I’ve always enjoyed art—wandering through galleries and marveling at the way people use color and light to express themselves. I enjoy learning about an artist’s chosen medium, their creative process, and their technique. I’m not an artist myself, though I have taken a few classes because I desire to learn how to express myself creatively.
During a recent family vacation, I took a painting class. We sat in a room, surrounded by glass on all four sides. The Rocky Mountains stretched out before us, its jagged peaks covered with fresh snow, the hills below bright green from recent rainfall. The sky was wide and dappled with clouds, the pond behind the building teeming with birds. It was an ideal spot in which to spend the afternoon with a blank canvas.
The instructor placed his own painting on an easel and invited us to paint something similar. It was a mountain scene and looked like many of the places our family had recently hiked, filled with desert shrubs and rocky cliffs. He walked us through it, teaching us how to paint shapes and mix colors. Not everyone in the class was an artist, so I was happy to learn that I wasn’t the only one who did not know what they were doing!
As I painted, I grew increasingly disappointed. All I could see were lines and shapes. My shrubs looked like large eggs sprouting ears. My mountain looked like a misshapen blob—far from anything majestic. I’d add lines as he instructed, but they didn’t look anything like cliffs or crevasses.
The instructor walked around the room, giving us individual help and guidance. Several times he said, “Every once in a while get out of your chair and step back from the painting and you’ll see it from a different perspective. Up close, it won’t look like anything. But a few feet away it will all make sense.”
I never got up to see it from afar but kept mixing colors and painting away, all the while feeling discouraged that the image I had in my mind was not transferring to the canvas. It wasn’t until I brought it back to our cabin and propped it up on the window sill and looked at it from afar that I saw it as he said. All the lines and shapes that looked so strange up close looked so different a few steps away. My bushes actually did look like bushes! The red rock mountain looked like it had dimension and depth. There were cliffs and crevasses after all. It looked more like a place I had hiked and explored than the smearing of colors it looked like up close.
My painting experience reminded me of how I often view my life—of how I see the picture God is painting. I often only see the trial and hardship I am in at the moment. The brush strokes seem wild and unhinged. The colors look like they’ve been splattered on the canvas with no thought or intention. The shapes don’t resemble anything that makes sense. I feel discouraged and can’t imagine that what I am experiencing has any purpose. How can something so messy and confusing transform into something beautiful? And sometimes, when the trial is especially intense and hard, all I can see are dark brush strokes in one corner of the canvas.
And I wonder, is this all I’ll ever see?
Stepping back from my painting was a reminder that in my own life all I see is one small section of the picture God is painting. I need to step back from time to time to see it from a different angle. To get a new perspective. To see my life in light of the greater work of redemption God is doing in my life. To see it in light of eternity.
While it’s true that I won’t see the full and complete picture until God is finished, I can get glimpses of it in Scripture. Like an architect’s rendering of a house before it is built, I have God’s promises of what his finished product will look like. I even know other people in my life whose pictures are a bit more developed than mine and I can see the similar work God has done in their lives. But even more, as I study the Bible, I can see the image of Christ that he’s transforming me into. And rather than despair over the seemingly meaningless brush strokes before me, I can turn and instead watch the master artist at work, shaping my life to image that of Christ.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
Originally appeared here.