Unfinished Works & Masterpieces

painting

A couple of weeks ago, I nearly finished a painting. I had challenged myself to begin an abstract piece without a sketch. I’ve never done that before, and it took giving up control and allowing it to go where it would. The only structure I put in place was a straight line drawn horizontally across the oversized canvas.

Like most art, it’s nearly impossible to say when it’s complete. The incomplete canvas leaned lonely against our kitchen table for several days while I reviewed the edits for my novel. Then we left for a week away. Upon returning, my husband promptly hung my almost finished piece on the living room wall to await its final touches. He and the kids said it looked complete already. All I could see stretched out before me were the other areas and hours I planned on tweaking it.

Aren’t we a bit like that painting?

We exist as unfinished masterpieces.

When others look at us, we look pretty good, maybe even complete. But our creator knows there’s more to be done. He’s the only one who can truly see when the work is finished. Because he loves us, he won’t lean us against a table, forget about us, or let go, until we are fully a masterpiece.

During the painting process, we look for a sketch to follow, but must instead keep striking out in faith. This takes trust and courage, especially when we feel unsure of our direction, completely lost, lonely, or are hurting. In such times, we think if we only had a sketch—some step-by-step plan—to guide us, then the canvas of our lives would turn out just right. But we aren’t the artist.

As I painted, I experimented with solid body paint, applying it thick to create texture. I waited for it to begin to dry and harden, then smeared it when it was just the right consistency creating a flattened texture. I loved the result and began to do likewise with the bottom half of the painting. Before it reached the perfect stage, I had to rush out. No worries, I told myself, it will give the paint time to dry, and when I return I’ll do the technique. Alas, I came home later than expected, and it was too dry to manipulate. Though I pressed and scraped, the paint would barely move. The rough texture looked completely different.

Interestingly enough, without my saying a word, everyone who looks at the painting likes those parts the best—the mistake. They think it’s bold and has the most character.

The same is true with our lives; beauty is forged from accidents and mistakes. Character is hewn out of hardship. When it seems circumstances can’t be budged or smoothed, and there’s no sketch to follow, the creator is fashioning our lives—and us—into a work of great beauty despite our mistakes and meddling.

Sometimes, we think our lives might be impossibly messed up, but God’s grace and love creates beauty from ashes. Our blunders and flaws, and various rough patches inflicted upon us, aren’t a surprise to him. If we let him, God even fashions them to form within us strength, boldness, and remarkable beauty. When he looks at us, he can already picture the finished piece.

Until then, we are unfinished works in progress awaiting the day we become masterpieces.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

~ Isaiah 61:1-3

 

The Best is Yet to Come

It’s more than a little discouraging when we feel stuck in a period of no growth. Let’s face it, we live in a fast-paced world where productivity is everything. If we aren’t producing then what are we doing? We worry when we’ve nothing to show for our labour. We place heavy expectations on ourselves and get worked up if a deadline or goal has gone unmet, or if our best-made plans fall through. If that weren’t enough, we feel guilty stopping for a rest.

Let me tell you a short story. Last year, my son, Konnor, gave me an orchid for my birthday. It was in full bloom with a terrific display of purple-laced white flowers that were staked and arched to perfection. They lasted quite a long time, then eventually wilted and fell off the stem. I wondered if the plant was finished.

After a bit of research, I learned I needed to cut off the barren stem and, depending on the type, it may again bloom. To my absolute glee, several months later, it began sporting an even lovelier array of blooms. Maybe the flowers just appeared more spectacular as a result of my surprise and wonder, but every time I looked at them I marveled and thought of my sweet son.

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My orchid surprised me blooming again in a spectacular show.

So here it is. Just like that orchid, so our lives have seasons. Sometimes we are amazed by the size and number of the blooms. Other times the landscape of our lives look barren and not especially spectacular (have you seen an orchid without blooms?), and you wonder if it will ever produce anything beautiful again. But as nature dictates, sometimes things need to fall away if anything is to flourish again. When a season has reached completion, there is much-needed preparation for the next one. For an orchid this is called the rest stage.

But that’s a bit misleading. I prefer to label it the rebuilding or preparation stage. Though the plant – or you and I – appear bloomless, there is a pile of unseen and necessary things happening during this time. After all, we can’t go into the next stage of fruitfulness unprepared. And so we rest, but we don’t exactly rest. We take in nourishment in the form of learning and lessons to prepare for what’s next, and then we wait for it to come to fruition.

And we need this stage more than we understand. After all, it can be a bit messy and uncertain when a main part of your life gets lopped off. Some of the things we go through during this barren stage are just plain painful. It seems long waiting for things to flourish anew, so long that we might begin to wonder if we’re the type that will ever bloom again.

But as I like to remind my kids, nothing is wasted. The most menial, the most monotonous, the most memorable, or painful – none are wasted. At the very least, the hard times of fruitless waiting help you to see that you are a resilient human. But this stage also has the effect of building character, patience, resourcefulness, endurance, strength, and possibly even peace, until eventually – and almost miraculously – new flowers appear.

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My orchid is preparing to bloom again. This time I staked the stem. Though temporarily flowerless, the solid leaves and aerial roots are dignified and strangely beautiful.

And like everything good and beautiful, the display isn’t just for your benefit. Everyone else in your circle of influence is affected too, celebrating alongside and being encouraged by the blossoms of beauty that have appeared. The weary wait has made this season even more spectacular.

Take heart. As my spiritual mom says, “The best is yet to come.” And truly it is. Let’s not waste time lingering and looking back at a finished season, or get stuck thinking of the past as “the glory days”. There are glorious days ahead. Let’s instead make the most of today and all its gifts while we wait with great expectation for what’s next!

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” ~ Isaiah 43:18-19

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  1. Are you living too much in the past, or too much in the future? While we wait with expectation for the things to come, let’s not forget to enjoy today. Who knows, there may be buds already showing. You don’t want to miss them!