grace shatters my beaded yokes: confessions of a self-oppressing artist
The Lord has promised good to me. His word my hope secures. He will my shield and portion be, As long as life endures. Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease, I shall possess within the veil, A life of joy and peace.
Some nights you might find me cross-legged in the center of my bedroom floor–my black tank again wearing through the red stitches it’s been mended twice with, my green scrub pants reminding me of the smell of bleach we wore together at the boarding home. Don’t try to approach me though; you might slip on the sea of glass I’ve tried to make for myself. My beads drown the carpet in deep, twisted hues while I add to and string them together–So walk lightly if you must, and take care to not find one stabbed into your heel.
What began as creative devotion for me turned into a consuming need that chained up the freedom I had through expression. The beads were for my Love, painted for him, to shimmer around his throne. As I set my hands to them, losing sleep over them, I moved with no desire besides offering them to the Artist of eternity. But now, as I work through the night, catching a passionless reflection in the window pane, it’s hard to picture these beads adorning anything lovely besides my bones.
When I loved my beads too much and caught their reflections of praise, I began to resent them, but could not resist a need for making worth in them. So I let my attention shift to the mirror where I could better accommodate the want for worth. As I stare at my spiritless frame, I love the lines, the dramatic structure complemented by deeply painted drops of glass. For all of the flaws I so easily find in my appearance, these jewels make up for it. They dazzle the skin that stretches at the base of my neck and smooths over the collar bones that hold the weight of a thousand beads.
So I add to my collection daily, fashioning heavy glass necklaces that twist and tangle across my chest and drape over my shoulders. They form the most impossible knots anymore–hence my glistening bedroom floor. But I still need them. I need to keep creating them, because if I stop I fear that that the creative devotion they began with will never be recovered. And I need them to see and to touch and to be able to show others and to show God. What if I don’t have them anymore? Where will I master beauty without them? What will I say without them? Further the thought of my neck being exposed to the unpredictable breeze, once again touching my skin, is terrifying.
Recently something that Paul wrote caused me to close my eyes and look at myself: This girlish, prideful island in the middle of a sea of sinful beads was what I saw. I saw that I am horribly guilty of an obsession with control (feel free to sing Mutemath here) and blatantly disregarding a truth that scares me: For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
God revealed to me the skewed intentions of my works and their inability to result in anything good apart from his work. What begin as devotion and expression, I often let become a requirement and expectation for goodness, resulting in an obsession and yoke that eventually wears me into exhaustion. And my anxiousness about expectations and pursuits that, at the end of the day weigh nothing against the glory of God, only spit in his saving face. My arrogance and independent insistence says, “That thing you did on the cross? Thanks, but uh I got this covered here today. I like my [limited] perspective here where I can see things that You are obviously missing from where You are…”
But I don’t want to be the prideful wretch that turns away help and life, thinking she needs to do everything better and on her own. I have been set free and I can no longer shut my eyes to this and try to make my own freedom, my own life, my own beauty. Paul says that our freedom comes through faith in God and His grace to us (Gal 5:4). So, he tells us to live like it means something to us, For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. (Gal 5:5)
It’s a sin for me to add to the mess of beaded burdens around my shoulders. They cascade in their own bitter splendor and spill onto the floor as a sea of unmanageable glass. So here I draw the line and say that what I create and what I pursue are never things to be consumed by. My worth and my righteousness are in no way dependent upon or even reflected by these things. And when I let my art, my education, my volunteering, my anything become supreme in my life, I hope that I will hear these words again and again reminding me that I have peace with God through Christ and that this is eternally freeing and never oppressing.