This past week, Rachel and I were figuring out what to do for the evening, and we determined that it might be fun to do some painting together. Well, Rachel thought it might be fun, and I went along with it to humour her.
I hadn’t painted anything since I was a kid when I learned that I shouldn’t paint anything. Ever. She studied art in university, so I felt very insecure about my comparative artistic ability.
When I started painting on my canvas, I tried to paint concretely. That didn’t work. I knew what I wanted to paint, but it didn’t align with what I painted on the canvas.
Rachel suggested that I just try painting, without thinking about what I was trying to paint. When I dropped that critical mode, that anxiety of creating something brilliant, I started to enjoy myself. Me! I enjoyed painting! What happened? It turns out I’m actually an abstract painter. Who knew?
Not only did I enjoy myself, but I found every brush stroke to be therapeutic. At the end, I didn’t know what I had painted. Then I flipped it sideways and this is what my canvas looked like:
This won’t get posted in anyone’s art gallery anytime soon. But I looked at it and it just made sense to me. The dark colours. The stormy angst. The kinda-of-but-not-really part of a frowning face. And the sunset on the bottom right corner of the page, with a lone tree-like figure rising on the left. This painting revealed what was happening inside of me. I am proud of this painting.
My load has been heavy as of late. Without getting into too much detail, this has been a summer of loss for me. Loss has come at me from many different directions. Deep foundation-shaking losses. Front and foremost in that loss has been my loss in how I see God.
In the absence of God, my intellect takes control over my being. In order to avoid the pain inside me, my first reaction is to avoid or to numb. I hide behind my intelligence, and rationalize every single thing. I even sabotage myself so that I can have control over the problems that I create. This has become a habit; I often quit things because that’s where “God” was leading, when really, I’m just doing it so my mind could think of a new solution to a problem. It’s easy to do, because I have the built-in excuse that I do it to “truly” follow Jesus. This perception of “God” gets in the way of my own growth.
Most of us numb and self-sabotage in some way. Some do this through drugs or alcohol, others through sex, others through trying to control everything, others through video games or social media, others through religion or spirituality. Our generation has learned well how to numb ourselves to our pain and sorrow.
We’ve learned that apathy is often the easiest and best solution to escape from life’s difficulties. Art does the opposite. It makes us feel.
We feel not in the emotional sense (although that’s part of it), but in a way that gets us in tune with our body through creative expression. This is the power of visual art, or writing, or poetry, or music, or dance. We allow our bodies and our senses to be what they were made to be, freed from the tyrant of the mind.
When we create just for the sake of creating, we fight back against the urge inside us that destroys for the sake of destroying.
My intellect is a gift to myself and others; it’s not a bad thing. It becomes a hindrance when it tries to become the only game in town, when it refuses to be a team player.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote that in order to love our neighbours we need to love ourselves, and that means we need to learn all the pieces of ourselves. We need to love our mind, our body, spirit, our emotions, our senses, our sexuality, our goodness, our darkness, our context and our being. We are more than just one or two of those parts – we are complex individuals. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by a God who loves us.
When things get difficult, when you’re feeling insecure, what part of yourself takes control? What part dominates? Which part do you use to show strength?
Is it, like me, your intellect or knowledge? Is it your emotions? Is it your physical prowess? Is it your spiritual awareness? Is it your connection with others?
And how do you use that part to numb your pain, fear and anxiety? How does the tyrant within silence all opposition and diversity within you?
These are all questions we need to continue asking ourselves if we are truly going to be at peace with who God made us to be, and who God calls us to be going forward.