Spring is in full force around here – it’s even feeling a bit like summer the past couple of days. But in my den I have a painting of the dark, frozen, desolation of a Midwest mid-winter. It’s bare and twisted trees on a back drop of cold sky and frozen earth remind me of the despair I often felt in the midst of those long, cold winter days. There isn’t even any snow in it to make it at least look a little brighter. It’s bleak.
So why would I want a painting like that in my den?
One day, while my children were being given the gift of an art appreciation lesson from our friend and the very accomplished artist, Jim Winn, he also showed us some of the paintings he had tucked away in his cupboards and drawers. He showed us this one among many and said, “I can’t sell it because it’s not happy enough.” I said, “Well, Jim, why don’t you paint some crocuses or something at the bottom of those trees to give people some hope?”
And his reply was this, “Because, Laurie, that’s not what was there.”
I didn’t say this, but I thought, “So?? Artists re-make life all the time. Put something in there to sell the painting.”
I’m glad I didn’t say that out loud.
That painting (and the conversation) haunted me. I couldn’t get the image out of my head, and I couldn’t understand why Jim wouldn’t change the scene since he could.
Then, after months of wrestling with both the picture and the words, the weight of the truth of it all broke through – sometimes, that’s how it is! Sometimes everything looks dead and cold and depressing. Sometimes there is zero evidence that anything good is out there – life looks and feels and even is cold and hard and unyielding.
But for the believer, is that ever really the whole truth?
The Psalmists knew the experience of looking around and seeing no evidence of God:
Ps 42:5 Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?
Ps 42:6 O my God, my soul is in despair within me…
Ps 57:4 My soul is among lions; I must lie among those who breathe forth fire, Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, And their tongue a sharp sword.
Ps 63:1 My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Ps 88:3-4 For my soul has had enough troubles, And my life has drawn near to Sheol. I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength
There are a lot of these passages – you get the idea. And no doubt, you can relate. We have all had times when we look around at our circumstances and see nothing but unrelenting, hard, depressing, bleakness. That’s how it is.
But things are not always what they seem. Just like the painting captures a moment in time, so our minds see just a brief and incomplete view of reality. Sometimes we don’t see the hints of Spring on the horizon, but that does not mean they don’t exist.
And so it is with God. Sometimes we don’t see or understand what He is doing through those hard and painful circumstances, but that does not mean He is not at work in and through them.
How do we get through it?
Just like we get through winter. We remind ourselves that every year, around the same time, God sends warmer weather. He has nourished and sustained the flowers and trees through the worst of it. He has sheltered birds and animals (and us) through a wide variety of protections. God proves his faithfulness – again – and we rejoice. We know he will do it again because he is trustworthy and true.
Through the dark and unrelenting bitter cold, we remind ourselves that God will be faithful and bring Spring and it gives us hope to face the remainder of the winter days.
And so it is when we despair.
We remind ourselves that while we may not be able to see any evidence of God at work, we know that God never leaves us or forsakes us. We know that he has plans that are for our good and for His glory. We know that nothing – that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We use eyes of faith to see past the cold, hard, ruthless toil of today to see that God is lovingly active in our lives in those things, through them, behind them. And just like the sure hope of tiny flowers in Spring, we wait and watch with confident anticipation of God’s faithfulness through the bleakness.
A few years went by between having that conversation with my artist friend and getting the painting into my den – but it is now one of my most cherished possessions. It reminds me of my friend and his sweet wife, yes, but mostly, it reminds me of God’s faithfulness. Sometimes, life really looks that bleak. But God is never absent even then. God has proven Himself to be faithful over and over and over again.
Now, when I look at the picture, and when I face dark times, he reminds me of his faithfulness. He helps me through recalling his promises. He helps me through recalling his word. He helps me through recalling how he has been faithful to me in the past. And he helps me through watching him care for my friends.
I am thankful and content, for he has taught me how to see beauty in the bleak.