Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Used Canvas

The brokenness of our world has struck me especially hard in these past weeks. That of the world and my own brokenness and imperfections. How easy it is to let life progress without stopping and really taking the time to examine your own life? In the face of tragedy or incredibly difficult times, perhaps we are jarred to do so. But what about in the times of monotony? When life is simply moving forward and we are meeting the status quo? I was recently very convinced by this.

In the history of art, there have been periods where it was not uncommon for artists to reuse canvasses. The implication, then, is that there are ‘ghost paintings’ beneath the painting we see on the surface. Perhaps a layer of paint exists between the two paintings, giving the artist a ‘blank canvas’ before painting on top of what once was. 

I always found this concept not only useful, but fascinating. Imagine the number of potential ‘masterpieces' or at least well-known paintings hanging in galleries around the globe that may have other paintings just below the surface. Images and concepts that we’ll never see. To the naked eye, they simply don’t exist.

Today I have been preparing two canvasses. I, myself, have used this technique a number of times and thoroughly enjoy it. I like the fact that the first (or second) painting below gives a layer or base of texture. The canvas is unique and before ever applying the first brush stroke to the repurposed canvas, there is character and personality.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17 it says, 
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
I certainly believe these words to be true. The interesting thing to me has always been the fact that we have our past lives, our past failures, our personal history that we can’t erase. There are many analogies that have been used over the years to teach us that we’re completely wiped clean, seen as entirely new in the eyes of Christ when we put on the new life. Only He can erase our past and make us a new creation. I myself have used these word pictures— we are blameless, white as snow, seen as God’s perfect child. And yet we don’t forget our past. Certain events, perhaps, but we are marked and influenced by our past actions. I don’t say this as a discouragement, but to highlight the fact that we are molded and impacted by our experiences— be them good or bad.

But walk with me through the analogy of the reused canvas. First of all, the artist recognizes that the canvas still has worth, potential, and value. A bad painting does not warrant throwing out the canvas. The canvasses I prepared just moments ago had paper and other things glued to the surface. I painstakingly peeled off paper and glue with my fingers for quite some time. I took a tool to the surface to scrape off the parts that were too hard to peel off with my own hands. And the truth is, I didn’t scrape off every raised bump. I left some of it— intentionally. As I mentioned earlier, it will provide a base of texture and depth to the canvas that I actually want. 

After I peeled and scraped everything undesirable off, I took out my white paint. With a thick brush I applied a healthy layer of white paint over every inch of those canvasses. In spite of the fact that I used a thick layer of white paint, you can still see a faint image of what was previously there coming through. I could add another layer of white on top. But I won’t. I’ll start the painting with that faint image slightly showing through. But it will quickly be covered up. I’ll apply several different colors, potentially even layers of paint over the entire surface of the canvas, transforming it into something beautiful. I’ll take advantage of the bumps and glue and raised paint texture from what was previously there and work with it to create something of worth and beauty.

And God does the same with us. He takes care and time to bring healing and restoration. He chips away at the pains of the past. At times it hurts. And at times he has to use more heavy duty tools that we feel more distinctly to rub away the ugliness that was once there. And we don’t forget every poor decision from the past. In fact, we are fortunate to benefit from the good things that took place in our past and we hold on to the lessons learned from the hard times. The canvas of our lives doesn't become completely smooth upon receiving salvation. Our memories aren't wiped clean. God restores the canvas— He restores us. And he cleans us and does see us as his perfect, blameless child. But we’re still formed and influenced by our past and past experiences. And some of those hurts are still visible, even when the new painting has been laid on top of what was previously there. But God works with it. He paints over and uses the bad and ugly to make something beautiful. We may still limp from our past, but there is good thatch come from those things. 

We aren’t discarded. We are imperfect beings that have been declared as having worth, and then reclaimed, restored, and recreated as something beautiful. 

I am imperfect. Our world is certainly broken and it’s hard to believe at times just how much pain and filth exists. It’s humbling for me to take the time and examine my life, only to find that there are habits I’ve let develop and attitudes that have taken root that are less than admirable. And it weighs on me. I’m not proud of my brokenness. Especially because now I have to do something about it. I realize that I need to lift my eyes to the artist who created me and has been working on my canvas for a while and ask Him to re-work some of me. I am no masterpiece and there are parts of my painting that need to be scrubbed out. And together we’ll move forward in this process of sanctification. 

But I take comfort in knowing that He won’t throw me out. He won’t say it’s not fixable. We’ll get there. And I’ll keep trying… and He’ll keep painting. He’s not done with me yet. And though the painting is not yet finished, He sees me as beautiful, having great worth, and He is proud of His creation. 

He is proud of you.