As artists, we work in paints, ink, clay, and fabric. We fashion truth into pleasing packages. But we also craft with the heart, weaving emotional intensity into everything we make. We use bright, happy yellow, playful pink, serene cerulean, and joyful saffron. But we also use the red of anger, sorrowful indigo, even the black of despair. Nothing less than a full palette is sufficient to paint the fullness of life.
Now, I’m not encouraging you to seek out misery in life. No, the enemy of your soul will give you plenty for all the art you ever wish to create. But recognize that God turns all pain to glory. For the artist, that transformational power can take every bad experience you’ve ever had and turn it into something you can use to add shading and depth to what would otherwise be a flat work of art. At times in my life, I’ve managed to derive a small comfort from the knowledge that temporary pain is going to lead to some amazing art later on.
Now, the positive emotions are of equal if not greater value. I’ve read stories that were so dark I couldn’t see anything clearly. But I’m guessing you don’t need any motivation to seek out good times. But what to do with the bad?
The answer is not to fear them. Sometimes we as Christians step back from our calling out of fear of the consequences. We don’t trust the people we claim to love lest they hurt us again. We don’t give of our material things to the point where it risks our own comfort. We don’t tell the hard truth instead of the easy lie. And in doing that, we not only cheat ourselves of a heavenly reward but also the earthy experiences that we can use to craft even more powerful stories. Christ in the garden was sweating drops of blood at the thought of what was coming next. And on the cross, His fears came true as He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And that set the example for us; when the purpose is greater than the pain, we must pick up our crosses and follow Him.
I’m a writer. So when I want to tell a story of heroes, of adventure, of glory and triumph, at no point will my outline read “and then our heroes get everything they want without any struggle and are carried to their destination in ease and comfort.” The soul rejects that as nonsense. Adventure means hardship and we all know it. Life presents us with challenges to overcome, barriers to push through, and monsters to fight. We find that more often than not, the greater the challenge the greater the reward. Perhaps the greatest reward is being able to take all the things we fought to overcome and lay them at the feet of our king as tribute, a demonstration of how much we loved Him. But in the meantime, as we artists scrapbook our journey along the way, we can include mementos of our adventurers, a branch of the thorns we pushed through, scales of the dragon we fought, a bottle of the tears we shed. You don’t get the keepsakes if you don’t go on the quest.
Or we can pass on all of that. There’s an alternative to adventure: addiction. The world presents an ungodly array of false pleasures to temporarily halt our pain. The vices are the more obvious ones: drugs, alcohol, using people sexually, and every other social ill. But for those of you more interested in maintaining a veneer of righteousness, there are many far more socially-acceptable options available. I’m partial to video games, social media, and fantasies. I’m not saying some of these things can’t be good in moderation. But when you depend on them to an unhealthy degree, they start to pollute your soul, and from a tainted spring flows runoff that poisons your work and all who partake in it.
To that end, we artists need to seek healing for our souls. Many people are afraid to look deep into their souls and confront the darkness lurking there. They cover it up, hide it, and pretend it doesn’t exist. They keep acting out of past hurts and old wounds rather than the newness of life Jesus offers. That approach doesn’t work for anyone but especially not artists. Anything we’re unwilling to confront is pain that is weighing down our soul rather than adding to our palette. I hear from many artists who are scared to incorporate past traumatic events into their work because they’re terrified of facing the agony all over again. If this is you, be not afraid, the Lion of Judah is with you! As for me, in working on this series, there are several posts I want to write that the Holy Spirit is showing me I’m not in a healthy enough place to understand for myself, much less attempt to instruct others on. And so I seek healing for myself that I can pass onto others.
With all that said, what’s bubbling up in your soul as you read this? What right thing are you hesitating to do because the risk of pain scares you? What addictions have ensnared your soul, keeping you back from confronting the pain that has come to dominate parts of your life? What past experiences and present faults are you still living in rather than walking into your future? And finally, what hardships have you overcome that you can incorporate into your art and pass on to strengthen others?
~ Cameron Miller
~ Photo by Andres Perez on Unsplash