I'm not who I was.
Recently the weather has kept us mostly indoors. Cheeks had been saying that he wanted to paint a picture of his family, and his idea sounded like a great boredom buster. Even more fun for me is that he wanted it to be a joint effort. So I let him pick the colors and I poured the paint. He made some heads and body shapes and faces, and I put some dots on the canvas for him to connect and fill in for clothes. I outlined the people after the fact, and Cheeks decided that he wanted me to do a little crazy doodle in the background. He has never been more proud of any of his works of art in all 4 years of his little life, and I have to say it makes me swoon every time that I look at it. And it makes me swoon again when I tell him what a good job he did and he smiles really big and says, “You helped me.”
J’s art was a bit more complex, so after I finished helping Cheeks with his family portrait I shifted my guidance to J. Cheeks wanted to continue painting on his own and he went to town with many fabulous colors. Originally he told J it was a great surprise… but after he went mix-happy and everything sort of turned a blackish purplish grey, he proudly declared his work of art to be a storm cloud. He was equally as pleased as if he had planned it all along.
Here is J’s completed work. She’s 9. I think it’s absolutely so adorable that I could almost hug it.
My girl had decided that she wanted to paint a picture of a lake. So I pulled up a picture on the iPad for her to look at for reference while I worked with her brother. But what started out as a fun idea turned into disappointment, as often happens in the mind of self-imposed perfectionism. Yes, it looked as though a child had painted a two-dimensional body of water. Great! No, not so great to her. Clearly it wasn’t what she was going for.
I was at a parental crisis of artistic proportions. Should I simply assure her that whatever she makes is wonderful? I told her it was cute and that I liked it. She was not appeased. Should I continue to reassure her and take her mind off of things as quickly as possible and encourage her to just get past it and move onto something else, knowing full well that she would internally be dissatisfied the whole rest of the day? Or should I offer to help her, running the risk that she would think that meant that I didn’t think it was good enough either (not true), and also knowing full well that if she accepted my offer, she would likely be a big ball of stress the whole time we worked through it (and therefore I may also turn into a big ball of stress)? It was a conundrum. I figured if the original wasn’t therapy for her and it wasn’t making her happy in the first place, we might as well go all in.
My end went something like this: “Look here. See how it’s darker over here? Try using a darker shade there…Try not to stare straight down at your painting the whole time. Keep looking back at the example, or you’ll get lost… If you pull the strokes this way, it will blend them together… It’s okay, painting works in layers. It’s a process. It will change as you go along…If you don’t like something, we can always dry it and you can go back and try again…You have to build up what’s underneath for it to come out how you want it to on top… Look back at the picture…You have to keep putting more paint on your brush… Don’t stop short… fill the space in all the way… You’re doing great… Trust me…”
Her end had a lot of tenseness and “It doesn’t look right… That feels weird… In my mind people do stuff perfect the first time without even trying.” (Yes, her words.) But amidst the drama, she REALLY wanted to do it. She just really didn’t want it to be hard. But it was, and she made it, and it’s beautiful.
That’s how J’s cute 2-dimensional lake turned into a lovely little river with ducks floating on it. I’m exceedingly more proud of her for this true work of art than I would have been if it had turned out just “perfect the first time without even trying”. She pressed on through the discomfort and just putting more paint on her brush and moving forward and trusting without understanding and listening to the voice guiding her and looking back at the example…
That’s what we have to do. That’s life. That’s hard. That’s what gets us to beautiful.
Here’s the thing: Encouragement is high priority, and that’s good. It’s greatly needed, and don’t ever stop. But simply brushing someone’s struggle under the rug and trying to move them past their discomfort as quickly as possible without actually taking the time to build up and value the work that goes into the foundational layers is superficial and not all that beneficial. Honestly I think it puts more pressure on them to fake a smile for your sake while they hide the ugly inside.
Working through the layers ins’t always fun. But it’s worth it. It doesn’t always make sense in the moment. Sometimes we create our own mess that we have to try to work the kinks out of, and sometimes we just plain don’t understand how something beautiful could come of what we’ve been given to work with. Still, if we want it to work, we keep working. Sometimes that means we work at moving forward by being still. We trust. We listen to wisdom. We accept those into our lives who are willing to give us their presence, to love us in our mess, to take on our stress, to bury the dead places and guide our strokes… who won’t allow us to become lost within ourselves and pick up our chins when they’ve fallen and say, “Look to the Example! Therein lies your hope. Don’t stop short!”
J’s work wasn’t finished in one sitting, so as she was adding some final details the next day, I offered to help Cheeks turn his storm cloud into a volcano. Volcanoes are a major point of interest for him right now, so he was really excited about this. I helped him figure out what color to put where, and he declared it also to be “great”.
It gives me great joy to see life’s storm clouds turned into works of art.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecclesiastes 3:11