or 7:00 when John herds the twins upstairs, I sometimes have enough life left in me to write.  This is what I was thinking the other night when I sat on the couch at 6:45 with the laptop open.  But then Solomon called for me.  I sat the laptop, still open, on the couch, intending to return, and followed his voice into the kitchen.

While I tended to his need Sophia wandered in, shoulders slumped.  “I’m bored,” she lamented.

“Why don’t you do something with your art supplies?” I suggested knowing how rarely maternal suggestions are heeded.  But lo and behold, five minutes later she waltzed into the kitchen with her easel and paints, waving a paint board in the air. 

“Who wants to paint?” she called.

I knew her invitation was directed at me.  We had fun painting together the other week and now she wanted to do it again.  But I didn’t want to paint, I wanted to write.  In that moment, though, with the laptop waiting open on the couch, I heard behind her invitation to paint an invitation to togetherness.   I didn’t want to paint, but I appreciated her desire to be with me and, with a little searching, I found my own desire to be with her. 

She set her easel on the kitchen island and I tried to refrain from chiding her over wasted paint as she squeezed what I viewed as needlessly large dollops onto her white plastic palette.  I didn’t want to paint, but I did have some new stamps and ink pads I wanted to try out.  I went out to the Little House to fetch my supplies and sat down diagonal from my daughter at the kitchen counter. 

I put too little ink on the stamp and the medallion image was incomplete.  I put too much on and it globbed together on the page. Slowly, hit and miss, I covered the page with cobalt blue doilies of ink.  Next I opened a new set of alphabet stamps and broke them apart one-by-one. 

“Let me guess,” Sophia said, watching, “you’ve had those for a long time but haven't ever used them.” 

Oh that girl knows her mother well - the hoarding and saving, the waiting for just the right time to enjoy something new - that girl with her great gobs of excess paint.  “No,” I said, pleased with myself, “they’re new, but I just got them.” 

I tried covering the letter stamps with paint with varying results, then I went back to the ink pads and started building words letter by letter.  Unsure where to begin, Sophia started with a bold red line stretched diagonally across the middle of her canvas.  Slowly it grew to a rainbow that filled the whole page.  

“It’s funny,” said Sophia observing her own work, “you don’t know what you’re going to paint, but you just start with a color and build on from there.”

“Yeah,” I said, “it’s like there was something waiting to be painted but you didn’t know it before you started.”

On my paper I had stamped the word “love” with varying degrees of legibility, then I added “very sweet” enjoying the way the words built one letter at a time.  On the lower right hand side of the page, in Harbor blue ink, I stamped the word “writer.” 

Looking at my page as I finished, I realized I was writing after all - words were seeping onto the page despite the absence of my laptop and its keys. 


Maybe this is the secret to spontaneity - the trust that what is needed will come regardless, the belief that all the great gifts of our lives are truly gifts, not gotten but given.  I'll continue to work at setting good boundaries and safe spaces around my writing life – goodness knows I need them.  But like my old mentor, I'll also work at being spontaneous.  The discipline of un-discipline reminds me that even when I’m not looking grace will find its way and what has been given will not be taken away.   

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Only 10 spaces left!  I'm super excited to be joining with Andi Cumbo-Floyd and Shawn Smucker to organize a weekend writer's retreat this summer at God's Whisper Farm in the beautiful mountains of Virginia.  Visit Andi's website for more info!

Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.   


  1. I'm a true believer in planned spontaneity as well! And I've been overheard saying things like, "I love it that the kids (grown up) feel free to just stop in any time. . . I just wish I had more notice."

  2. Love this definition of spontaneity you give here - great!!! I am opposite and need to work on the other end of spontaneity.

  3. Saying "yes" to spontaneity means saying "no" to something else...I find, like you, my 'shoulds'can be rather tyrannical, even if they're good 'shoulds.'
    (ohhhhh, how I wish I could come back to the East Coast in a few weeks and retreat with you all. Sounds like it will be lovely!)

  4. A beautiful and most necessary reminder! Life so often is what happens while while we're in the midst of doing something else or making other plans!

  5. Love your spontaneous shared moment of painting/writing! Thanks for sharing!

  6. I have to "work" at being spontaneous myself. This is so true: "Maybe this is the secret to spontaneity - the trust that what is needed will come regardless, the belief that all the great gifts of our lives are truly gifts, not gotten but given." Thanks, Kelly!

  7. Hi, Kelly, I'm sorry, I thought I left a comment the other day when I linked up, but I must have gotten interrupted. "that what is needed will come" I love that, and think it's so true. Great post!