My Life Is a Canvas, God Is the Painter


(Listen to the audio version of this article here.)

For many of us, the new year is an opportunity for a fresh start. We’ll seize the newness of the season by taking intentional moments to reset and re-calibrate. We visualize what the next 365 days hold for us.

Perhaps because I grew up in the home of an artist, I liken the new year to a blank canvas ready to be primed and painted with brilliant hues and brush strokes of far-off adventures, rough timelines, and enormous potential. The canvas is etched in lofty goals, dreams, and aspirations; our hopes and everything we resolve to one day achieve are saturated in its fibers.

Each January, I’d have a vision and high ideals of what my canvas would display by the year’s end. It was primed with gesso—the foundational layer—of my grandiose plans for it being the year where I’d crack the code in becoming the best version of myself, or embracing the harder aspects of motherhood, or discovering my greater purpose. On top of the primer were my goals broken down by category: Their luminous brush strokes and glossy images were those of the latest diet trend or supplement I’d try; the exercises promising to bring me toned arms; spiritual practices to fight against anxiety; the classes for enhancing creativity; the books to be read; and the adventures to be experienced (even if only in my mind).

Some of the goals were painted in detailed, meticulous strokes of action steps and rigid timelines, while other over-sweeping aspirations were displayed through abstract strokes in paled, atmospheric hues.

Life Threw Its Curveballs and I Learned a Valuable Lesson

I ventured into last year with an eclectic array of the abstract and the detailed, but, as it often does, life began to throw its curveballs. Halfway through the year there was a diagnosis for a rare, incurable sickness that prevented me from completing tasks the ways I was accustomed to doing. There were physiological changes and hormones that had gone awry, and the neurotransmitters responsible for happiness and energy were sitting at low levels. There was anxiety and the addictions of loved ones that sat heavy on my heart, relationships that grew stale, and bitterness that took root. Most troubling to me though was my communication with God—He seemed distant; my prayers felt unheard. I found myself in a place of feeling untethered, frustrated, and unable to quantify what exactly was changing within me.

It wasn’t long before the image I had so carefully crafted at the year’s start began to morph into a brash misinterpretation, as if someone had strewn a bucket of puke-green paint across the top. Yet, somewhere in the dissonance and puke-splattered textures that now covered my canvas, new shapes and lines formed and I began to see how each stroke of acrylic added layers that gave the painting its depth.

Last year taught me a valuable lesson: Each new year isn’t a blank canvas set before me, but rather the same canvas primed by the textures and residue of the preceding year. Each layer of gesso and color builds upon the last, and though I didn’t fully recognize this reality in such a way before, it is true of my entire life at each new year’s beginning.

Armed with this new recognition several weeks into the new year, I am asking God to guide my hand as we collaborate and build upon the colors and textures of years prior. I’m working to carve out moments to silence my heart and mind so I can better hear His voice and promptings. I am learning (and re-learning) how to open my palms and hand Him the paint-dabbed brush. As I do, the lines and brush strokes begin to take shape into what He wants my life to hold, and how to best care for myself spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically.

The Painting Isn’t Complete, So Don’t Give Up

In the sacred space of silence and paint, God highlights aspects of the ever-evolving canvas of our lives that are changing and growing us for the better: practices like praying through the anxiety, or finding the glimmers of beauty in what appears broken. Parts of what makes up the brazen splattering across the canvas might be choices we make that don’t serve us well, such as saying “yes” to activities and people when we ought to say “no” or “not now,” or taking offense easily and holding grudges, while other colors are purposely painted to deepen our dependence on Him.

The canvas displays all of this. He continues to paint, increasing the layers, adding dimension, and building upon the colors and textures of years past to build a life-long masterpiece.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” -Ephesians 2:10.

May we hold our palms open and hand Him the brush this new year, trusting that life’s journeys and struggles are building the foundation for something truly magnificent.

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