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Smudge a Painting, Find Your Miracle

Imagine traveling across Spain, and wandering through the beautiful architecture of a church. Inside you see a century-old fresco that has signs of wear and tear. I’m betting – and I’m not a betting man – that you would either take a look, spend a moment in prayer, or continue walking.

Surely, you wouldn’t pull out oil paints with a brush in hand and paint over it would you? Especially given that – chances are – you’re not an accomplished painter, and – chances are – you wouldn’t have the audacity to blemish an iconic religious image.

Cecilia the Bold

Well, that’s exactly what an 83-year-old widow and amateur painter, Cecilia Giménez, did in a small town in Spain. She tried her hand at restoring a nearly century-old fresco of Jesus in a local church. At first, she faced nothing but ridicule and scorn. Her smudged restoration attempt rocketed around the world on Facebook and Twitter.

But with this embarrassment came global publicity on an epic scale. Borja, a small town of just 5,000, has become a magnet for thousands of tourists, resurrecting the local economy. More than 150,000 tourists from around the world have flocked to the Gothic 16th century Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mercy on a mountain overlooking Borja. Nearby vineyards are arguing over rights to splash the image on their wine labels.

The people of Borja are calling the whole thing a sheer miracle – how a woman who ruined a painting saved a town.

Impossible To Restore

So why have I chosen this story to share with you this holiday season? Because the lessons are profound.

We should never be too afraid to pull out the paintbrush, even when we know the painting cannot be fully restored. We are each complex creatures. Like a masterpiece fresco, each of us can seem impossible to restore.

The story of Cecilia and her town of Borja teaches us that trying to improve something, even when it leads to more blemishes, can be a good thing. A masterpiece did not stop her. She didn’t let doubt dissuade her, nor a lack of skill. She had faith, and believed something – anything – would help a decaying fresco. She applied paint, and let the rest take care of itself. She wasn’t afraid to try.

And that’s something we should never forget: when you feel too far beyond repair, making a small change – a smudge – can reap real rewards.

Smudges Can Become Miracles

Cecilia also taught us that the goal is not to get something closer to perfection. Sometimes, smudges can do wonders. In Cecilia’s case and for the town of Borja, a few thoughtful smudges turned into miracles.

This holiday season, I challenge you to list a few things about yourself that you want changed. Pull out the proverbial paintbrush and start making smudges. Change things up a bit. Anything. Avoid perfection.

Tired of feeling gloomy? Smile in the car while driving. Simple. That’s a smudge. Tired of feeling angry? Complement a stranger. Simple. Another smudge. Want to feel more energized? Hit the bed 30 min earlier. Simple. Another smudge. The point is to start painting, start smudging, instead of doing nothing.

Cecilla of Borja didn’t over-think it, nor should you.

Smudges, not perfection, are good enough. Let a smudge become your miracle. Happy holidays everyone.

by Dr. Charles Chaney

President, the Depression Health Network

Smudge a Painting, Find Your Miracle

Dr. Charles

Dr. Charles Chaney is a leading pain medicine physician and psychiatrist in Southern California who specializes in women's health. He completed training in interventional pain medicine at UCSD and in general adult and reproductive psychiatry at UCLA. He has several publications in peer-reviewed academic journals, and has given numerous talks at medical conferences.

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APA Reference
Chaney, C. (2014). Smudge a Painting, Find Your Miracle. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 23, 2019, from


Last updated: 15 Dec 2014
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 15 Dec 2014
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