Paintings and People
It was July 21. My forty-eighth birthday. I was in one of the hardest parts of this season of suffering. The season of dust. I wasn’t able to do the typical “Hey, since this is my birthday, let me just do a little planning… a little dreaming” thing. Nope. The future felt impossibly scary. I could only face the future in teaspoons of time. Not weeks and months and certainly not a whole year.
When there is an undoing of your life, there is an unknowing of every next millisecond. Every next breath. The peaceful predictability of what you thought would be your life is suddenly replaced by a very unexpected darkness and silence you aren’t used to.
It’s like when the power suddenly goes out in an office with no windows. It’s jolting. What was full of activity and productivity and plans and important details and bosses bossing and workers working becomes as quiet as a hospice hallway.
Darkness has such a way of swallowing up enthusiasm for the future.
No, this birthday would not be about looking at the year ahead and dreaming up how to build upon the previous forty-seven. Not when a blackout of epic proportions had just spilled out across the pages of all my hopes and dreams and assumptions of how safe tomorrow would surely be.
Year forty-eight for me was supposed to be the year of the last of our five kids going to college. A year of empty-nest bonding. No more carpool schedules or parent-teacher meetings on a Tuesday night. Those things were all part of the glorious season of growing a family. But now we could be carefree and plan a date on a Tuesday. A long walk on a Wednesday. And then really go crazy and decide on a Friday morning to just drive to the mountains or the beach.
The pages of our life were going to be as fun and predictable as one of those beautiful adult coloring books. Twenty-five years of marriage had helped life take shape, so all we had to do now was just add color. Coloring in what is already beautifully drawn is predictably fun for me. There’s no stress when your highest risk is whether to color the flowers purple or yellow or pink.
But on this forty-eighth birthday I opened the coloring book, and someone had erased all the beautifully drawn lines.
There was nothing but white pages. Empty spaces. Endless possibilities of fear and failure.
Metaphorically speaking, my life was now a blank canvas.
I think I shared this feeling with my mother. And you know what she did? She suggested — no, actually she demanded — we get some blank canvases and paint on my birthday.
My sisters joined us, which helped divvy up Mom’s enthusiasm. I painted a boat. They all painted angels. And while my mom was right — it was therapeutic in many ways — it was also a terrifyingly vulnerable experience. It was my moment to be the painter instead of the observer. It was my moment to face disappointment from the angle of an artist. And to be the painter I would both display my ability but even more scary expose my inability. I came across a quote from the book Art and Fear that says it best:
Making art provides uncomfortably accurate feedback about the gap that inevitably exists between what you intended to do, and what you did.”1
And the gap never stays silent. It reverberates with commentary. Sadly, for too many of us it’s a negative commentary. This is such a ploy of Satan. He loves to take a beautiful moment of life and fill it with a negative narrative about our failures that plays over and over until the voice of God is hushed.
Satan perverts the reality that we are beloved children of God. He wants our thoughts to be tightly entangled in his thoughts.
These are his thoughts. This is his script: Not. Good. Enough. We hear it when we try to create. We hear it when we try to be brave and start anything new. We hear it when we try to overcome what has been and step into what could be.
Remember, while God converts with truth, the enemy perverts the truth. God wants us transformed, but Satan wants us paralyzed. So when we hear thoughts like I’m not good enough that cause us to shrink away, we must keep in mind that the enemy will do anything he can to prevent us from moving closer to God or connecting more deeply with other people. This “truth” we think we hear is not truth at all. Rest assured, God wants us near, no matter our imperfections.
The enemy of my soul didn’t want me painting that day. To create meant that I would look a little bit like my Creator. To overcome the terrifying angst of the blank canvas meant I would forever have more compassion for other artists. You better believe as I placed the first blue and gray strokes onto the white emptiness before me, the “not good enough” statement was pulsing through my head in almost deafening tones.
And please make note that the enemy doesn’t leave this “not good enough” script as a general whisper that passes through our thoughts. No, he makes it very personal. So personal, in fact, we determine it’s an authentic assessment of mounting evidence that we fall so very short. We don’t even know this is all coming from the enemy, because the recognizable voice we hear saying it over and over is our own.
I am not good enough. How recently have you had this thought about yourself? Maybe yours wasn’t with a paintbrush in hand. But I know you’ve felt it too. Anytime you feel disappointed in yourself, the enemy will cue this script.
This paralyzing lie is one of his favorite tactics to keep you disillusioned by disappointments. Walls go up, emotions run high, we get guarded, defensive, demotivated, and paralyzed by the endless ways we feel doomed to fail. This is when we quit. This is when we put the kids in front of the TV because nothing in the parenting books seems to be working. This is when we settle for the ease of Facebook instead of the more challenging work of digging into God’s book of transformation. This is when we get a job to simply make money instead of pursuing our calling to make a difference. This is when we coast in our relationships rather than investing in true intimacy. This is when we put the paintbrush down and don’t even try.
So there I was. Standing before my painted blue boat, making the choice of which voice to listen to.
I’m convinced God was smiling. Pleased. Asking me to find delight in what is right. Wanting me to have compassion for myself by focusing on that part of my painting that expressed something beautiful. To just be eager to give that beauty to whoever dared to look at my boat. To create to love others. Not to beg them for validation.
But the enemy was perverting all that. Perfection mocked my boat. The bow was too high, the details too elementary, the reflection on the water too abrupt, and the back of the boat too off-center. Disappointment demanded I hyper-focus on what didn’t look quite right.
It was my choice which narrative to hold on to: “Not good enough” or “Find delight in what is right.” Each perspective swirled, begging me to declare it as truth.
I was struggling to make peace with my painting creation, because I was struggling to make peace with myself as God’s creation.
Anytime we feel not good enough we deny the powerful truth that we are a glorious work of God in progress.
We are imperfect because we are unfinished.
So, as unfinished creations, of course everything we touch will have imperfections. Everything we attempt will have imperfections. Everything we accomplish will have imperfections. And that’s when it hit me: I expect a perfection in me and a perfection in others that not even God Himself expects. If God is patient with the process, why can’t I be?
How many times have I let imperfections cause me to be too hard on myself and too harsh with others?
I forced myself to send a picture of my boat to at least twenty friends. With each text I sent, I was slowly making peace with my painting’s imperfections. I was determined to not be held back by the enemy’s accusations that my artwork wasn’t good enough to be considered “real art.” Again, this wasn’t for validation but rather confirmation that I could see the imperfections in my painting but not deem it worthless. I could see the imperfections in me and not deem myself worthless. It was an act of self-compassion.
We must get to this place of self-compassion if we ever hope to have true, deep compassion for others. Disappointment begs us to be secretly disgusted with everything and everyone who has gaps, everything and everyone who also wrestles with the “not good enough” script. But what if, instead of being so epically disappointed with everyone, we saw in them the need for compassion? The artist, the writer, the preacher, the prostitute, the teacher, the ones who run carpools, the ones who run races, the wives, the husbands, the singles, the coworkers, the teenagers, the small children, the larger-than-life superstars, the ones on top of the world, and the forgotten ones at rock bottom. No exceptions. They all need compassion.
This is a much bigger deal than I’d ever known before my season of sorrow. On the surface there doesn’t seem much danger in not having compassion for others. But make no mistake, a lack of compassionate connection with our fellow humans is part of a much bigger move of the enemy.
If he can distract us with the negative narrative of “not good enough,” we will miss the metanarrative, the grand overarching story of redemption in which God intends for us all to play a crucial role. Understand that no time showing up and bringing compassion to another human is ever a waste of time. Rather, it’s our chance to bring context, purpose, and meaning to all of life. Quiet moments of compassion are epic moments of battle. They happen when we hush the chaos and shame of Satan with the truth of Revelation 12:11:
They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.
Jesus has brought the blood. We must bring the word of our testimony.
We are most triumphant when we place our disappointments in God’s hands and say, “Lord, I trust You to redeem this and return it to me as part of my testimony.” Our disappointments in ourselves — in our lives — aren’t just isolated pieces of evidence that we fall short and life is hard. No, they are the exact places where we can break secrecy with fellow humans and show up to say, “Me too. I get it. I understand. You aren’t alone. Together, we can find our way home.”
Just as breaking bread with another hungry human feeds our bodies with nourishment, breaking secrecy with another hurting human feeds our souls with compassion. We take the comfort of God we’ve received in the midst of our disappointments and use it to bring comfort to others. In the words of the apostle Paul,
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. — 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
When we show up with compassion for others, our own disappointments won’t ring as hollow or sting with sorrow nearly as much.
- David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear (Image Continuum, 1993), 4.
Excerpted with permission from It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst, copyright Lysa TerKeurst.
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Not good enough. Is that what you hear in your mind about yourself? Is that what Jesus says about you? Or do you feel the joy and smile of God over you, His beloved? Today, let’s choose to find delight in what is right. Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily
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Lysa invites us into her own journey of faith and, with grit, vulnerability, and honest humor, helps us to see our lives in the context of God's bigger story. Whether we're dealing with daily disappointments or life-altering loss, we can find unexpected strength as we learn what it means to wrestle well between our faith and our feelings.