What art teaches me about God, part two

So here’s the thing, there are different types of artists, just like there are different types of people. There are many successful artists who sit down and plan things out before they ever put the brush to the canvas. There are authors who write outlines before they type a single word of their story. Epic masterpieces are crafted painstakingly, one precious detail at a time.

That’s amazing. I am not that kind of artist. Usually, when I sit down with a new project, I have no earthly idea where the process is going to take me. Typically (hopefully) I have some sort of color scheme, medium, or format in mind. But that is about it. 

My approach to art, just like my approach to life, usually involves launching myself off the cliff and hoping to swan dive instead of bellyflop. Which one is free to do when your goal is the process and not the end result. Often times, I’m satisfied if I just end up with a decent looking cannonball. 

It is always an option to paint over canvas. To crumple up a sketch and pitch it in the trashcan.  To highlight an entire blog post and simply hit delete. It seems like a waste of time and effort. 

But what if your goal is the act of doing and not the end result? 

Then was it wasted effort?

When I am making something, I often feel discouraged. In the times when I feel like I’m not getting anywhere, I force myself to ask some questions:  

In the process of doing this, did I learn anything? Did I try anything new? Was there something I hated? Something I want to try to do differently next time? Am I any closer to figuring out what I am hoping the end product will be?  

Sometimes I force myself to press through and finish the piece I want to abandon. Usually, at the end, I still hate it. But sometimes I don’t. 

I wish, I WISH, that this attitude came as naturally to me when it came to living my life. Why is it that we’re all programmed to believe that life is supposed to be about achieving goals, instead of working towards them? Why do we always believe that our problems will magically disappear once (fill in the blank) happens?

 I always find it disconcerting when I achieve something I’ve really been working towards and then I realize that the next day is Thursday. Just another day. The world keeps spinning, life doesn’t stop. I did something – I achieved something great. But time still marches on. 

I’ll never forget the day I left the hospital with my newborn daughter. I felt like there should be a parade in front of us as we took her home. Sitting at a stoplight, I looked at the cars next to me and expected to see them giving me goofy grins and thumbs up. But, I quickly realized that for those drivers, this was just a Friday morning. They were talking on their phones, putting on mascara, eating egg McMuffin’s. 

Didn’t they realize that this was a banner day? Didn’t they understand that things would never be the same?
Of course they didn’t. Because it was truly, just a Friday. And our life is a succession of Fridays. We live life focused so intensely looking forward to our goals that we forget that the majority of our time is spent in the in between. That waiting is how we spend most of our lives. And that that waiting, the process of getting there, has value. God did not create us to have a handful of magical moments surrounded by acres of empty time. 

In fact most of our growth, spiritual and otherwise, happens in the in between. It is then that we learn to work. That we are forced to try new things and to look at the world in different ways. It is in the waiting that we have no choice but to rely on God. To see that the trajectory of our lives isn’t as much in our control as we would like to believe. This is when we grow. This is when we are formed into Christ’s likeness. 

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up.”

2 Corinthians 3:18-4:1

And if we swing and miss in life, if we fail, that can be just as valuable. What if I asked myself the same questions and times of discouragement as I do when I feel stuck and the artistic process?

In the process of doing this, did I learn anything? Did I try anything new? Was there something I hated? Something I want to try to do differently next time? Am I any closer to figuring out what I am hoping the end product will be?  

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What art teaches me about God, Part 1


This year has been a year of creating for me, and the majority of it has been visual, not written. 

Why?

I’m not sure. I just know that making something, creating beauty, even if it isn’t a masterpiece, feeds something deeply hungry in my soul. For some reason, combining form and color and meaning is a balm for me. It’s one of the few times in my day where I become fully present. Completely immersed in the thing in front of me. My thoughts stop spinning, my hand may ache and tingle from holding the brush, but my heart is in harmony. And for me, that is enough. 

Enough to know that the process of making art is important. Refreshing and life-giving to me in a way that makes me pay attention. I think for me, art may be one of the thin places, a place where the veil between the sacred and the earthly becomes blurry, a place where I encounter God. Because I sense this, I follow that trail. I allow myself to use my brush, my glue gun, my paint and my palette as instruments of worship. Worship not for the thing I am creating, but for the Creator in whose image I am formed. 

I truly believe that we, as men and women formed in the image of the Almighty God, all have a spark of creation buried within us. And when we fan that spark into flame, we bring glory to God and fullness to our souls. 

Does that make us all artists? No. (although I think we all tend to be much too quick to disavow any artistic talent- don’t get me started on art injuries…) But does that make us all creators? I would argue yes. I think each one of us has some God given ability, interest, or activity that makes our soul sing. 

We all have a handful of things that fully immerse us, and, regardless of talent or outcome, bring joy. That thing may be making art, but it also may be making an omelette. Running a 5K. Telling a killer bedtime story. Knitting a truly great sock. Keeping the busy schedules of a family singing like a symphony. You may be enamored with creating spreadsheets or balancing budgets. Perhaps your have created your home to be an oasis of peace, a welcoming place for neighbors. Whatever your thing may be, when you bring it into the world, you bring glory to the One who made you that way. 

Can I just say out loud (well, in print… on screen?) to all of us results obsessed Americans that sometimes the process is of more value than the outcome? So what if you are not the best at something? There is only one best, and guess what- it’s not you. BUT. Does that thing bring joy to you? Does it make you feel? Does it renew you, center you? 

Then do it. 

Unashamedly. 

We all seem to feel a bit abashed when we let our light shine. Yet, shouldn’t we be unashamed to do things that bring us joy? If I create art as an act of worship, then who cares what it looks like? I mean, really? If you run because you love it and it gives you mental space to encounter God, then your split time doesn’t prove your worthiness, does it? 

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

Who looks at a picture a child draws and critiques it? Who turns their nose up at a home cooked meal made by a loved one because it isn’t haute cuisine? So it is with us. When I really stop and look around me, the main critic I encounter is… me. And why should I dim my own light? 

So what I am saying is… go do your thing. And be awesome. Yay God. 

Be Still and Know

be-still

Today, I was given a gift.

I was given this bible verse, “Be Still and know that I am God.” and 5 minutes to reflect upon it.  For some of you that may seem simple, unremarkable.  But for me, it was a sorely needed respite from the whirlwind of my mind as of late.

My life has been full.  I have been trying to make a discipline of not saying that I am busy, for in this culture busy is a sickness that gets much applause.  However, I have a lot of plates spinning at the moment.  So much so that right now my brain seems to be in permanent overdrive.  I can’t finish one thought before another thought crashes in to take it’s place.  I find madly scribbled to do lists scattered all across my home, my office, my car.  When eating breakfast with the kids I find myself emptying the dishwasher rather than sitting down at the table with them.  While driving to work I find myself thinking of who I need to call, what information I need to impart to knock another thing off my list.  I find myself bringing busywork to meetings, because life feels too full to simply do one thing at a time.

This, my friends, is not healthy.

In fact, I think that God has been trying to tell me this, and I haven’t been listening.  In the past month, I have broken four pairs of headphones.  Perhaps, as my friend pointed out, this isn’t just shoddy workmanship or an annoyance, but an insistent invitation into silence while I exercise? My children have been sick from school 4 days in the past 3 weeks.  Could it be that instead of trying to get work done from home while they sleep I should be resting as well?

Why is it that we are so resistant to stillness?  Why do we fill our lives so full, cramming our schedules as full as our plates at Thanksgiving dinner? To be fair, I have felt fairly in balance. I feel like I am attending to my soul, my marriage, my family.  But I am also increasingly aware that I am just one hiccup away from letting those spinning plates all crash to the floor.

And guess what?  Next week is even busier.

I can race into it as a multitasker, putting together Christmas cards on my laptop while baking pecan pies in the oven.  Or, I could embrace my finitude.  Do one thing at a time.  Be fully present where I am.  Allow silence to replace the radio.

What do you think is the better choice?

What’s next

“What’s next?”

It’s a question were faced with all the time. From parents. Significant others. Casual acquaintances… And most often, from ourselves.

When are you going to have another baby? Is your family complete? Where are your kids going to kindergarten? What do you want to do next in your career? Are you going back to school? How well are you saving for retirement? 

We live in a culture where the expectation is that there is always a Plan B. A second phase. A five-year plan. A direction and a goal you are always working towards. And if not, you feel incomplete. Like you’re living a life not fully examined. 

If you are like me, ‘what’s next’ is the question that keeps you awake at night. The reason that you sing in the shower, to drown out the niggling voice in the back of your head. It’s a question I have agonized over, wrestled with, and prayed through for years. I felt stuck, I felt directionless, and at the heart of things, I felt like a failure because I did not have an answer to this question. I could not see what was around the bend.

But recently, slowly, I have begun to realize that that question itself has a startling lack of faith built into it. We serve a God of daily bread. A God who promises to take care of us. He asks us to cast our cares on Him. Tells us He will feed us, clothe us, and lead us to fullness in Him. The God of scripture isn’t one to respect a five-year plan. In fact, often times He seems to be the God of the hard left turn. Of the startling leap of faith. Of the surprise encounter that changes a life. 

Now, before I go further, if you are a goal oriented person, someone for whom plans and goals come naturally, don’t be offended. I’m not talking to you. God created you that way. Hooray. If you are a person who has a plan because they are feeling called by God into something, go get it. Awesome for you.  I can’t wait to see what God does in your life. But, for the rest of us, those of us who feel vaguely guilty or actively anxious because we can’t figure out what we should be doing next… welcome to my brain. And here’s what I think… 

Does God ever reveal his plan and scripture? Yes. Of course. The entire book paints a picture of the overarching plan for creation. And there are times, prophecies, where God does tell someone how their life will unfold. Yet it seems to me that this revelation is always unexpected. Counter to plans. God seems much more concerned with us finding fullness in Him rather than finding our security in our plans for the future. 

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

Luke 12:16-21

A few weeks ago I was perusing Facebook when I read a quote from Shauna Niequist that stopped me in my tracks. It’s settled in deep. It’s worked it’s way into my brain and my heart, and it’s shouting to me that it is true:

“It’s okay to not know right now. 

That’s sort of the theme of this season for me–letting myself not know the answers to some very important questions. I have a couple questions I need to answer–largely questions about work & time & what to do next & what to carry & what to put down. And I’ve been driving myself crazy trying to KNOW. But I just don’t. I just don’t know….
Here’s what I’m holding onto right now: it’s okay to not know right this second. It’s okay to live–and even live well–in the uncertain in-between…because when it comes down to it, most of our lives are lived in the in-between. ”
This is what I’m holding onto. This is a divine permission that I needed. In my mind, allowing myself to not know is a bigger leap of faith than just making plans and decisions to feel comfortable that things are settled. Do I know where I will be or what I will be doing 12 months from now? Two years, a decade?

 No. 

Do you?

 Let’s face it- not really. 

And, I have decided to declare that okay. In fact, I think it’s a breathtaking act of trust to get out of bed in the morning. None of us know what that day will hold. Yet we do it – every day. We bump around like children walking in the dark and find our way hour by hour. Whether we recognize it or not, we are all receiving gifts of daily bread. Just what we need for the task right in front of us. We can either take that for granted and make provisions for the future, hedge our bets and wall off our hearts… or we can sit back and marvel. Worship a God who always, always shows up- right on time. 

Does this mean we stop planning at all – chuck our day calendars and meal planners out the window and live a life of whatever comes up? No. That’s living a life full of reacting, not acting. But, I think we all could be challenged to unclench our fists just a little bit. To examine our lives and ask what areas we are resting in our own efforts instead of God’s grace. 

What if the next thing isn’t more, but less? What if your plans for the future included letting some things go instead of adding to an already stretched schedule? What if next year’s resolution had more to do with quiet and simplicity and less to do with adding something to your personal bag of tricks?

What would life be like if we asked ourselves each day if we were living a life we want to be living? What if each night we counted blessings to lull ourselves to sleep? I have a feeling our lives would begin to feel more full, more meaningful. I have a feeling we would begin to see the direction of the path we are traveling, and realize that Someone else is navigating. And that this wouldn’t seem like such a bad thing…