Since I was young, I’ve been told I could be an artist, so I took pride in my ability to draw and paint. Then, I became friends with someone I considered a real artist and I realized that I was, in fact, average at drawing. I became envious of her.
So I tried to improve my skills by watching YouTube videos of sped-up paintings, dreaming about being able to draw effortlessly. I spent more time analyzing why I can’t draw than actually practicing the craft. I’m not talented, I told myself.
One day, I came across digital art tutorials on YouTube, and saw that these artists could achieve special effects on a screen without using expensive paper, special paint brushes, or a specific color of paint! That’s it, I thought, I can make up for my lack of talent and supplies with technology! I can be good at digital drawing.
All I needed to do was to invest in a tablet.
So I bought one. It was a few hundred dollars, and I was broke for a long time afterwards. My parents were worried that I had made an uncharacteristically impulsive purchase. And then I realized that the tablet I purchased didn’t have all the functions those Youtubers’ had.
I practiced with it (twice), but got frustrated when the finished product was nowhere near what I saw others achieve on YouTube. I’m not cut out for this, I concluded, and sold that tablet (at half the price I got it for) and gave up on my dreams of being an artist.
My story is a drastic example of a common experience. Think about your dreams. Are they driven by envy of what others have and what they can do? As the Preacher said, “This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (v. 4).
Or perhaps, we get perfectionist paralysis, and “fold our hands and ruin ourselves” (v. 5) by doing nothing. Just like how I gave up on drawing because I couldn’t achieve perfection in my first few sketches. We choose to do nothing because doing something feels like too much. Like fools, we retreat to the safety of laziness (and in my case, sleep).
Instead of losing ourselves in envy or idleness, we can strive for a balanced middle road, or as the Teacher puts it, “a handful of quietness” (v. 6, ESV). I could’ve continued to invest responsibly in growing as an artist, but without concern for whether my art was better than others. While God’s Word doesn’t provide art tutorials, it does give me a broader perspective on how my entire life, including the art I create, should be pleasing to God (Romans 12:1-2). If that’s my goal, then my art just needs to reflect His love and goodness in my life.
I’m learning to stop looking at the people around me as models of who I should be, but to turn my gaze to Jesus, and imitate Him and obey His Word in all I do, so that I may use the gifts and skills He has entrusted me with to live faithfully for Him (1 Corinthians 10:31).
I’m now less inhibited by my shortcomings as an artist and freer to focus on depicting the beauty of the world God has created. Along the way, if God reveals a particular aspect of my art that I need to work on to proclaim Him better, then that’ll be my motivation to improve.
—By Carol Lerh, Singapore
Questions for reflection
- What’s something in your life that you might be doing out of envy of your neighbor?
- What would “a handful of quietness” look like in this circumstance?