by Sarah Lane
“I wondered what your art would look like. With everything your family has gone through this year, I was a little surprised by the light and beauty!”
I was struck by these words spoken by our pastor’s wife after her entire family showed up at my watercolor show opening in October. Though I’d grown up in a family of artists and had practiced art periodically in various forms, I’d never taken my creative efforts seriously enough to assemble a show. It felt frivolous when there was so much “real work” to be done in this world. This year, that changed.
Indeed, it has been a difficult year. It’s been a year in which we traveled last-minute to tend terminally-ill family members and to mourn their passing. A year in which our 17-year-old son traveled a difficult road and took our blended family of four children along for the bumpy ride. A year of praying about and taking employment as a homeless shelter director, which had seemed a perfect fit at this time in my life.
Then, seven months into this “very important” job, perhaps spurred by 60+ hour work weeks or our family’s struggles, I gave my Executive Director notice and five weeks to find a new director. I tried to do this in an honorable way, but I felt like I’d let everyone down, especially God. Hadn’t He instructed me to serve the least of these (Matthew 25:40)?
Completely exhausted and in tears after months of 7-day work weeks, I told my supportive and somewhat bewildered husband that all I really wanted to be when I grew up was an artist. People often say that emotion betrays us—that feelings are fleeting. However, my experience is that, in such emotional moments, with prayer and contemplation, the truth emerges.
Drawing on scraps of mat board on Dad’s studio floor when I was a child. Drawing in the margins of engineering books when I was in college. Creating art in the margins of life—between nursing babies, on holidays and on the sidelines of sporting events. I had practiced creativity throughout my life.
When I left behind the practice of making art for what I perceived as a more useful and pressing calling, the color washed out of my prayers—washed out of my relationship with God. For this was how I prayed and praised. This was my connection with my Creator.
Touching the brush to paper, painting a landscape, I touched the beauty of the Master. His light filtered through me. It became a conversation. A call and response. Where are you, my child? I am here, Lord. (Genesis 3:8-9).
During the months after leaving my job, most days I met God in the wilderness, painting outside, en plein air (in open air). Each day, I came to worship with paintbrushes and rough, heavy watercolor paper. Through the rustling of the trees and the burbling of the creeks, the splashing of creatures in eddies and pools and the ripples that fan out leaves on water, I felt the brushstroke of God upon me and put that on the paper. Each day, I honored my God, confessed my iniquities and insufficiency as a mere human, and watched imperfect interpretations of God’s Creation take form. God bathed me in watercolor, washing me clean and filling me with joy. He restored my soul (Psalm 3:23).
Beyond paid employment in this world, I learned a truth: creating is my worship. It is my prayer. It is my ongoing conversation with God. Though I’ve been wrong before, I believe that God wants me to do what makes me happy by living in color and light and by honoring Him in each of my humble works. And this is enough.
People joke about creative endeavors: “I wouldn’t quit my day job just yet!” Well, I did. In taking this work, I had grown apart from my God in the intensity of trying to serve in His name. In leaving it, I had not dishonored God in leaving my service to others, but rather, I had grown closer to Him by realizing that my prayer in paints is good and necessary to my relationship with my Father.
I don’t know that my only calling is to art. But I do know that I have been blessed with a direct line to God through the prayer of making art. What the pastor’s wife saw in my art was an unexpected conversation with God, the story of Grace retold and a form of worship that a Father can and does love.
Sarah Lane parents four beautiful kids, ages 20, 17, 10 and 9, with her husband, Peter, in Bellingham, WA. Life has taken her on a nomadic work/family journey. However, her relationship with God through art and writing in the studio and in God’s great outdoors, fitness and contemplation have accompanied her, wherever she has served others. She has taken a break from personal blogging at https://sarahwoehrmanlitartsblog.wordpress.com/ , since her canine blog partner passed away, but she posts art and blogs on occasion at https://www.sarahsartlife.com/ .