I am currently working on a project with my church, Redeemer Fellowship, painting visual representations of emotions and how God uses them to point us to him and make us whole. There is a little bit about the concept of the project and how the church is asking their members to engage with the work over on their blog. This post is both going to introduce you to the project and talk a bit about the first week’s feeling, hurt, so it will be a bit long, but upcoming posts shouldn’t be so long. 🙂
I am ten paintings into the sixteen painting series and I’m loving it! It is the most emotionally exhausting project I’ve tackled (it turns out thinking about these feelings so deeply and then having to visually convey them is draining). I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Enneagram, but I am a personality type four, and so confronting suffering, sadness, and intense emotion is right in my wheelhouse. It still costs energy, but it is exactly what I’m designed to do, and I honestly love doing it. It is strange to talk to people I don’t know and say, “Yeah! I love it but it’s wearing me out!” Later, I realize they probably got the impression that I’m not enjoying this project very much. People who know me realize that what I’m trying to say is, “I freaking love this, but it makes me live in the aspect of my personality that deeply feels and analyzes all the time, which is exhausting for me and those around me. But, this project is perfect for me!” Sometimes I feel like I should have a translator with me.
God is changing me with this work and with his word. I have stepped into exploring my feelings fully, and in many ways, I feel like I’m waking up to a new paradigm. Some days I feel so worn out by it that I really want to fall back asleep, to watch Netflix, to distract myself. It really does cost something to feel these emotions, to examine them, to see the places where we’ve minimized and denied them and bring them into the light. It isn’t easy, but it is beautiful, and I can feel the effect on my soul, on the way I receive suffering from others. I can feel spaces in me opening up that I was desperately holding closed, just out of habit. And most of all I can feel God’s kindness to me, his mercy washing over me, filling in the places where I’m lacking, healing the places I have been hurting (even the ones I couldn’t see) and making me new.
I am using a Psalm (that Redeemer has chosen and on which they’re preaching) and a chapter on each emotion from Chip Dodd’s amazing book, The Voice of the Heart, as study and inspiration for the work. There will be eight sermons and eight pairs of paintings in all.
I am painting each emotion in two ways. The left panel represents the darker or more raw version of the emotion: it is the experience we must endure because we live in a broken and fallen world. It represents real feelings, real emotions, and an experience that many of us have but that does not condemn us. The right painting represents a promise, a transition, and a place God wants to move us in that emotion. In many ways, it represents the more positive version or result of a feeling. It is important for me to say that both panels represent a true aspect of our experience of emotions and feelings as human beings and believers, therefore both must be faced for us to live as a whole person. We cannot reach the right panel without acknowledgement of the left. In some of the paintings I use more specific imagery than in others, but it is all still very abstract and layered. There is no wrong way to engage with this art, so have no fear of seeing something that isn’t there. That is the beauty and the struggle of abstraction. What I have done with each set is create two paintings that have somewhat inverted or flipped compositions. The inversion isn’t always neat. Some feelings have a more direct destination or inverse. Hurt and its destination, Healing, are easier to see on opposite ends of the spectrum than some of the other feelings and their destinations. I will unpack that as the series goes on. A lot of planning went into each pair of these paintings. It was a new way to work and it challenged me in a way I really enjoyed.
Left: “Will you forget me forever?” and Right: “Beautiful scars.” Each panel measures 12″x 24″ x 1.5″. Acrylic ink, acrylic, and gold foil.
Week 1: HURT // Psalm 13
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
As I approached each of these paintings, I took a 5×7 card and wrote observations about the emotions on it. With some emotions that I felt had a clear destination, I flipped the card over and wrote about that on the other side. When I got to hurt, I felt compelled to write down as many synonyms for hurt as I could fit onto my card. This led me to thinking about the physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering of Jesus, because I found myself writing words like broken, bruised, shattered, crushed, wounded, mauled, battered, bleeding, and tortured.
This became a part of my process with each emotion: In scripture, I looked for ways Jesus may have entered into that emotion. So on the left panel of each of the sets, I not only ask where we are in sin and brokenness, but also how Jesus paid bodily and spiritually because of that sin. On the right panel I ask where God wants to bring us in that feeling, and how Jesus is a vehicle to bring us there. At times, I also asked if Jesus exemplified the right panel in his human life. I also found myself repeatedly asking, “Where did this feeling start? Where do we first see this in scripture?”
These emotions are so interconnected and complex, so sometimes these questions were not easy to answer (which is part of what makes the project exhausting), but prolonged contemplation of the Psalms has fed me and blessed me, answered some deep questions, and helped me to feel safe in asking them.
My biggest takeaway from studying hurt is that healing comes only through relationship. To be healed by God, we must be honest with him about our hurts. We shouldn’t pretty them up. Through study of Psalm 109, I saw David carrying real hurt to God, and in the end it was unresolved. David hadn’t moved to forgiveness of those who had hurt him just yet. That is part of the tension of hurt. Healing is not like flipping a magic switch so that when forgiveness rolls off our tongue all are healed, or when the admission of hurt is brought to God, our wounds immediately vanish. I have learned the hard way that bringing my tears, wailing, and questions before the Father feel good, but the bleeding may take time to stop. The beauty of it is that I am not alone, and I can feel the healing, even if it is slower than I’d like.
Give Brian Key’s sermon a listen for an expansion on the topic of hurt.
If any of you have any questions about this project or would like to know more about a specific feeling, I would love to exchange emails or grab a coffee. Thank you to those of you who have counseled me, engaged with me, and supported me as I complete this project. I can’t wait to keep sharing what I learned about each emotion from week to week.
Thanks for reading, dear friends, and happy weekend!