Hammered and Chiseled

I had an English professor once tell me, “The greater the pain, the greater the artist.” These were to be words of consolation. At the time (my early twenties), I had suffered two nightmarish panic attacks that sent my body into temporary states of paralysis. All the symptoms psychosomatic: anxiety, shame, guilt, and worry viciously cycled around my body like rocks in a dryer.

I’d later share this expression with friends or strangers. Some thought it true. Others didn’t see the logic. I was somewhere in between the responses. Taken inversely, the statement supposes that “The lesser the pain, the lesser the artist.” This then leads us to conclude that if we are to be “Great”, as it relates to art or life, then we must experience “Great Pain”. I didn’t want this to be true, and many would likely share my response. This means that in a way, ‘Greatness’ is something to be desired. But it comes at the cost of experiencing great pain. True, placing value on greatness is a subjective matter; however, we do know what good weather is versus that of great weather.

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.


For years the expression would appear now and again. And I would juggle it around in my mind to see if there was a sound application and meaning. I then realized the real issue with it. It wasn’t finished. It should read: “The greater the pain, the greater the artist could be.” As I understand it, pain and sorrow exist in the same spectrum of emotion. Or better put, they are two sides of the same coin. Understanding one gives you a basis to appreciate and accept the other.

You’ve heard the expression, “This will make or break you.” It’s a binary phrase that assumes two different outcomes. In this case of pain, its true intent is to simultaneously  SHATTER and CREATE you; it too seeks to accomplish two outcomes, but with with one intention. And it does the first part on its own (shatter). The second part (create) is what you have to do. You have to DECIDE to let it make you — that’s the “could be” addition to the phrase.

You see, we are like blocks of stone out of which the sculptor carves forms of men. The blows of His chisel, which hurt so much, are what makes us perfect.

C.S. Lewis

Refusing to let it pain free you, is like a child refusing to leave the nursery. Refusal is also denial. Deny your pain and you remain in the state of that pain. Own your pain. How? SHARE IT. Save yourself from letting it fester and poison and tell someone about it. I had those horrible panic attacks because I kept quiet. Time to cough it up. Expose it to the light so you can see it, understand it, and grow up. Pain’s job isn’t to destroy you, its to create you.

One thought on “Hammered and Chiseled”

  1. Well said, I can recall moments of anxiety, which you described and I had to learn to open up and share with others, it wasn’t easy for me.


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