“…we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame (disappoint us), because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3b-5
OK. So this week I haven’t really been suffering.
I mean I have, but not really in any spiritual way. But wait. That might not be true. I don’t know.
One thing I’m not known for being good at:
Finishing things I start. (McColgins, I will finish the horse!)
Some of you might not see me like that. Some of you might. But it’s one aspect I know tends to be part of my personality. It might be part of being an ‘artist’ or ‘free-spirit’, but it’s not a good part of it.
This week I have struggled. Like STRUGGLED, with finishing 2 different commissions because I keep having roadblocks in my way. And really, it hasn’t been the last week. It’s been the last month that these have been weighing on my mind. Maybe two now that I’m really thinking about it.
This pot. I’m really excited to do it. Was really excited. Now I just want to be done with it. I started it a fourth time because, in brief, none of the others have worked, all for different reasons.
It might sound simple to all of you. However, each time I make a new one, I have to reconstitute either hard or soft clay so that it’s the right consistency. I have to make a mold for it to go over. I have to roll slabs of clay by hand. Then I have to let it dry just the right amount before I take the mold out. Too early and the clay doesn’t hold its shape. Too late and it cracks from drying too much.
Each one is about 2-3 hours each at least. Plus drying time. Plus kiln time. If it makes it through the kiln, it then has to be glazed and put in the kiln for a final glaze firing.
In other words, it’s a lot of manual labor.
To do a fourth one, I had to battle quite a few emotions.
I felt like failure. I haven’t gotten this piece out in time. Things go wrong every time.
I have other things I would rather be doing. This was supposed to be finished, out of my studio and out of my mind. Off my to-do list.
Anger. I don’t know how to explain this one. It was just there. Frustration.
Here’s the thing. Each of those emotions made me dread dealing with this, with getting it done.
I had to make a choice to do the next right thing.
I had to make a choice to clean off my work table again.
I had to make a choice to get out cardboard, duct tape, a box cutter, and my rulers to make a new mold.
I had to make a choice to get my dry clay and wet clay and pound, divide, and wedge them together, to get really messy.
I had to make a choice to do the tedious job of pounding, rolling and flopping clay into even slabs. Put it all together. Wait for the right amount of time to finish up this part of it before it can totally dry.
I had to make the choice to keep going. To just do the next thing. Because the thought of all of it together, along with my other commission, totally overwhelmed me.
Currently the 4th pot is drying. Hopefully it will work. It’s going to get a good week and a half to dry before I consider putting it in the kiln.
What’s the point in continuing to try at something I keep failing at?
I’ve discovered I feel OK not being good at some things the first or even second time I try. For instance, language learning.
When I lived overseas, I decided early on that my goal was to be OK making language mistakes, even big ones (and I did). I threw myself into conversations, talking around a word I needed, describing it until someone provided it.
One of my favorite instances was when I was looking for bubble wrap. Now, this sounds like it should be easy to find in shops. Have you ever thought about how to describe bubble wrap?
“I’m looking for plastic that you wrap around things so that they don’t break. There are bubbles filled with air. They create spaces.”
Seriously, I used all those words.
I was pretty impressed with myself. I think I even came up with another little tidbit to describe it.
Finally, I found a small piece of it in one shop.
“This! What’s the word for this?!”
Literally the word for bubble-wrap is plastic. Plastic. Nothing descriptive.
Just like jelly beans. The word for jelly beans is the same as for any candy.
It literally means ‘something sweet’. Seriously.
During one of my lessons, I was going through a kids’ book with my teacher, describing the story through the pictures. There was a dragon crying in the picture. I told her that the dragon was crying for some reason, and that his tear would turn into a …. jellybean? What’s the word for jellybean in Arabic?
‘Something sweet’ (in Arabic, of course)
This came to mind:
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I informed her that there needed to be a name for a jelly bean. And since there isn’t currently one in Arabic, we are going to call them ‘Dragon’s tears.’
“Demo-eh te-neen” is how they’re pronounced.
There. Now you know Arabic.
Demo-eh is tears, te-neen is dragon. Put them together and you get jelly beans. Only 5 people (my teacher’s family and myself) would understand what you mean. But hey, if we can make up words in English, I can make them up in Arabic, right?
Making all these mistakes and being OK with them made me almost fearless learning Arabic. It helped me learn more quickly. I had a LOT of fun learning Arabic. It’s still one of my favorite years of my life, even with everything that happened with my team (read the first post to understand more).
Why am I OK making mistakes in a language but not in other areas of life?
I really think expecting to make mistakes and then making the decision to be OK with them was what allowed me to enjoy it.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”
What if this is the key? What if God wants us to expect ourselves to fail but to get up, self-correct, and press on in what we failed? In relationships. In jobs. In monotony. In chaos. In pain. In joy.
Do we just move on?
No. We correct what we have messed up. We make things right. With people. With situations. We forgive. We ask for forgiveness when we mess up.
Expecting perfection from ourselves brings fear of trying.
What if God wants us to be free to fail? He wants us to try to live like He has called us to, and that means as free! It means we will fail! If we are throwing ourselves toward Him, we don’t need to be scared to fail. “He remembers that we are dust.”
Really, I’m typing these words to give myself courage to press on. To be OK failing. To enjoy the learning process. To do the next right thing.
He remembers that we are nothing. That we have no capacity in ourselves to be good. We can’t be or do good enough. So why expect perfection? My job is to press on and to enjoy the learning process, even if I look foolish.
What’s your next right thing?