As a young boy, Benjamin loved the Pennsylvania countryside. The wild outdoors was his playground. The tenth child of a Quaker innkeeper and tavern proprietor, Benjamin would run through the hills and woods of the untamed wilderness and, would admire the beauty of creation.
With so many siblings to compete with, he sought to make his own, unique mark on the world. One day when his mother was away from their home, Benjamin was left in charge of his little sister Sally. Finding bottles of ink and some paper, he decided to paint Sally’s portrait. As he endeavored to portray her faithfully, he did not pay attention and, his ink dripped on the floor and table making a big mess. When his mother arrived home, she saw the mess created by the ink but chose to say nothing. Looking at the table, she saw the portrait and exclaimed, “Why, this is Sally!” Proud of her son, she bent over and kissed his cheek.
“With that kiss,” said Benjamin West, “my mother made me a painter.”
Benjamin West became one of the great American artists. “In 1760, William Allen (a wealthy merchant, Chief Justice, and Mayor of Pennsylvania) and William Smith sponsored West’s travel to Italy, where he learned the painting techniques of the masterful Italian artists Titian and Raphael. While living in Italy for the next three years, he became acquainted with neo-classical influences before settling in London in 1763. In 1764, West placed his first painting done in England, Angelica and Medoro, and his Rome painting, Cymon and Iphigenia, in an exhibition in Spring Gardens, where they gained much attention. The following year, he married Elizabeth Shewell, a fellow American.
In 1768, King George III became a patron of West’s. They had discussions about how to promote the creation and appreciation of the visual arts through education, leading to the establishment of a Royal Academy of Arts in London. In 1792, West became the president of the Royal Academy, and he was also the historical painter appointed to the court as well.” 1
All this because of a single kiss from his mother. Scripture says, “What a joy to give an apt reply, and how delightful is a timely word!” Proverbs 15:23. I wonder if you understand how important encouragement is? How many children AND adults have never furthered their talent because we notice the mess they make instead of the masterpiece?
I remember as a boy, MY mother brought home an IBM Selectric typewriter and said I could use it anytime. I would write fictional stories, poetry, and private thoughts all on the onionskin paper I would buy at Cummins Bookstore. Somewhere in all my childish writings, my mother saw something and, like Benjamin West, kissed my cheek and said, “You were meant to write.” Whether you know it or not, many a legend pressed on due to the encouragement of their parents.
But there are some parents and teachers, employers and church leaders, who; instead of seeing the potential in the lives of those they influence, only see the mess, the childishness, and the raw, imperfect beginnings. The Bible teaches us, “Do not despise the day of small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” Zechariah 4:10
God is not ashamed of you OR your imperfect beginnings. He does not criticize you when you aspire to begin something greater than yourself. God encourages us to step out into waters too deep for us to navigate ourselves. But, too often, we or those who we live and work with, are impatient for the perfect and have no time or patience for the work to be “perfected.”
I remember as a boy, sitting at that Selectric typewriter, and as I would write, my dear mother would play a recording of the New York Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy, performing “The Moldau.” The Moldau is a symphonic poem by Bohemian composer Bedřich Smetana that evokes the flow of the Vltava River—or, in German, the Moldau—from its source in the mountains of the Bohemian Forest, through the Czech countryside, to the city of Prague. If you have never heard it, it sweeps you along in its powerful current. Today, even now, as I write, I hear the strains of The Moldau in my head and remember that my mother would say to me, “You are a little brook right now Doug, but someday, God will make you a mighty river…” My goal in life is to have the force of The Moldau. With those words, my mother made me a writer.
Who has been your encourager? And, equally, I ask you, “Whom are YOU encouraging?” Our words make SUCH a powerful difference in the lives of people. The first attempts of someone trying to do something new are always going to be clumsy. Scripture says, “The lips of the righteous feed many.” Proverbs 10:21.
All of our lives should be a mighty river…a powerful force in the world. Never give up on your dream…never give up on your gifting…never abandon the hope that God has written on your soul. You are made for greatness, you are designed to forcefully move in the earth. Speak to the gift in your soul and say, “Spring forth into joy oh my soul!” and speak it into the lives of those whom you influence. There is the next great playwright, author, scientist, musician in your very sphere of influence…who’s cheek can you kiss and inspire a masterpiece?
Overlook the mess…don’t see the small brook…but look into the future and see the mighty river it will become!