I’ve felt a surge of motivation and inspiration as we’ve made some new goals as a family to study the Bible this year. I think as my children grow older and are entering teen years I feel an extra desire to really arm them with faith and help them develop Christlike qualities like love, service, kindess and humility. I want them to be great humans. Humans who love and serve other humans. People who naturally see the best in others, work hard, live lives of value and have the desire to live to their full potential. I’m sure that’s what most people want for the ones they love.
As a parent that task can seem daunting. Is this really my job? Do I even know enough to teach my children all the things they really need to know? Will they figure out at some point that half of parenting is just faking it until you make it and I don’t actually know what I’m doing??
As I began some personal study a quote by David Bednar hit me. Like, really hit me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. He spoke of a beautiful painting he has in his office.
“In my office is a beautiful painting of a wheat field. The painting is a vast collection of individual brushstrokes—none of which in isolation is very interesting or impressive. In fact, if you stand close to the canvas, all you can see is a mass of seemingly unrelated and unattractive streaks of yellow and gold and brown paint. However, as you gradually move away from the canvas, all of the individual brushstrokes combine together and produce a magnificent landscape of a wheat field. Many ordinary, individual brushstrokes work together to create a captivating and beautiful painting.”
Here’s the phrase that I wanted to remember forever: “Each family prayer, each episode of family scripture study, and each family home evening is a brushstroke on the canvas of our souls. No one event may appear to be very impressive or memorable. But just as the yellow and gold and brown strokes of paint complement each other and produce an impressive masterpiece, so our consistency in doing seemingly small things can lead to significant spiritual results.”
Sometimes we stress too much over what our finished painting is going to look like. As a type A perfectionist, I’m especially wired to think this way. This impressed upon me the importance of all those little individual brushstrokes that make up a masterpiece. The brushstrokes matter.
I had an idea. An idea that in theory sounded great and an idea which I was almost certain would fail, but I wouldn’t know until I tried so what the heck. I went to the art store and bought a watercolor canvas. A small 8×10 would probably be easier, but I figured go big or go home and grabbed a huge 3 foot wide one. I wanted to create a painting that involved 6 colors, one for each member of my family, and I wanted everyone in my family to take turns adding brush strokes and create a family work of art.
I thought about this paining for a week. I mulled it over in my head and had a perfect picture of what it would look like. I tested all the shades of greens, blues, and yellows I knew I wanted and planned out who would paint what and how I would direct the strokes so it actually turned out like it should.
I finally set everything up, covering our kitchen table with plastic and placing watercolor paints in small bowls. I was scared to start in case the first brushstroke was horrible and I ruined the whole thing. I carefully added water to my brush, dipped it in my favorite shade of blue, and made one long brush stroke near the edge of the canvas, leaving a large, white border around it. As I meticulously inspected how the color was absorbing into the canvas, my 11yr old Owen said,
I looked up to see his eyebrows raised and his finger pointing to the other end of the canvas where my eyes met the eyes of my 4yr old, Gavin.
With a nonchalant smile, Gavin clutched a paintbrush SOAKED in bright yellow paint, straight from the tube. While I was laser focused on my one blue stroke, he had painted the entire other end of the canvas, edge-to-edge in bright yellow. I gasped. Then I yelled. (Like, a lot).
“I TOLD YOU NOT TO TOUCH THE PAINT! You ruined the painting! Ugh, thanks a lot.”
I threw my brush down onto the canvas and told my kids they could just play on it now because it was ruined and I’d have to go buy another one. My 8 yr old Jack, was thrilled and grabbed a brush and some green paint and went to town. By this time Gavin was bawling his little eyes out and I needed to cool off. I stepped away for a few minutes and went back to find the little guy to apologize for yelling. As I came into the room my eyes caught a glimpse of the now ruined painting. The kids had haphazardly brushed colors onto the canvas and the water had swirled them together in long streaks.
“Stop!” I yelled again.
Jack looked surprised and reminded me I told him he could paint whatever he wanted. Gavin had his yellow brush again and was adding even more.
“I think…this might actually….work??”
To my astonishment, I actually loved what was happening on that canvas. It was all the colors I loved, even though it looked nothing like the painting I had imagined in my head. All those brushstrokes had suddenly blended into something beautiful. I had everyone else come in and take a turn adding a few brushstrokes and then I carefully blended things together.
I couldn’t stop staring that canvas. I loved it.
This paining is now hanging on our wall, right next to our kitchen table where we eat, learn, study, and talk. Where so many of our family brushstrokes happen.
There’s now a family picture there as well- very intentionally a shot of our whole family holding hands and little Gavin pulling us all along.
I added the words by David Bednar as a reminder of what those brushstrokes represent.
Every time I glance at this painting I remember how convinced I was that all was lost with the yellow paint. How that was the end and I needed to start over. It reminds me of how all I needed was a different perspective to see how beautiful a change of plans could be. I see 6 different shades of green, blue and yellow and how they each stand out on their own, yet melt and swirl into each other to create entirely different colors. I see the tiny lines from the brushes curving around the outside of the canvas and am reminded of how important each one is and how the small and simple acts in our own homes make the biggest impact. The little things are the big things.
My favorite part of this painting is the bright yellow streak at the bottom. What once was a symbol of sure-failure now reminds me of warm golden sun. Of Gavin’s sweet heart bursting with creativity and love, and how almost anything can change for the better with a little perspective.