Here is a beautiful post written by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt for International Artist Day!
When I was six years old, my primary school entered an international painting competition and mine was one of the winning entries. It seemed quite a big deal and we were even on tv for five whole seconds!
But the following week my teacher told me I was talented and asked me to paint one of my classmates. The results were not particularly amazing. But instead of encouraging me and getting me to try again, the teacher made no secret of her disappointment.
“Oh,” she said, “I thought you had something, but clearly not.”
I wasn’t particularly hurt, that I remember, but I didn’t really bother getting excited about paints any more. I accepted what the grown-up had said, because they knew better than me. I buried that talent somewhere deep and didn’t remember this episode till a few years ago, when I began painting and drawing again in my near middle age.
It started with a Lenten practice in an online community that required a creative act once a day. I thought I would write a poem. But something in me gave me a nudge. Draw it. But I’m no good at drawing. Draw it anyway. And the community saw my drawing and did not belittle it, or laugh, as I thought they might. They said, “Do some more!” So I did.
Then I tried painting. I had an old set of watercolours. Not a good place for a beginner artist to start, usually, and the results bore that out. I needed something a bit less tricky. My husband Rowan (a multi-talented man) had a small set of pastels. “Might I have a little go with them?” I asked tentatively. “Of course!”
I showed him my first picture and he said, “I think you’ve got something. You should do some more.”
Hundreds of drawings and paintings later, not only can I not imagine my life without art, but I’m not sure I could have got through these past few years of my decades long chronic illness without the joy it has given me. Especially so the last fourteen months during which I’ve been housebound.
I am grateful for the gift God has given me, and the way he uses it. But here’s the thing that makes me even more thankful: the online group could have dismissed my first few childlike drawings, but they didn’t. They might have not even bothered to notice or encourage me. They doubtless had better things to do. But instead they affirmed me.
Likewise, my husband might not have wanted me messing up his pastels. Instead, he not only let me use all his art materials, but he has lovingly encouraged me every step of the way. If something’s bad, he’ll tell me, and I rely on his expertise, but he never discourages me. He always believes I can do things, even though I’m painting for just a short time on a board on my lap, with very weak arms and very little energy. He is rooting for me.
How precious are words of encouragement! How wonderful it is when others give their time to draw gifts and talents out of us and help us use and nurture them! This is such a godly activity!
My teacher would doubtless be horrified that her words stifled my gift for so long. It is so easy to discourage, to show disappointment, and children pick these things up with very little help. But, oh the difference when someone takes the time and makes the effort to give us the freedom to find out who we really are. That’s a kind of wonderful pastoring we can all do in our lives, whether we are creative or think we are not.
I wonder, my friends, what might you nurture in someone else, or what might you begin today that will make you thankful you did?
(the two artworks shown are my very first pastel, along with one done more recently. Hopefully you can tell which is which)
Keren Dibbens-Wyatt is a chronically ill writer and artist with a passion for poetry, mysticism, story and colour. Her writing features regularly on spiritual blogs and in literary journals. Her full-length publications include Garden of God’s Heart and Whale Song: Choosing Life with Jonah. She has a new book, Recital of Love, coming out with Paraclete Press in June 2020. Keren lives in South East England and is mainly housebound by her illness.