This past Saturday (June 4, 2016), I was with my mother, my brother, and one of my sisters in Parkersburg, West Virginia, to bury my aunt. Helen Hartshorn Youngblood: artist, wife, mother, deacon, sister, aunt, friend. My Aunt Helen had a profound influence on me. This is the first of what may be several blog posts I write as I think about what I learned from her.
There is a painting hanging in my mom’s kitchen that Aunt Helen painted. For years, every time Helen would visit my mom, she would want to take the painting back to Parkersburg with her and work on it some more. She was never happy with it. Specifically, she wanted to re-do the pear. But my mom wouldn’t let her. “This represents who you were when you painted it, not the painter you wound up being,” she told her. “I like it just the way it is.”
If you’ve lived at all, you have a few regrets. You have a few pears you wish you could paint over. Nobody paints it right the first time. And artists can look at paintings they did early in life and say, “But I’ve learned so much since then!” Poets cringe at the sappiness and naivete of their poems from high school. People who journal can look at entries from a certain day (or even a certain season of days) and be tempted to rip those pages out. In those times, we can all do well to remember my mom’s advice to her sister. The artist we were is not the same as the artist we become. Leave the pear alone, and don’t think twice about signing your name to the work.
Paul tells us, in his letter to the Philippians, that he is confident of this very thing: that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Consistently in Scripture, we are reminded to forget what lies behind, and to press on to what is ahead (Philippians 3:13-14). That what we will be has not yet been revealed (1 John 3:2). And if there is a sermon you would have preached differently, or a poem you would have written differently, or a pear you would have painted differently, or a day you would have lived differently, then let them all stand as a testimony to where God has led you.
Jesus’ last words on the cross, according to John’s gospel, were “It is finished” (John 19:30). In the Greek, the word is τελέω. It carries the meaning of an action being fulfilled or accomplished according to a command. It’s the last act that completes a process. Significantly, τελέω is also the root of the word for “perfect” that is used in Philippians 1:6.
There will come a day when our work is accomplished, because there has already been a day when Jesus’ work was accomplished. When we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. My Aunt Helen had her work completed this weekend, and she heard her Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, come and share in the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:23).
Until that day, we keep painting, composing, singing, dancing, building, sculpting, and journaling. We are artists, every one of us; contributing our stanzas and quatrains and couplets; our still lifes and studies and portraits and landscapes to God’s great masterpiece. The artists we were are not the artists we will become. But if we are gentle with ourselves, and if we leave the pear alone, we can see how far our God has brought us.