In recent posts, I’ve commented on how God has been putting to death my false self so that my true self can come to life through creativity. One of the greatest challenges along the way has been learning how to surrender control and invite collaboration and mystery to take its place.
I’ve come to realize that in order to do this, I have to heed Jesus’ words and “receive the kingdom of God like a little child.”
On Christmas morning, my two-year-old niece, Miah, sat on my lap. I was eager to experience Christmas afresh over her shoulders as I watched her tiny hands quickly jump back and forth between gifts like frogs on lily pads.
She wanted to help me open my presents too, and of course I let her. As she tore back the wrapping paper to reveal a cardboard box, she had the same reaction every time – a gasp of surprise and then thrillingly exclaiming, “You have…!” with dramatic anticipation. That phrase, filled with unhindered excitement stuck with me. There was something about her approach for unwrapping and celebrating what was not yet visible that made me chukle. And made me curious.
Her attentiveness, her watchfulness, and her eagerness to call out and exclaim with delight what she saw – albeit even cardboard – fascinated me.
And then it occurred to me that I experience a similar feeling when painting. As acrylic and oils find their way through brush and water on claybord, God invites me into the journey of discovery. And like my niece, I am filled with childlike wonder as the process unfolds.
The most exciting part is after I have done several layers of acrylic and introduce the oils. The acrylic, which is often white or light yellow, is barely visible on the clayboard.
But when I take the rich blues or reds and rub the oils onto the surface, then gradually wipe it away, something magical happens.
It is like opening a present on Christmas morning – I never know exactly what will be uncovered, but whatever it is, it’s a gift. As I explore what the layers underneath, often hidden to the eye, are saying in response to the oils, I am opened up to wonder, mystery, and surprisingly, to joy at a loss of control.
My thought pattern shifts from “What do I need to finish next?” to
“Well I didn’t expect that texture – look at that, isn’t that interesting? Let’s delve deeper into that, or bring that out.”
Subtly I am shifted from the driver’s seat as the agent of change to the passenger’s seat as an observer.
And suddenly the desire or need to accomplish, perfect, and control fades away. As I wipe away the dark splotches of the oils to reveal the light shining underneath, the darkest parts of me are ebbing away to reveal what was there all along – His image, light, and joy working its way through. What is left behind is the me that is more loving, more joyful, more free, more compassionate, more responsive, and more at peace.
“I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.”
And as I walk away contented by God’s presence and mystery that un-grips my hands from the work, I can return to ministering to people the same way – free to be at peace with His process for unveiling beautiful creations.
Instead of trying to make people into my own image and control them to do or be what I want them to, I am opened to the mystery and tension of what God is revealing in and through them.
I no longer make myself responsible for making a finished product out of someone else’s story, but am able to see the creative work of the Master for what it really is – messy, mysterious, unfinished, and beautiful at the same time.
I am invited to participate like a guest to my favorite artists' studio to watch him work. As the viewer, I am privileged to observe without the pressure to control, because I know that is not my role - I am not the artist. This frees me up to marvel, to worship God even, at what I see Him doing in and through people. I can joyfully take in and breathtakingly wonder at the masterpiece I see unfolding before my very eyes. And when the Artist reveals something unexpected and brilliant in the work (as He often does) – I can call out with a gasp like my mystified niece, “You have…!”
I can delightfully communicate back to others what I see as beautiful, profound, and complex in the midst of the story. I can notice patterns and announce them for what they are without the pressure to change them. Occasionally, I may be invited to collaborate with the Master Artist by laying a brush stroke here or there (which I now see as a huge privilege), or to move the furniture around in the studio, but it is always in submission to Him – to his intentions for the work – never out of my own agenda or need for control. How silly would it be for me to climb out of my chair, try to push the artist aside, and make my own brush strokes on the work without his permission – what a violation of ownership!
Instead, most of the time, if there is any action I am taking on account of the created work, it is to say back to it, “Yield. Let him carry on. Don’t struggle against Him. Don’t resist. Let Him shape you – it’s looking so breathtakingly beautiful. I can’t wait to see it finished!”
And as I do this, I am being shaped too.