"Sometimes I need to engage in an activity for the single purpose of disengaging from productivity." Emily Freeman // incourage.me

I’m learning to crochet. Is that dorky? I have a feeling what the hipsters do with yarn these days is knitting. But I’ve heard that takes two needles which is completely intimidating. So for now, it’s crochet.

The girls and I took a class at a local craft store, and after three hours we learned one stitch — if that’s even what you call it. We make rows over and over again in a line, turn, and make another line.

It’s too narrow for a blanket, too wide for a scarf, and it doesn’t matter anyway because I don’t know how to read a pattern or do anything, really. So far I’ve worked the yarn through Mr. Bean’s Holiday, one episode of American Pickers, and lots of conversation.

I want it to be relaxing, but so far I mainly work tense. I hear that shows up in the yarn. Of course it does.

Last night we had company for dinner and my son ran to get my square (trapezoid/circle/wonkiness) and show it off to our friend (who is a twenty-something guy so you can imagine how interested he was). Everything in me wanted to stop him, to apologize, to explain that I have zero idea what I’m doing and obviously this is nothing to write home about or bring into the kitchen.

But my son, he was proud of the way I’ve worked yarn into a pattern, even if that’s all it will ever be.

There aren’t many things I do in life that don’t have a measurable point. 

Recently I took a walk through my neighborhood and had to fight to keep it agenda-free. It’s a discipline to walk without an agenda, to let yourself carry concerns with an open hand rather than trying to untangle them.

emily p freeman

And this is precisely why I’m not quick to want to learn how to crochet for real. Because I know me. As soon as I do, that very minute, I’ll get all focused and wild-eyed and now I will make a scarf for everyone I know!

I like the idea of staying a beginner. I like moving my hands in a predictable rhythm to make nothing in particular except maybe some space for my soul to breathe.

I like sitting down and having my sloppy first draft be the second draft and also the final draft.

I like the absence of pressure, the complete lack of temptation to show off or get arrogant.

emily p freeman

This week, as I imperfectly practice this new craft, I’m discovering the spiritual discipline hidden beneath the uneven rows of yarn.

Sometimes I need to engage in an activity for the single purpose of disengaging from productivity.

Is that a thing? I think it is, and it’s an important one.

My friend and fellow author Fil Anderson once said, “Sometimes it isn’t about what we do, but about what we need to undo.”

We talk a lot about all we need to do. And if you’ve watched the news or checked on Facebook within the last 2 minutes, you’ll see the needs are many, the pain is real, the suffering is great, and the brokenness is far-reaching.

There is without question a lot to do.

But there is also an invisible world that lives inside our bodies, the inner world of the soul. And this world won’t show up in your newsfeed, it won’t get a headline on the evening news, and it won’t push a notification to your phone.

This inner world needs our attention, but it doesn’t respond to programs, agendas, or hustle.

The soul responds to space, silence, and Jesus.

I’m discovering how Christ is with me in every ordinary moment, both the ones where I feel capable and the ones where I am out of my element, both in the visible world I can see and the invisible one that lives within me.

I know that’s true. It’s just that sometimes I need to actively do things I’m not good at in order to remember how desperately I need him. Sometimes I need to work quietly with my hands in order to settle my soul.

Is there anything you need to undo? Are there any simple practices that are helping you undo it?

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  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Oh how I needed to read this. My soul heaved a huge sigh just reading your description of mindlessly crocheting a trapezoid-whatever :) I played the piano for 10 years as a youngster. I was actually pretty good. During my “mommy” years, sadly, I rarely had the time to sit and play…or I should say I didn’t make the time. I’ve lately decided to try to go back to playing (or should I say trying to play) again. I’m like a beginner…struggling to read notes and hitting quite a few clunkers, but if I don’t attach an expectation to be perfect at it and just enjoy the random good notes I hit, it lets my brain rest from the tasks of the “to do” world in which we live. It lets my soul breathe which is something I think we all desperately need. Thank you so much for pointing this out and encouraging us to do…I mean undo something.

    • emily p freeman

      Yes! I’m so glad this one found you at the right time. And I like your idea of “going back to playing” – sounds right to me!

    • Nancy Ruegg

      Bev, you’ve inspired me. I, too, used to play the piano quite well. Family work, and other responsibilities took priority for so many years, I’ve probably lost 50% or more of my skill. I think my efforts now will be so disappointing it’s hardly worth beginning again. But you say, “Just enjoy the random good notes.” That’s the right attitude! Thank you for giving me a little push!

      • Bev @ Walking Well With God

        I know the hesitancy to go back to something you were once good at…I avoided it for a long time. Hope you’ll join me and we can hit lots of clunkers together and perhaps a few good notes that will keep us going :)

        • Nancy Ruegg

          I’ll think of you–with a smile, Bev–as I clunk through to the good notes!

          • Bev Duncan

            One conclusion I have come to is that my piano desperately needs tuning. The horrible sound isn’t all me lol!

          • Nancy Ruegg

            I’m laughing here because mine needs tuning, too!

  • http://www.marybonner.net/ Mary Bonner

    Oh, Emily, you always write with such clarity and wisdom. And all your words speak to me…especially today. Thank you. I imagine I am not the only one that needed these words today.

    • emily p freeman

      I’m so glad to hear that, Mary.

  • Angela Nazworth

    Thank you so much for this, Emily. My “inner world” needs an undo list to calm the restlessness. Grateful for your words.

    • emily p freeman

      Mine too, friend. That’s for sure.

  • Debbie Simon

    I loved reading this…I have started learning the art medium of “paint collage”…it has been an icredible release of the “to-do’s” of productivity and a connection of the creativity that God indended me to discover!

    • emily p freeman

      a release of the to-dos. yes!

  • Ginny

    You manage to put into words what I am feeling! Thank you!!

    • emily p freeman

      I’m so glad! That’s a great compliment to a writer :)

  • http://www.marcyholder.com/ Marcy

    Triple heart love!

    • emily p freeman


  • http://www.aleciasimersky.com/ Alecia Simersky

    It’s good for the soul I think to get lost in something. Whether it’s crocheting, doing a project, or reading a good book. You come away revitalized. I also need the time away from social media, which can become quite overwhelming and doing a project is the perfect way.

    • emily p freeman

      “for the soul to get lost in something!” – so good. But it takes lots of practice, doesn’t it? At least it does for me. Funny how something so simple can be so difficult for me.

  • http://sandraheskaking.com/ Sandra Heska King

    I used to crochet. My great-grandmother taught me. I’ve been thinking about taking it up again. For these reasons.

    • emily p freeman

      Do it!

  • Tina

    Thank you, Emily. ♡ I’m ironing today. Not only was it way past due to be done, but it is helping with my “undoing” today, as I rest in Jesus and entrust to Him my sad-feeling heart & soul. I appreciate your words of encouragement. ♡

    • Tina

      P.S. I know ironing sounds like a task with an agenda, but for *me* … it’s sooo relaxing & I’m listening to a recorded book!! ;-)

  • Betsy

    Emily, thank you for this. My hurried, harried world needed this truth this morning. Here’s to wonky crochet creations and practicing the discipline of undoing!

  • Caroline Starr Rose

    There aren’t many things I do in life that don’t have a measurable point.

    This stopped me dead in my tracks. Thank you.

    • http://www.asimplehaven.com/ Jenn @ A Simple Haven

      Ditto. And ditto. :)

  • Karmen

    I love this idea! This new concept of “undoing”. I want to think about this. Make my own list. Tell my girls to make one too. Although they are better at it. Even as teens they still “color” and that just might be what you are talking about. Maybe they can help me with my list. Thank you!

    • Tami

      When I was in France this summer, I saw at the airport, Coloring Therapy books for adults to color and destress! I was surprised and pleased at the same time! Coloring is fun!

  • Joanne Peterson

    Hi Emily,

    I am encouraged by your post. I love to read a good book whether it is fiction or nonfiction. Right now it is Tatoos on the Heart. It is undoing the stress, and pointing to what looks impossible, and people given up on have been given life, and second chances, just plain to be loved, and the outcasts are loved.

    My mom used to crochet and knit beautiful things, huge projects. After my dad died, she quit, it took the incentive right out of her. She has moved into assisted living, and has decided she wants to crochet wash cloths. They are simple, and they are keeping her hands and her heart busy. At first she was frustrated because she had not picked up a crochet hook for three years, and she was tense, and uncertain. Now she is enjoying just to have the hook and yarn in her hand, and flowing with the yarn. It is not necessarily with a goal in mind, but to have her hands doing something just because she is doing it for her and the familiar is comforting.



  • http://michelemorin.wordpress.com Michele Morin

    Yes! My default “activity for disengaging from productivity” (LOVE that phrase) is knitting cotton dish cloths. I’m just a hack at knitting, but I can crank out a dishcloth with only half my brain, leaving the other half free to watch a movie with my kids, to have a conversation with my husband, to notice the world around me when I’m a passenger.

  • JeanneTakenaka

    Emily, what great truths here. First of all, I love that your son was proud of you! Mine are like that too, and it just does a mama’s heart good to be part of what brings them joy.

    I love the idea of staying a beginner for awhile, just to be able to rest, and to remember how very much I am dependent on Jesus . . . for everything. My soul enjoys those quiet times when I am not busy knocking off to-do’s on my list. Sometimes, it just needs space to breathe.

    I’m learning to commit to fewer things, to make space in my days for quiet time, and for working at a slower pace. It’s been a good thing for me.

  • http://kellyjgrace.com/ Kelly Grace

    “This inner world needs our attention, but it doesn’t respond to programs, agendas, or hustle.”
    Let’s give ourselves time for our souls to feel the stillness. I remember getting up early and finding my aunt crocheting and listening to ‘church’ music. She used it as time to pray and let the quiet seep into her soul.
    She also taught me it’s not only OK to undo, it’s OK to abandon a project if I wasn’t enjoying it. No condemnation in Christ or crochet ;)

  • Gabli

    Yay. I love to crochet and it allows my mind to wander, meditate and at the same time do nothing. I hope you find it therapeutic.

  • sheri

    wow Emily, that is exactly what I am doing !!! LOL… my stitches are uneven, my ends look a little weird,ha. my husband says”so what is it going to be” ha..to long for a scarf, way to short for a Afghan..but the wool is so soft and such pretty colors..my grandmother taught me how yrs ago, she was so good at it !! but I didn’t remember what she did “sorry grandma” I too took a class and spent 2 hours learning to tie a knot on the hook,ha. everyone else was 1/2 way done with their project…I felt lower than dirt !!
    so I found sites on Google, and found some ladies who go step by step v-e-r-y slowly. and I still struggle with it. but once I start, my fingers loosen up and my mind clears and I find myself at peace! so no matter what it is..ha…or when I get “IT” done I will have slowed myself down for a while and cleared my mind. I loved this BLOG..you are a awesome writer and a sweet SISTER IN CHRIST ! Thank u, have a wonderful and Blessed Day :)

  • RickyandSue Neal

    Crochet has been and continues to be such a blessing to me. I find great peace sitting in prayer with the Lord as He creates something beautiful thru my hands for someone who needs a blessing. Sometimes it is a prayer shawl, others a hat for a cancer patient, or a blanket for a baby in NICU. He has grown the ministry and now I have ladies in a program in prison who make loads of hats. God is amazing

  • http://www.bethcoulton.com Beth

    I, too, am re-learning how to crochet, and it is anything but dorky. And yes, if you’re my family member and you’re reading this, you now know we are having a yarn-based Christmas this year.

    My mother was a knitter and she made beautiful things- one of them being an afghan that I still cherish today because her hands wove those stitches together. Another is a too-small-for-me red cable knit sweater that apparently I unraveled off her needles when I was two and she 41 and on the phone. Phones were mounted on the wall then so I was kind of on my own with her creation and had a blast. After the sweater was done and worn by her for many years, she passed it on to me and even though it never did fit, I can’t throw it out or give it away. She and I made that one together.

    But to me, two knitting needles and yarn resembles eating spaghetti with chopsticks, so I went the one-hook route and decided to crochet.

    And oh yes, a walk or anything without an agenda – that is so hard! This is currently the season I’m in and the balance I’m trying to strike…how much downtime is good and healthy without crossing the line to lazy? I’m in a time where I feel like I must be productive all evening at home after being productive all day at work..and am having trouble finding when to stop. Or I go to the other extreme; when I get home, I don’t “start” at all and head right to my pj’s, comfort food and a favorite episode of some brainless show On Demand. And that sets the course for the whole evening…

    So I need to find the balance. I definitely need to cut myself a break from churning out results, but also have to be intentional if I ever want to get a blog post written, a book drafted, the bills paid and dinner on the table for my husband and I once in a while.

    But in the meantime while I figure out where to land in the “what do I do with my free time” game, crocheting definitely helps me undo….

  • Sharon

    Thank you! This post reminded me of a time when my children were young I would always try to teach them through every ‘learning’ moment. I eventually learned that sometimes I need to let those ‘learning’ moments go & simply enjoy my child & let them enjoy being with Mom (not ‘teacher’). It’s hard to step back and simply appreciate your surroundings, whether people or nature, and not be actively trying to accomplish something.

  • Cary

    Well said! Would you mind if I share a link to this post on my own blog? God bless you today and your mindless crochet – I think that’s wonderful!

    • Cary

      By the way, I’ll bet your crochet is beautiful ;)

  • Veronica

    How wonderful that you are learning to crochet. I’m not usually very “crafty”, but I am thinking about taking up knitting. I like the idea of creating something pretty that can be given as gifts.

  • http://livingingraceland.me Debby Hudson

    This reads like a mirror for me. I’ve been losing myself a bit painting lately. It’s a way my mind finds space from the demands of the day. BUT, the temptation to do things for others, to make this collage for her and paint this picture for him and what am I going to do with all these things because that is….unproductive! And there it is. Thank you for permission to remember to have fun with the paintbrush and scissors and Mod Podge and trying new styles and make mistakes just because it’s good for me.

  • lindalouise

    There are times I literally feel a pull to pick up knitting needles and yarn and find a place of rest. I promise, Emily, knitting is not hard. But I like to crochet too. There is something about making art with your hands that is so soul-satisfying. You’ve said it well (as always).

  • Heidi

    This week I’ve been meditating on scriptures that deal with my words, turning my mouth over to Christ. And I am amazed how little he wants to move it! He is revealing to me the peace of not speaking so quickly, but listening to really hear what others are saying. I never realized how stressful it is to always have something to say! “Not doing” with my mouth is a very good thing, indeed.
    By the way, “Grace for the Good Girl” changed. my. life.

  • Vonda

    Not that crocheting is th only medium for relaxation, but I learned it when I was a kid and I am now SO thankful that my Mom made me learn! I tackle afgans and other difficult projects but I do them because the process of making them is almost hypnotic do Me. When I requestor in for an afternoon of stitching, I find myself breathing slower and just getting lost in my work. I love it! I will warn you though: I have blown my elbow by crocheting too much. :o(

    • Vonda

      Sorry for the spell correct errors…ugh. should be settle in for an afternoon of stitching…

  • Kathy

    I appreciate how you approach the crocheting as an activity to just do without any expectation and just to have the time to realize how much we need Jesus. You will most likely become more adept at this art form, but for now you are willing to learn and find that the results will be from the acceptance of your need for reliance on practice, discipline and direction from the Lord.
    I wanted to start scrapbooking the many photos of my grandchildren and other members who are now with the Lord, but I always have lput it off as I felt it would be inadequate and not look as professional as those I saw in magazines. This article gave me the desire to start working on some photos a page at a time. The first pages may be primitive, but the photos are the main focus. I must realize I need Jesus for everything in my life. Thank you for reminding me that we need to rely on the Lord for Him to live in my life.

  • Susan G.

    Such a great post. I am grateful to now be retired and able to find more time for my soul. Even with my husband home most days, and my adult daughter and two awesome grandkids living downstairs, God has provided me with days when I am totally alone at home. It is then that my soul does take a ‘deep breath’, and I have MY space and silence. I talk to Jesus all day it seems, but to really ‘listen’ to Him I need the space and silence.
    Thank you!

  • MJ

    This is why I always have a ‘simple’ sock on my needles.

  • Nancy

    HI Emily, I always enjoy your blogs. I have done crafts for long time. Repetitve motion is calming so crocheting and knitting can become a type of meditation but I like how the meditation can also be productive. After reading this piece, maybe I should stop looking to always be productive. I have also dabbled in Zentangles (google it!) which is a type of meditative doodling. But because it isn’t so productive I don’t do it often. LOL, should reconsider that.

  • Tina

    My daughter, high school freshman, will crochet a line, tear it out, and then do it again. Is this relaxing? She is wound tight like the yarn ball. She feels like she has to get a 100% on every school exam. I have given her your book for teens, Sometimes my heart breaks for her. Other times, she drives me crazy.

  • Paris Renae

    Emily, you’re sunshine! I love the way you look at things – I’m older than you, not old enough to be your grandmother but almost old enough to be your momma, so I learned to crochet when I was little – and I taught my daughter. Here’s the thing: I crochet with an end purpose in mind – she, now a young adult, will crochet just for the fun of using up a ball of yarn. She has lots of pretty pieces of not quite blankets/too big to be a scarf – and she doesn’t care! Thanks for making me ‘see’ my need

  • Heather W

    Oh I just LOVE this… There are far to many need to dos, not so many want to dos, and nevermind trying to get to the wish to dos… I read somewhere one time to make a done list. maybe i need to try that out again. i definitely felt better LOL
    but, really what i need to undo is being a mom at the end of the day. there are days when i just need to start over. days where i need the day to just go away and not have a repeat. these littles of mine are exhausting yet wonderful. demanding yet the best things that have ever happened to me. but the oldest is only 5. starts kindergarten this august. the youngest (baby #4) will be born just weeks after that. but even though im a mom to 4 and the oldest is such a big boy, i am still just a beginner at this whole thing. im a beginner every day. everyday is a different day that brings new changes, new whatevers into view. if something didn’t work or go as planned yesterday, undo it and try again.
    just like my endless works of crochet sitting in the basket… if it didn’t work out, undo it. try again. make it something better. make it something different.
    love your words, emily!

  • Maggie

    This is so refreshing to read. I really do need to hear this, thank you :) We just moved this past week and I’ve been hardly allowing myself time to do the things i enjoy doing in my down time, not allowing myself rest till everything is unpacked, organized, hung, whatever, till the home feels livable and cozy. And reading this, I realize in a greater way that that is why my soul feels exhausted because I haven’t been tending to it, or bringing it to the One who tends to souls. Thank you for these words!

  • http://therightvolume.com/ Samantha Livingston

    Lately I’m working on undoing the disorder I’ve allowed to creep into my home. When friends took me out to breakfast for my birthday, asking what I’d be doing the rest of the day, I said I was gonna go home and sand and touch-up paint the 5 square inches of raw white spackling I’ve allowed to stay on my dining room wall for MONTHS. Piddling around the house, doing things I normally neglect, felt like a wonderful gift to myself.

  • Rose

    This resonates with me so much, thank you for sharing Emily! I am an artist and lately loudest way I hear Gods voice is when I am painting without an adgena. No drawn pictures, no intentions of it being sellable, no posting it to anything- just The Word and color and paint. I find myself running to this space every morning for those minutes of peace and sometimes returning to it during the day.

  • Beth Williams

    You hit the nail on the head with this one!! Women are always doing something or thinking of what needs to be done and not just relaxing in Jesus. We need to sit and just enjoy life without any expectations. I enjoy doing sign language to songs. My next one will be I’ll Fly Away by the Statler Bros. I practice and do my best for my church!
    Any activity that allows us to slow down not think to hard about life and its stresses is good. I am doing a Bible Study now on “He Speaks to Me”. It will be relaxing to just sit and do without rushing somewhere!

  • Becky Jones

    Did you ever crochet a carnation? You use baby yarn and one Mother’s Day I crotched some white and pink ones for my husband’s Mom. You can buy stems and the little green thing for them to go in and I sprayed and she thought they were real. Look it up in the web. Becky Jones

  • Carmella Rayone

    Oh, so excited for you & your new craft! Handwork for all those reasons, friend!