“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” ~~ Romans 8:22-23
Bringing an art work to life is much like the process of bearing a child: first the idea, then the conception, then the “raw materials” are brought together, and over time the child is formed. Only at the final moment, when the finishing touches “inside the studio” have been completed, does the child break through to this world! This last part is the “labor pains of creation” that are so difficult for the expectant mother and for the artist. Mothers are forced by nature through their bodies’ chemical changes to push their babies out into the world. Even though they endure a short time of pain, they’re rewarded with the joy of their child and sharing in their little one’s new and precious life.
An artist, however, can suffer the labor pains forever if she wants and never finish a work of art, never let it go out to spread joy and beauty in the world, and never let it out of her studio. What holds the artist up and what keeps him from letting his work live free for others to enjoy? Perfectionism is one problem: the vain attempt to create the masterpiece of the ages in one art work. Perfection is better understood in the Methodist or Wesleyan sense as “going on to perfection,” for while we might make a perfect painting in one attempt, the more likely event is that we will move toward perfection as we paint a series of works, each one of which will build on the achievements of the ones before it. The learning process, if the artist is paying attention to his work and receiving constructive criticism from qualified sources, will see to the increasing and accumulating good in the work. One day the artist will look at his work and notice, “wow, that IS good!”
In the same way, each one of us is groaning to be free in our everyday lives. As part of the unredeemed creation yearning to be free, we are bound up in the “labor pains of the new birth:” until we are delivered by Christ, we won’t be free of our agony! When I think of the brokenness of my own life and the generational themes of alcohol and codependency that are part of my history, I have to recognize that each generation has birthed the next one the best they could. God has a plan for each of us to make us whole, new, and well. For some of us that have spent our lives in trauma or drama, we need a season of singleness to discover who we are and whose we are. But holding on to the pain of the trauma is like resisting the urge to push when the baby is crowning and ready to be born! This is what Jesus came for! “To bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor!” (Luke 4:18-19)
This is the year of my new birth, the birth pains of the new creation, and the burying of the pain of the old after birth, the pains and sorrows of nearly a quarter century ago. Now that they are remembered, they are known, they can be healed, and I can paint with joy again.