Spiritual Practices

Processing Anxiety Through Art

We recently sat down with artist Marissa Recker to discuss the piece she created for Worship Where You Are. For Marissa, art has been an outlet to process feelings of stress and anxiety.

Q: Marissa, tell us a little bit about this piece and how it came to be.

A: The piece started as a way for me to represent God’s love in our lives and how it spreads out. As you can see in the piece, it’s very dense in the center–this represents  the depth of Christ’s love for us. As we move away from the center, the paint begins to spread out in every direction–just as God’s love spreads into every corner of our lives.

Can you tell me a little about how faith and art intersect in your life? Has your faith always influenced your art, or is this new to you?

I’ve been doing art for a long time but only recently have I started to integrate my faith as a way for me to clear my head, connect with God, and express thoughts and feelings through color and texture that I can’t always do verbally.

I often find that splattering paint and colors on a canvas is a way for me to express how I’m feeling. I’m able to turn to the canvas when I feel frustrated or angry or passionate about something, and I can express those feelings through color and art. Those are feelings we experience at different points of our faith, so I think it’s good to have an outlet to process that mentally, and hopefully create something beautiful.

Can you tell me a little bit about your mental health journey?

When I was first contacted to do this piece, I immediately said yes. A part of my eagerness was because of the song choice–“Fall Afresh.” This is a song I used to listen to as I was processing the start of an anxiety disorder. When I had panic attacks, I would sit down and listen to this song to help me process those emotions.

Painting has also helped me deal with anxiety and stress. It has become a really helpful way to process a difficult time, while also trying to understand Christ’s role in the suffering and why I was experiencing the things I was experiencing.

How has your faith become a way to deal with those struggles?

Initially, it was a difficult time in my faith. I couldn’t figure out why I was  going through these struggles. It was really frustrating. I had a lot of feelings and I didn’t understand why I had all the stress. Since art is a way that I deal with frustration, I remember the specific moment I sat down, grabbed a bunch of red paint (because I was really angry), and started painting. I was listening to the “Fall Afresh” song and I began to understand. Thankfully God put a lot of people and resources in my life to help me deal with that.

But it’s the moments when I sit down with paint that I feel like I can think through things most clearly.  I can push aside anger and just sit and take a deep breath and process what’s going on. Those are the moments when I feel myself opening up to God. When I’m calm and focusing on something that’s not super distracting. That’s when I’m able to listen to Him. 

What’s something that God has told you, through this piece or through some of the pieces you’ve been working on?

One of the most valuable lessons God has taught me through art is that it’s okay to process things and be frustrated sometimes. I think God gives us tools–art being a big tool in my life–to deal with that. I might not come up with the answer, but it’s a way for me to start to figure out something difficult.

What were some of the thoughts that went through your head as you were working on the canvas today?

As I was working on this piece, I was trying to think about how best to illustrate the spreading of God’s love in a tangible way. When I was brainstorming, I thought about doing the center of the piece at the top, and then gradually make it smaller as it dropped down, but then I realized God’s love doesn’t necessarily go in one direction. So that’s why I came up with the circle idea. I wanted it to have greater density in the center and then spread out into a more detailed space.


A huge thanks to Marisa for sharing with us a little bit of her journey!

For each week of the Struggle is Real series, we will recommend resources that might be helpful to you or someone you love.

To read more about dealing with worry and anxiety, consider picking up one of these books:

Making All Things New by Henri Nouwen

In this short book, Nouwen uses the passage about worry in Matthew 6 as a springboard to talk about the Spirit-filled life. In the first part, he discusses the destructive side effects of worry in our lives. In the second, he shows us how Jesus responds to our paralyzing worries and offers us a new life. Finally, in the third, he describes specific ways we can loosen the grip of worry on our souls, allowing us to be more aware of the Spirit of God working in our lives.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequest

Years of striving and living at a frantic pace had left Shauna feeling exhausted and ill–in both her soul and body. This book is an invitation for others to join in the journey that helped bring healing back into her life. She encourages readers to make intentional decisions about slowing down and making space to connect with God.

Tiffany Malloy
About the Author: Tiffany Malloy
Tiffany Malloy is the Pastor of Blackhawk Downtown Team Development. Tiffany and her family landed in Madison in 2013 for her husband to attend graduate school. When she’s not managing her crazy (awesome) kids, Tiffany loves reading, running, and blogging about all things faith and books.