copyright 2020 Mollie Bozarth
When I get anxious, it’s typically about “unknowns.” That’s normal, right? Someone said recently that we never have control over our future or know exactly what’s coming next. But, situations like the pandemic make us come face to face with that reality – that uncertainty. I don’t like it. I prefer certainty! Ironically, fear, anxiety, depression, and addictions are often an outward sign of our inward struggle/desire to control life (feeling that life is out of control). I felt some of that cropping up a couple weeks ago as I tried to mentally prepare for a school year that looks nothing like any year I’ve experienced before.
I felt the knot in my stomach. The heartburn. The headache.
Then God gently put things in place to help me. He had a family contact me about tutoring their daughter in art. Initially, I was hesitant to tutor this fall (have enough on my plate already). Then, to tutor over Zoom was even less appealing. But I started meetings with the young lady, and she is a delight to teach! (I have forgiven her for being a student at our rival high school – Neuqua.) Planning lessons for her has enabled me to try out Zoom-teaching techniques and see that virtual learning can still include connection, demonstration, feedback, etc. The prospect of multiplying my experience with her up to class sizes of 20-32 kids is still daunting. But I’m not anxious now. The knot in my stomach is gone. The headaches are gone. Heartburn (if you know me) is just how my life goes.
It is a semi-annual tradition for me to write a blog post based on a painting completed for a recent grad. This blog post is dedicated to the 2020 grads, those headed to college for the first time, and those headed out who may have experienced college before but never in this way. Really, this blog post is for all of us (college or no) who are facing an autumn of uncertainty. Things don’t look like we want them to. We’re dealing with disappointment and other roiling emotions. We don’t like change. And plans are changing constantly these days. That’s why we need a ROCK.
I chose the verse from Psalm 62:6 because God is a rock we can count on when everything else seems to shift like quicksand around us. The full verse says: “God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I will not be shaken.” Grads and others, where do you put your trust? Is it in your plans? – they’ll fall apart or be forced to change. Is it in your work? – unemployment rates will tell you there’s no certainty there. Is it in your family? – then fear of losing a loved one to Covid can send you reeling. God ALONE is my true fortress. He is the foundation that will not be moved.
Does this mean that Christians never struggle with anxiety, depression, or fear? Heck, no! Scholars have counted up 365 times in the Bible where we are commanded: “Do not fear!” They say it’s the most frequent command found in scripture. God says it over and over because He knows we struggle with it!
When my eyes are on the roiling mess of uncertainties surrounding me, my heart begins to sink. But, when I look up, look around at the hopeful and sure light breaking through gloom, there is a calm that cannot be shaken. The light source isn’t any latest breaking news. It isn’t a prospective vaccine. Nor is it the “light at the end of the tunnel” idea that eventually this chaos will settle down and life will return to normal. No. The light is there no matter what news and vaccines bring. The light has been there since the beginning of time, before chaos unsettled earth. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…In him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5) The Word was God. The Word is my rock. The Word is my salvation. I will not be shaken.
There is a passage in Ephesians that talks about the armor of God. It talks about our struggle not being against flesh and blood but against things going on around us that we can’t see. It says “after you have done everything, simply stand…with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” (Eph. 6:10-17) You’ll notice in the painting above that the girl is barefoot and relaxed. A child of faith is able to be vulnerable because her strength lies not in shoes or visible armor but in a surety of the power and safety of her protector, her fortress, her rock.
My prayer for the 2020 grads, and anyone else reading this, is that we walk barefoot through the chaos, trusting the God who guides our steps. That we climb up out of the fog of uncertainty to sit where we can look out over a clear horizon. That we turn our face to the sunlight of our savior, allowing him to cast out any chilly gloom. That we rest in the strength of a God who will not be shaken. That our rest in Him becomes an unshakable calm within our own souls. With this, you can face tomorrow. With this, you can look forward to these last few months of 2020, rather than merely try to survive them.
About the Artwork
This is what I call an illustrative portrait. It’s not an exact likeness of the girl for whom it was painted, but there are similarities between this character and the real girl. She enjoys sports and is athletic. And, as long as I’ve known her, she’s sought to grow in her faith and make God a solid foundation for her life.
If you had seen this painting several weeks ago, you’d be surprised at the changes made. At first, I had many browns and flesh tones in the “hand of God” built into the rock. I did a couple days of work, then let it sit for two weeks. When I revisited it, I decided it was a “nice painting” but I wanted to simplify the color scheme and create a definite mood. The great thing about acrylic is that it’s easy to change details. However, it’s scary as an artist to take something “good” and paint over it, hoping to make something even better! I started blocking in greys and purples…and immediately regretted it. It was now a flat, formless mess of a hand. So, I prayed and worked and reworked. Slowly the new form emerged. Same thing with the rocks. I liked the rock formation in the “brown version” of the painting. Then I took out a palette knife, started massing in black and grey, and made a mess. Had to let the knife painting dry, then rework over top. I was able to salvage/keep only a few of my knife painting strokes. As I began lettering, I realized the ground was too busy (couldn’t read the words clearly). So, that section also gained several layers of paint before I was happy with lettering style, spacing and contrast. Did I get the sky right on the first try? Of course not! I “finished” the painting, emailed a photo to my mom, and she agreed that the sky was too gloomy. The effect was more “zombie apocalypse” than fog fading to sunlight. After a few more tweaks the illustration was finally complete.
Originally, I had not planned to put God’s hand into the scene. It was just going to be a girl sitting on a cliff. But the rock I sketched below her looked like a knuckle and thumb. I had used imagery of God’s hand holding a girl in last year’s grad painting, titled For the Grads – Held. So the image of a fist, representing strength, worked well here. Yes, it is also the symbol for rock in the ever-famous rock-paper-scissors battle. One of my favorite aspects of God as Father is that we never grow too old or too big to fit safely in the palm of His hand…or, in this case, to perch and rest upon His knuckle.