The Empty Canvas
We have a beautiful seascape hanging in our living room. This painting was painted by a wonderful artist and friend who knows how we love the ocean. Our living room has a variety of ocean scenes on the walls and so this painting fits in quite nicely. The picture (24”x 30”) is lovely with some very vibrant blues and greens that seem to flow out from the canvas splashing into the rest of the room. It has been a welcome addition to this room and to our lives.
Now as beautiful as the painting is hanging above the fireplace commanding the entire room—it is more than a painting—much more. If you happen to visit us one day, please let us know you are on your way, you may very well notice something about this painting as you come in through the front door, walk past the pile of shoes on your right and find yourself in the living room. At some point your attention will be drawn to the upper left corner of this painting and you may be a bit perplexed yet possibly too polite to comment. You see there is a section about 2 inches wide in the upper left corner and extending about 7 inches along the top—triangular in shape. This swatch of canvas has none of the colors or activity that fills the rest of the canvas. This part of the canvas is blank—left undone by the artist.
This was not an oversight but a choice the artist made, and when she gave me the painting thinking, hoping I would like it, she explained why she chose to do this and also graciously offered to “complete” the painting if that is what we desired. So, why the intentional blank portion on the canvas? Why did this accomplished artist choose to give us an “unfinished” painting? Yes, that is the question—a question when asked by a visitor we are more than happy to explain—the explanation transforming this work of art from painting to parable.
The artist chose to do this because many years ago she had gone through Journey with Jesus and was confronted by the phrase; anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. This can be an unsettling phrase for professionals, perfectionists, performers and others, one that is often initially misunderstood. This wonderful phrase is not, as some wrongly assume, a license for doing shoddy work, being lazy, or not trying. NO!
This phrase is an invitation to give something a go, a try, without the need to do it right, do it well—it speaks of the freedom of being a beginner, to escape from the paralysis of having to be good, accomplished—do something well. This phrase when embraced can free us to do something that we have never done, something that is new, even foreign, to us. When embraced, this truth can free us from what keeps us off the dance floor at weddings, stops us from taking up a new hobby—not choosing to do something unless we can do well. The phrase anything worth doing is worth doing poorly when internalized opens the door of creativity, releasing us from the gravitational pull of expectations and comments—our own condemning voices and those of others—that vague “them” that exerts constant pressure upon us to be, act, perform in certain ways.
This blank swatch in the painting is a reminder that we do not have to take ourselves so seriously, an invitation to embrace an adventurous playfulness that can do things poorly or differently, not concerned about what others may say or think but is free to try new things, or do things that we might enjoy but are not that good at. One other benefit is that when we are free to try something new without fear but with childlike abandon we may discover that we are quite good at something we had never done before. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly is about freedom to be. The goal is not to do something poorly but be free to do whatever we do without external and internal pressures to perform.
Yet, how does one get to this place of inner freedom? The answer is by owning and internalizing whose one is (I belong to God) and who one is (I am created in God’s image and unconditionally loved by God). As you are able to internally own and embrace these twin truths as the unshakeable foundation of your identity you become and more free to be you, [insert comma] stepping out of the safe and known, not needing to do things perfectly or even well, but free to be a beginner, to do things worth doing poorly.
As one created in God’s image you are created to be creative! You are creative but may not feel free to explore and express the creativity that is within you. So spend sometime pondering the phrase—anything worth doing is worth doing poorly, while owning whose you are and who you are, listening to the invitations of God and ignoring those voices that demand a certain level of performance, embracing the freedom of being a beginner, that childlike freedom to paint, dance, sing…with abandon. When you step out in freedom seeking to release your creativity God smiles upon you just as a mother and father do as their young child walks, paints, dances—this delights God and God celebrates such forays into creativity and freedom.
What is something that you might want you to try but are afraid that you may fail at, may not do it well and so have not done it yet—what would it look like to give it a try?
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