I remember the first painting of my life. I don’t mean little watercolor paintings and coloring books. I’m talking about paper on the easel, tempera paint, large brush, smock, the whole shebang. It was first grade, Halloween time, and I knew exactly what my painting would look like. Scary house on the right, creepy tree on the left, rickety fence between, witch silhouetted across a silvery moon and a jack-o’-lantern for good measure. I could see it all in my mind’s eye.
I watched the other artists out of the corner of my eye and pitied them their lame ideas. Finally, my turn came. I picked up the brush and loaded it with paint. My first spooky scary swath was way too big and didn’t look anything like the picket fence I imagined. Soon all the other elements in my painting began to swim together in a black oil slick that covered the page and all the other colors I tried to paint on just melted together. I wanted desperately to start over, but the teacher said my time was through. It was done. No chance to redeem it or start again. The unfairness of it all clung to me all the way home. I was mortally upset that I had to explain my painting to my parents at open house night. “See? This is the house, and that is supposed to be a tree…” Not exactly the goal of every true artist.
As an artist, I have to say that the end product almost never looks exactly like I envision it in my mind’s eye. This makes the perfectionist in me weep. I want so desperately to control the outcome. Making art is a process that starts with an idea, or an inkling, or some sort of inspiration. The process then becomes a journey that sometimes becomes a crazy rabbit trail and ends up nowhere. Backtracking and starting down a different trail is an important part of creativity, whether it’s visual, or inventive. If my vision is clear for a piece, it is often the result of a foundation of other ideas that didn’t turn out just as I had planned. In other words, I’d honed my skills on failure and then I could produce what I wanted.
What happens in life when our very good and proper plans don’t deliver the results we counted on. What happens when the timetable is delayed, when a failure seems like the end of the world, or a circumstance completely out of your control derails what we relied on?
What happens when you hit the wall of, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”?
I will guarantee you that the life you see for yourself today will look differently than you could ever imagine. Life is change and change is the only way you get to experience all the stress and joy and sorrow.
Me? I have always had a fear of an ironic plot twist at the end of my life. Classic movies were my favorites for as long as I can remember. My least favorite were the ones where everything seemed to be resolving, the good guy was going to win, the couple gets to live out their newfound love, and the bad guy would get his, as we say in the south, come-uppance. Then, BLAM, the whole thing blows up! Suddenly a triumph turns into a tragedy. (Cue a cry of NOOOoooooOOOOO!) The happy ending is no more. What a waste of life, for the fictional characters, AND what a waste of my emotional investment and time. The logical train of thought led me to wonder, “What if this is how it ends for me? What if I live my whole life and it doesn’t really matter?”
The bigger question amidst all this change is, “What can you rely on?” Everyone relies on something to get them through. It may be your intellect, money, health, your raw grit that will not allow failure no matter what the cost. Everyone is a person of faith even if your faith is in yourself. Wouldn’t it be great if the safety net for your life wasn’t a what, but a who?
What if that “Who” was not flaky or mean or uncaring, but someone who dreamed of you and formed you, knitting you together one atom at a time into the most amazing creation and then smiled and sighed, and said, “Just what I wanted.”
No truth in the statement, “I am not enough, or I am too much.” Psalm 139:13-14 (NIV) For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
What if He has never left you, even when you felt so afraid, alone, and isolated that you almost gave up hope. What if He felt every pain you ever felt, cried for you and with you.
No fear of isolation in suffering. Hebrews 13:5b (NIV) “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”[a]
What if your weakest times were your best times, because when you were depleted, He was just beginning to show up and show off.
No need to fear of failure. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV) But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
What if He took your damage, your pain, healed it and turned it into a weapon to fight the evil trying to lie to you and to those around you. What if your brokenness allowed you to lift someone else’s head. No fear of a wasted life.2 Corinthians 1, 3-4 (NIV)Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
What if He grabbed you around the waist, dragged you out of a pit of filth, and took you home? Then he washed you, dressed you in a fine robe, crowned you, and sat you on a throne next to Him.
No fear of shame. Psalm 103:3-5 (NIV) (God) who forgives all your sin and heals all your diseases,who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
What if He knew that we deserved to live with punishment but decided to cover us and take the death sentence Himself. What if He didn’t stay dead but came alive again so that He could grant life to us.
No fear in death.Romans 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. Romans 8:11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
The only guarantee I have found that I won’t live a wasted life is to trust it to The Maker, Christ Jesus. Why, because He doesn’t waste the lives that are given to Him. He spends them like precious jewels. He offers a gift of forgiveness of sins and rest in His plan for you. He’s not going to force his gift on anyone. He offers it with an open hand.
So, what do we do with our mistakes? Trust the maker, who works everything together for our good. It only makes sense. He is the one fashioning our lives into something meaningful.
I’ll leave you with one more illustration. My junior high school art teacher was a potter. As a result, I worked a lot with ceramics and throwing pottery on a wheel. I really wasn’t all that good, but the process was fascinating. On the wheel, a lump of clay would slowly hollow out, the sides would rise higher or wider until a vessel was formed. The crazy thing about it is that I could make a perfectly good vase or bowl. It would look just right to me. However, when it went through it’s first firing, it would break, or sometimes explode, damaging the pots around it. The reason was air bubbles trapped in the wall. What do you do with something that smashed and useless?
This is where it gets good. The potter will many times take that pottery and grind it up into what is called grog, or tiny particles of fired clay. He will then sift it and mix it into the regular clay. The result? The next pot he makes would be stronger, more able to withstand the process of expansion and contraction that happens during drying and firing. The finished vessel is more durable . The texture is more genuine to the original material. The identity of the clay shines through.
With enough grog, a vessel could be more porous, allowing the contents to sweat through to the outside. These are often used to hold fragrant oils. The more “failure” mixed into the clay, the more fragrance released into the room…be sure the good stuff fills the jar.