Usually when a person thinks of a fresh start they use the metaphor of a blank canvas. One assumes that the old painting is thrown out and fully replaced by a fresh, snowy white, empty template for which they can start from scratch. While this notion may seem quaint, this is NOT how life works, and certainly not how most artworks are created. Let me explain.
I just finished an oil painting class. By all standards I am most definitely an amateur painter, even though I’m really enjoying it. As we learned how to paint pictures I was amazed by how much work and effort it takes to get any sort of desirable results. First and most important comes the underpainting. This is the foundation of the work, laying the bedrock for the structure that will soon take shape. As the artists’ imagination leaves the mind and incarnates itself on the canvas as thousands of brushstrokes are painstakingly swept across it’s emptiness until every portion of white is blanketed with paint. Then it dries. At this stage in the images’ development, detailed shapes are not the priority, rather the character and texture become the backbone for what will soon be. Finally details like lights and darks are carefully scumbled in. Long careless brushstrokes are out and delicately applied perfection is in. Once complete, the artist scours his endeavors. If the outcome is not right, and for some reason some thing doesn’t work, he will start anew. At this stage the artist will not discard the canvas, he will use it as a deep foundation for the final product. Instead of starting on a blank canvas he uses the intricacies and beauty of the first painting to build on top of. This lends even more detail to the final product. The finished painting is the result of tension, failure, beauty, excitement, and learning. It is as deep as the oceans and as complicated as calculus, it is truly unique. Often times the means are the goal for painters, not the ends.
I think this a perfect metaphor for life and its experiences. No matter how badly we may want it, we will never fully receive a blank canvas in life. On the contrary, we are the product of an infinite amount of both broken and healthy relationships, brilliant success and overwhelming failures, tragic loss and undeserved gain, traumatic hurt and momentary bliss. Within each one of us is an underpainting miles deep that tells the story of our lives. Each experience will shape the next, each morning will mold the evening, and the night will direct the day. If our lives were like oil paintings they would be in the process of being painted over again and again with each color and value having significant meaning for the next.
This idea may not be glamorous or neat and clean. It means that we may never truly be rid of our pasts. In a way, I like this because who I am is only because of who I’ve been, pain, joy, and all.
Addendum 1: This metaphor was intended to describe life’s experiences, not an attempt at theology by any means. In terms of what I believe about the grander realities of existence I do think that our depravity, selfishness, and sin can be wiped clean. I also think that we can become totally new people and can be offered a “blank canvas”. But in terms of what we go through in life, I do not think we are meant to forget or erase our experiences, I think they were meant be a part of the process of becoming who we were intended to be. Instead of hiding our scars I think we can learn to celebrate them. Instead of moving on from a loss, failed relationship, or broken calling maybe we should accept them as wisdom, character, and depth. Instead of trying to cover up our brokenness, maybe we should embrace ourselves as unfinished masterpieces and live in the realization that we are not complete, yet.