Three years ago, I took up oil painting. I had zero experience but as I became aware of a long-buried desire to paint, I decided to get past my insecurities and go for it. I have found this new thing in my life to be fulfilling, challenging, exhausting, inspiring, extremely frustrating and surprisingly healing. I am discovering it is an amazing metaphor for life in multiple ways.
The other day’s life lesson was when I told myself, it’s time to step away. I knew if I didn’t there would be unfortunate consequences. I have learned this the hard way. When I keep pushing, colors get muddied and things I’ve actually done well, vanish. A lot of hard work, lost.
Knowing when to stop is a huge part of the process. I can be determined. And yes, persistence is a good quality, yet I know for me at times, it can be problematic.
Like all character qualities, our greatest strengths are often our greatest weaknesses as well.
Knowing when (or even if) to step away isn’t always easy. I have this mindset of wanting to get things done, yet have learned some things just take time. Lots of it. Actually, this is probably true of most good things.
We need to learn, in our fast-paced, driven culture, when it is time to put the brakes on. It is necessary and important for us, in art and in life. Taking time out helps us to reassess, regain vision and inspiration, gain new perspectives, notice blind spots, rest, let go of frustration, reorient ourselves to truth and more.
If we don’t have a healthy rhythm of engaging and withdrawing, consequences, sooner or later will show up, affecting us and those around us.
I am learning to listen to the cues that tell me to slow down when I am tired.
Full of cares that need to be worked through.
Sometimes it is a seemingly endless loop of unhelpful thoughts (downright lies) that need to be interrupted and replaced with what is true.
Even now. This very day. I feel the Lord inviting me to unplug. Interestingly it is not to sit in silence and solitude, although that is always good for the soul. This time I sense it is more about enjoying myself, doing things that bring me joy.
I just read today’s reading in The Art of Lent, by Sister Wendy Beckett where it says, “He [the Father] is watching out always for this lost child, abundantly ready to lavish upon him the good clothes, the feasting, and cherishing.” Of course, she is reflecting on the return of the prodigal. It was time to celebrate reunion, restoration, and unconditional, unending love.
This reminds me of another favorite portion of scripture. John 21 tells us before Jesus got to the business of reminding His guys that they were to be fishers of men (they had defaulted back to fishing for fish) He prepared breakfast on a campfire for His weary friends. Breakfast and fellowship with Jesus. Jesus was not all business. He knew and experienced what warms our hearts in His humanity. This must have been a wonderful time as John chose to record it for us out of the myriad of experiences he had with his beloved friend, Jesus.
Have you ever sensed God inviting you to enjoy the gift of your life?
How did you respond? What did you do? We are all unique and in different seasons of life so it would be different for each of us. Imagine what would feel good to your soul.
What would it look like for you to take a break and engage in something that brings you simple joy?
Back to painting. Knowing when to step away is an important skill I need to learn when painting and in life. It is always amazing to me when I do give myself a break. As frustrated and tired as I am, I come back around, ready to give it a go again. And when I do, I come in with new eyes, fresh vision. It is the same in life. When we step away from the incessant clutter and clamor of our lives, we can let go, unwind, and enjoy the company of our good Shepherd no matter what it is we actually do.
Questions for reflection:
Don’t try to answer all of these questions. These are just a few ideas you might sit with.
Assess. What happens when you get overwhelmed and overwrought? What are your tendencies? What do you turn to for relief? What does the fallout look like when you keep pushing? How does this affect you and those around you? Be honest. Be specific.
Discern. How and when do you sense the Lord inviting you to come be with Him (see Matthew 11:28-30 and Isaiah 55:1-3). What is your habitual response? Is there anything you could do differently? Be honest. Be specific.
Action. What could it look like for you to take a break these days? Be creative. Think outside the box. Different seasons can require different ways to “step away.” It could be anything from breath prayer (which can be done on the fly), to taking off an hour or even a day or two. Whatever it is, know that baby steps are great. Progress not perfection.
The capacity to enjoy life is a gift. There are no right or wrong answers here. It could be a walk. A song. A dance. A nap. Time with a friend. A bike-ride. A drive. Journaling. Listening. Time in nature. A vacation. A sporting activity. And yes, the long slow journey of learning to paint.