The Old Paint Can and Me

This summer’s big project is replacing some windows in our house. While professionals are doing the installation, my husband and I decided to paint the new window frames ourselves. We’d use the old paint stored in the cellar that matched the woodwork of each room. It was only eighteen years old!

A worthy plan, I thought, and my father who worked his way through college as a painter would be proud of me. I began to explore the dusty shelves of old gallon cans, brushing away spider webs and dirt and trying to read the faded labels written so long ago. I eventually discovered a cryptic scrawl on one can: “Study wood.” And on another: “Master bed.” These I could use.

The challenge was just beginning. Rusty and misshapen, the first lid stubbornly fought my efforts to lift it. I used a putty knife, and then a screwdriver. I persisted; the lid resisted. I kept prying at it, and the lid shifted but still clung tightly to the dried paint on its inside edge. Finally, bit by bit, I pulled all around the lip, and the lid slowly lifted.

What a mess inside! Instead of the soft peachy-pink I expected, it was bluish-brown with a thick, hard crust. Oops, this must be the wrong can. Discouraged, I began to search the shelves again, but nothing else seemed likely. Finally, I decided to stir the paint in the can I had opened. If I couldn’t use it, I needed to dispose of it. I pulled off the surface crust and found — an oily bluish-brown mess underneath.

I began to stir. And I stirred and stirred. At first nothing changed, but then wisps of pink began slowly to appear. As I kept on stirring, the thick paint recovered more and more of its soft pink shade. I stared in delight as my “Master bed” paint gradually reclaimed its true color.

Finally I was ready to paint. I dipped my brush into the smooth pale color, and spread paint onto the frame of the window through which the sun would shine, through which the world would glow in morning freshness and in evening peace. I had recalled the paint to its true identity, a thing of beauty and service.

This small, frustrating episode of the old paint can reminded me how I can be like a stubborn old can of paint! I, too, can be resistant and closed. I can fight against my world changing. And sometimes my crust can persuade people there’s no hidden beauty underneath.

The truth is I, and perhaps all of us, need God’s help to crack open our lives and stir us up. It is so easy to remain closed. Guarding ourselves under a tight lid and a thick skin may feel safer than being open, but we’re not fully living when we’re hidden away. We need the Divine One whose patient persistence pries open the sealed places. What happens when our lids come off? Yes, we are more vulnerable, more likely to feel pain. We are also more likely to know love and joy. We become more alive and awake to this amazing world we live in.

When God stirs us, we can slowly become more like the person we were created to be. God’s stirring might be experienced as a fierce challenge or as a gentle nudge stretching us in new ways. We might see a need and offer to help. Perhaps we discover colors, I mean gifts, we didn’t know we had inside us. And when we use them, when we care about and are involved in the world, our own unique beauty is revealed. We have grown into ourselves.

I’m glad I patiently kept working on the old can of paint. And I’m especially glad God keeps on working on us so we can become our true colors!

If this reflection has spoken to you, please share it with another.

8 thoughts on “The Old Paint Can and Me”

  1. I so enjoyed your story about the old paint cans. It’s such a lovely illustration of how God speaks to us and offers his divine guidance. I imagine it’s constantly there for us – we only need to have the open minds, hearts and souls to hear it. How blessed we are to have such a loving, patient Father and Teacher. Thank you for sharing your own beautiful insights.

    1. Thank you, Catherine. I agree that the divine guidance we need is constantly there for us. The challenge for us is opening ourselves so we can receive it. That needs God’s assistance, too. I’m so glad this writing spoke to you. Nancy

  2. Nancy, i loved this piece. The metaphors are beautiful and so insightful. What impressed me a lot was your determination to the whole can probably. ☺️ Im in the hospital right now and this was a bright spot to start my morning. Thank you, Nancy.

    1. Dear Peggy, I hope you will soon be home from the hospital. I’m especially glad that the reflection I wrote spoke was a gift for you. We all need to be opened and stirred! Nancy

  3. As my life is stirred up this year, this is a welcome reminder to be brave and open to the possibilities of true colors returning. Thank you for all your blog posts. They are beautiful.

    1. Thank you, Kay, for writing and letting me know that this was a reminder for to be open during this transition time! I am glad this post and others, too, have spoken to you. True beauty within rises even more in times of change. May it be so for you. Nancy

  4. I never considered an old can of paint as a metaphor for our lives, but now I do! It is true that we need to be pried open and stirred up by God to reach our full potential. And just like that paint we become fresh and new.

    1. Thanks, Laurie. I’m glad this metaphor was alive for you. Now that I’ve finished the painting, I am particularly aware of the beauty that was hidden within the old paint can. Nancy

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