We are constantly under pressure to succeed and do well, to meet expectations and standards- at school, university, at work, in sport and in relationships. When we don’t meet up to our own or others’ standards, it can be hard to handle and can lead to low self-esteem and a lack of self-worth.

As an academic high achiever, I have always set the bar high for myself. The flipside of perfectionism is that I’m never fully content with what I’ve achieved and have a tendency to get frustrated with myself when I make silly mistakes or forget something. Becoming aware of my own limits and acknowledging that things don’t always go to plan has been difficult. I’d always wanted to be an artist, but a period of full-time dedication to this endeavour resulted in disappointment, isolation and a lack of creative drive and motivation. It’s taken time to start accepting that maybe being an artist, for me, doesn’t look the way I thought it would, that a change of direction is not a failure.

God has been gently challenging me lately about all this — reminding me that he expects nothing more of me than surrender. That academic or professional success are not targets He has set for me, that He is only interested in my heart. It’s only when I stop trying, give up and let go- when I admit defeat and reach the end of my abilities — when I well and truly fail- only then am I really where he wants me. Only when my pride in my own endeavours has been properly broken apart can I really accept and understand his love and grace. Knowing that my value in His eyes is as high as it’s ever been when I’m as low as I’ve ever been, and letting that shape the way I see myself, I am slowly learning to be gentler towards myself and to forgive my own mistakes more readily. Where my natural response is shame and frustration, I am trying to be more accepting of imperfection.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9–10

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26

I have been trying to explore some of these thoughts creatively- so far my experiments are unresolved, inconsistent and unfinished. But I have decided that that is ok, and perhaps appropriate. I am exploring what a difference it makes if I give myself permission to do things badly or at least imperfectly. To not worry if my work is sometimes mediocre, amateurish or unoriginal. Surely it is better to be creating something unexceptional than to do nothing out of fear that it won’t be good enough? The practice and process of creating is the only way to develop these skills.

Kintsugi pot © tsugi.de
Kintsugi pot © tsugi.de

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. Similarly, Christ’s redemption increases our value, his grace and mercy being the gold repairing our brokenness.

Surely it is better to be creating something unexceptional than to do nothing, out of fear that it won’t be good enough? The practice and process of creating is the only way to develop these skills.

With this as my inspiration I am currently working on a series of canvases, which I am calling ‘Riven’, as a way of exploring the themes of failure and acceptance, damage and repair, beauty and brokenness. Each canvases’ surface has been cut or punctured in some way, some I then ‘repair’ using materials such as silk and gold thread to accentuate the value and beauty of the healing process. Others I am leaving broken, allowing the cracks and fissures to stand alone as my artistic impact on the canvas.

Sarah Ann Davies Riven
Element of ‘Riven’ canvas series, Sarah Davies

Kintsugi poem:

I’m a broken pot,
cracked and shattered
Unable to contain, to hold

You gather me up
Reassemble and repair
Fusing my fissures with gold