I was talking with a friend tonight who is currently in the midst of a journey of wonder. It was a sobering time for me. He is in a place in his life where is looking back over decades in a profession, decades in a marriage as a husband, and decades as a father. He is an artist, in more than one sense. He is an amazing actor; I’ve seen him perform. He’s an incredible people person; I’ve witnessed his brilliance in his interactions with others and have seen the impact he has on them, and they on him. The passion with which he engages his life is itself worthy of an Oscar, not because it’s an amazing act, but because it is authentic, it is who he is at his core, it is worthy of accolade and is something to aspire to and be inspired by.
As a man who is nearing retirement, he is asking all the right questions. Have I loved my wife well? Have I loved my children well? Have I been an honest worker? Have I been a good steward of money? Have I lived life as God would have me live? Where have I messed up? Where have I been selfish? What does the rest of my life look like? Is my life over? Am I just waiting to die? Is there anything left for me to do here? Tough questions, but appropriate ones in my judgment.
I would judge that these questions have been asked, are being asked, and will continue to be asked by all of us as we live out our lives, as they should be. Since my friend is also a painter, we spoke of his life in terms of canvas paintings. What does it look like to begin a new painting? What colors would he use? What would his medium be? Oils, pastels, what? He had a hard time answering these questions because up to that point, it seemed there were no more paintings to be made. As he looked back over his life, he saw plenty of regrets, but more importantly, plenty of closure. His choice is simple, but difficult. “Do I choose to paint a picture of my regrets, or do I choose to paint a picture of what could be next for me?” I encouraged him to make the choice to believe that maybe, just maybe, there are more pictures yet to be painted. He is only 59. The question was simple, “Do you want to keep painting?” That question was loaded with metaphor. Painting IS LIVING. If he is going to be here and continue to be that good husband and father, then there is more to paint! So much more!
I believe my friend was actually asking if he was allowed to paint. Is he allowed to paint again based on the fact that he has regrets, hasn’t always been the best worker, husband and father? Is he allowed to paint something totally new that he had never tried before, simply because his life had never been in that place or because of his regrets and failures? But here he is, in the new place, in a place where he can take all his regrets, his failures, his accomplishments, his love, his care and create a priceless work where all colors, all experiences, all regrets, all failures, all successes, all his memories of his marriage and kids, all his relationships that mean the world to him, and blend and weave these stories of highs and lows, successes and failures, pride and regret into a painting that would be his greatest work yet? What would THAT painting look like?
He spoke one word to answer the question of what his painting would look like. ”Harmony”. Isn’t that what life is all about anyway? I have to take the things I do, combine them with the things that “happen” to me and somehow find a way to blend them all together in such a way that out of the process of the blending comes a smooth, soothing, calming, flowing and harmonious painting of a life well lived.
I know I have loved because I have been rejected and without rejection I cannot truly know what love is. I am thankful for my past rejections.
I know I have lived because I know death and the pain and sting that go with it from losing those I have loved before their time. I am sad and thankful to have lost so that I may appreciate what I have NOW.
I know I have been given grace in my life because I can immediately recall the times I have felt accused and condemned, and without accusation and condemnation, I cannot experience grace and forgiveness. I am thankful for being accused and condemned because without them, I would not know what God’s grace and forgiveness feel like.
Finally, I know I am not alone, because someone has pursued me at some point, whether I wanted him or her to or not. Walking alone for many of us, including/especially me, is tantamount to death. Isolation is my prison. Loneliness is a trigger on a gun that is pointing at me every time I choose to try to do life my own way, without testing my thoughts, my desires, my wishes, my dreams, my intentions, without testing all of me with a someone I trust with my very life. For that is exactly what I am asking of them. Help me figure out my life because there are things I am blind to and cannot see no matter how hard I try. My shadow stands behind me and since you are walking beside me, you have a better chance of seeing it than I do. I don’t like looking behind me. I’m afraid of what will be there. I’m afraid that when I look behind me to see my shadow and what it holds that I will lose my way, or run into something ahead of me because I am looking back, so please look for and name my shadow and help me see it for what it is. I can’t do this alone.
I’m not an artist, but I want to paint. I want my last painting to be my masterpiece. I want to take the paintings of my past, the ones with bold colors and definitive lines, and take the messy paintings I am carrying around presently that seem like they are one dimensional and one color, and mix them with a palate of warm colors and paint a painting that I can look at and see my story, from beginning to end, and see the journey it has given me and the people who traveled with me on the way. I want to paint a vision on canvas that compels me to take the rest of my time here on earth, love others well, forgive myself for my failures, and walk calmly into the love and hope of a PERFECT Father’s arms waiting to welcome me into His house, where my painting will hang proudly on His wall, or fridge, or above His desk. Wherever. He will give it a place of honor and be a very proud papa showing off His son’s work.
What will your painting look like?