“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12 (NIV)
Painting was the last thing I expected to be doing on my birthday. And yet there I was, holding a dripping, shaking paintbrush beside my mom and my sisters.
Year 48 was supposed to be a year filled with adventure and freedom. The last of my five kids was going to college, and Art and I were heading into our empty-nest years. I thought this new season would be as fun and predictable as one of those beautiful adult coloring books. Twenty-five years of marriage had helped life take shape, so all we had to do now was just add color.
But nothing looked like I thought it would on this 48th birthday. Instead of planning for the future with my husband, I was trying to figure out how we’d ever glue the shattered pieces of our marriage back together again. Instead of dreaming, I felt like I was stuck in a nightmare. One where I opened the coloring book, and someone had erased all the beautifully drawn lines.
There was nothing but white pages. Empty spaces. Endless possibilities of fear and failure.
Metaphorically speaking, my life was now a blank canvas.
And so, my mother suggested — no, actually she demanded — we get some blank canvases and paint on my birthday.
I painted a boat. They all painted angels. And while my mom was right — it was therapeutic in many ways — it was also a terrifyingly vulnerable experience.
The enemy of my soul didn’t want me painting that day. To create meant I would look a little bit like my Creator. To overcome the terrifying angst of the blank canvas meant I would forever have more compassion on other artists. You better believe as I placed the first blue and gray strokes onto the white emptiness before me, “not good enough” was pulsing through my head in almost deafening tones.
Perfection mocked my boat. The bow was too high, the details too elementary, the reflection on the water too abrupt, and the back of the boat too off-center. Disappointment demanded I hyper-focus on what didn’t look quite right.
I forced myself to send a picture of my boat to at least 20 friends. With each text I sent, I slowly made peace with my painting’s imperfections. Not for validation but rather confirmation that I could see the imperfections in my painting but not deem it worthless. I could see the imperfections in me and not deem myself worthless. It was an act of self-compassion.
We must get to this place of self-compassion if we ever hope to have true, deep compassion for others. Disappointment begs us to be secretly disgusted with everything and everyone who has gaps, everything and everyone who also wrestles with the “not good enough” script. But what if, instead of being so epically disappointed with everyone, we saw in them the need for compassion?
I like that word compassion. Compassion is being aware that all of us fear the imperfections deeply carved into our naked selves. We all cover up. And then we all get stripped bare when the wins become losses.
And who do we want standing near us in those moments, dripping with disappointment and saturated with sorrow? I can assure you it isn’t people who don’t know the whole story, draped in gold-plated pride with mouths eager to spill out commentary, “Here’s what you did wrong. I would never have allowed myself to get in this position. If only you would have …”
Nope. It’s those clothed with garments of understanding. They have personally experienced how excruciatingly painful it can sometimes be to simply be human. They keep in mind Colossians 3:12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
We are to put on each of these every day, like a painter puts on color she knows will connect her creation with others. God wants us, His creation, to connect with others and bring them light and life with the brush strokes of compassion.
And the only way to gain more of this compassion is to pick up a paintbrush and sit in the seat of our own suffering. We find life-giving purpose and meaning when we allow God to take our painful experiences and comfort others.
Have you walked through an unexpected season of darkness and suffering? Those seasons aren’t for nothing, sweet friend.
Pick up the paintbrush. Put some paint on the emptiness. Color-correct your perspective. Forget the cravings for comfort zones. Trade your comfort for compassion. Get wet with paint. Put the brush to the canvas. Declare yourself a painter. And when someone steals all the lines from your coloring book, determine to color the world anyhow with the same generous compassion God offers every day.
You are walking the way of the artist. You are simply showing up with compassion. And I love you for that. I love whatever is about to come to life on your canvas to the glory of our Almighty Creator. God. The Redeemer of dust. The Redeemer of us.
Father God, no matter how much this life leaves me hurting, I always want to come out on the other side of pain loving. Help me be a woman of great compassion. A woman who wears her scars of suffering well — willingly sharing my survival story so others can know and believe survival is possible for them, too. And help me remember that no time showing up and bringing compassion to another human is ever a waste of time. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.