photo credit: Sarah Brown
You’ve got a paintbrush, a blank piece of canvas, and a palette of pretty colors waiting to be tapped into. So you paint. You dip your paintbrush into the wild hues of blues and reds and yellows and soon, a very stunning picture is materializing before your eyes. But before you can add the final touches to the painting, your instructor steps beside you and frowns, “No, my dear. That’s not what I want you to paint. Be patient.”
As he gently removes the paintbrush from your hand and peels off the canvas–still wet from the paint– he says, “No, that’s not the right painting for you. You’re not ready to start using those colors yet. Be patient.”
And he leaves you with the same paintbrush, watercolors and a fresh page, puzzling over what just happened. You stare at the brush, stained with a medley of colors from the previous painting, the aftermath of a dream that was ripped away. So close from achieving what you had in mind, yet so far.
You turn around and look at the other students in the room, all busy with their paintings. The boy beside you has successfully painted the beautiful Eiffel Tower, the sky glowing a brilliant blue over the majestic monument. The girl beside him has moved on to her second painting, and so have the others. Everyone seems to be progressing well, everyone but you.
So you start again. A different painting this time, and once again, the instructor appears beside you and repeats the same process–peeling the page away, shaking his head, but his tone is still as gentle as before, “My dear, you’re not quite there yet. That’s not what I have in mind for you to paint.”
This happens a couple more times, and every single time he does this, your cheeks burn with humiliation as you watch your hard work being taken away. That’s just his way of saying you’re not good enough, isn’t it?
When this happens the fifth time, you throw down the brush in frustration and kick the canvas away.
“So what is it that you want me to paint?” you cry, exhausted. By now, you’re on the verge of tears. Frustration and confusion are swelling up in your chest and you still have no idea what your instructor wants from you. “You keep telling me to paint. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been trying to paint. But you never tell me what it is that you want me to paint!”
Tears are streaming down your cheeks now and your instructor is silent as he lets you go on. “I keep trying my best, but it’s like, everything I do just isn’t good enough because it’s not what you have in mind for me. Everytime I think I’m almost there, you appear beside me and say I’m not quite there yet. Then why don’t you tell me what to paint? What is the point of giving me all the tools for painting, but not guiding me in the first place? It’s so frustrating!”
He doesn’t say a word. Just bends down, picks up the paintbrush and the canvas, props it back up on the table in front of you and looks deep into your eyes.
“My dear, look at me,” he says quietly, and through your sobs, you raise your chin just a little bit so that you meet his kind eyes. There is no hint of anger or impatience in them. Instead, you see traces of love. He closes his hand over yours, and you feel a surge of warmth. “I never told you to start that painting by yourself. I told you to be patient, to wait on me for guidance, because I will guide you. That is why I’m your instructor. I know what you’re capable of painting. And I’ve never left your side — I’ve always been around you, behind you, right next to you, in front of you, watching over your work.”
“I didn’t see you anywhere,” you accuse. “You only popped up to tell me I was doing it wrong.”
“You didn’t notice me because all of your concentration was channeled into those paintings,” he answers. “You were so focused on getting those paintings right.”
“Isn’t that the whole point of painting?” you retort.
“No, it’s not about getting it right. It’s about painting what’s right for you. You can’t paint for your classmates, and they can’t paint for you. You have your own picture, and it’s different from theirs.”
You stare into your lap. “What about the others? How come they get to have such pretty masterpieces and I can’t even finish one stinking painting?”
“They’re going through their own seasons, just like you are with yours,” he replies. “They didn’t always get it right on their first painting, you know. You don’t know how many times they’ve failed and had to start over. It wasn’t easy too. But don’t compare your canvas to theirs. You’ve got your own painting to paint.”
“Do you think my ideas are bad?” you ask, bracing yourself.
“Not exactly, but wait ’til you see the ones I have for you,” he smiles. “You’re gonna love them better. I know you have dreams for this painting, but I have better plans for you. Do you trust me?”
You shrug, then nod slowly. “Okay, sure. I trust you.”
“You need to be patient,” he says again, coming around to stand behind you. He directs your hand and dips it into a dull greenish hue. You grimace. “Ew, no! I hate that color. It’s gonna make my painting look bad.”
“Trust me, I know it’s not pretty but it’s necessary that I add this color first. I need this for the base. You’ll see in a while,” he tells you, and you cave in. You let him coach you through the colors, going for a little bold streak of red, then splashing on some blue. You can’t really tell what he’s doing, but you’re secretly excited to see what he has in mind. The both of you are painting together, but he’s guiding you with the strokes, the shadings, the impressions on the canvas.
“Why can’t I do this on my own?” you ask. “I mean, it’s my canvas after all.”
“Because it’s not your idea, it’s mine,” he grins. “Now do you want to make an awesome painting, or not?”
So you surrender to his guidance. Hours later, you’re staring at a Louvre-worthy masterpiece.
“Almost done now,” he announces. “What do you think?”
You can’t even speak. Tears are welling up in your eyes again. The rest of the class have gathered around you and are admiring the artwork. “This is amazing!” they’re gushing.
“I was wondering what was taking so long, but now I see what you’ve been working on, and it’s definitely worth the wait,” one girl laughs. She steps up and hugs you. “It’s simply beautiful. How did you do all this?”
That’s when it hits you.
“I didn’t,” you whisper back, meeting your instructor’s loving gaze. “It’s all him. I didn’t do anything, actually. I just… obeyed.”
“It’s not even done yet,” your instructor grins. “This is still a work in progress, the beginning of something great. Now, my dear. Do you trust me with the rest of it?”