Art & Healing: Drawing (1/6)
“Jesus loves me, this I know / For the Bible tells me so.” So we used to sing in Sunday School. But I didn’t feel like a well-loved child because of how I was raised.
I never really realized how wrong my childhood was until I became a parent myself. Even though my parents divorced when I was 4 years old and my mother moved in with my grandparents several states away, my dad could have maintained more meaningful contact with us than he did. Though my mother loved us to the extent of her ability, she was mired in her own internal pain, illness and immaturity, which made her someone that I pitied, but could not depend on. And though my grandmother provided structure, she was a stern and unrelenting taskmaster and critic.
We — my five brothers and sisters and I — were used for chores, and then sent off on our own to get us out from underfoot. We even ate our meals in a separate room from the grownups. With all that large-family competition, especially from two closely spaced younger siblings, I rarely got lap time with my mom. Number four out of six and the quietest of them all, I felt lost in the crowd, almost invisible.
Healing comes in layers like an onion, and God only peels off the layers as you are strong enough to face them.
When, in my mid-fifties, I had an illness that knocked me off my feet and returned me to that feeling of helplessness, I sensed that this was an opportunity to go deeper into my healing than I had yet gone. It felt like a “thin” place, in which the pain of my childhood was closer than it had been in many decades. Healing comes in layers like an onion, and God only peels off the layers as you are strong enough to face them. It was time for the deepest layer yet.
Without anyone directing me, I started doing simple line drawings of myself as a girl with Jesus as my father. (I know, I know. I’m mixing together members of the Trinity. But in the language of the heart, it makes perfect sense. Jesus is the Father made flesh, the only one I can conceive of drawing a picture of!)
In these drawings, Jesus comforted me; held me on His lap and rocked me; laughed as I twirled in girlish glee, then caught me as I fell, dizzy, into His arms. He even just sat cross-legged with me as I wove a crown of clover flowers. I never had a parent who cherished me for just being me. Who delighted in watching me play. For whom I was not just one out of many, but a long-wished for daughter, the apple of his eye. This was the beginning of my deepest level of healing.
If the experiences and internalized messages of my childhood left me with feelings of worthlessness and invisibility, this reparenting work that I’ve done in His presence has made me feel loved and lovable.
What’s so important about the process of creating these simple drawings? It’s the power of image, of visualization. Spending the time it takes to create a drawing is a way of dwelling on that image, almost a meditation, which allows it to soak into one’s subconscious. The funny thing is that one’s brain can’t tell the difference between an actual memory and a scene imagined in detail. Both conjure up the same brain chemicals and use the same neural pathways.
Psychologists would call this particular series of drawings a kind of reparenting, and it certainly feels that way to me. If the experiences and internalized messages of my childhood left me with feelings of worthlessness and invisibility, this reparenting work that I’ve done in His presence has made me feel loved and lovable. I feel more loving toward my own little girl self. And, since it actually is TRUE that “Jesus love me, this I know,” it is more than just a clever bit of psychic manipulation; it is a profound movement towards the Truth of who I am in Him.
Next post: Art & Healing: Music (2/6)