I love to paint. I don’t do it often enough, but I love it nonetheless. And when I paint, I don’t think. I lose myself in a different world, completely oblivious to what day it is, what time it is, what I need to do when I finish. I pretty much get “tunnel vision,” both visually and mentally.
But the last time I painted, I realized just how much I depend on taking a step back, in fact moving away from whatever I’m working on for a few minutes. When I come back to it, I can see it with new eyes. When I’m sitting ten inches away from the canvas as the clock ticks away with me unaware, I fail to have the proper perspective.
This is true in many situations in life, isn’t it?
Many times we are so close to a situation, so deeply involved that we can’t see what others can see from the outside.
It happens to me often. I get very easily consumed with my own little bubble of existence. Then, inevitably, the Lord will bring someone into my life to give me a reality check — to help me see the bigger picture; to readjust my perspective.
It happened the other day, when I was complaining to my husband that our water heater only provides enough hot water for one out of five of us to take a bath in the morning. Then an old acquaintance came to visit me from Zimbabwe and told me about the conditions in her country. She gave testimony to how very few people have access to water on their property, and that those who don’t, have to walk every day to fetch water from a neighbor. Immediately, my water heater woes were silenced.
Soon after, I found myself frustrated by my inability to determine the cause of the recurring eczema on my five-year-old son’s face. His puppy-dog eyes are riddled with pink, itchy blotches. Then I was asked to visit a friend’s nephew in the hospital, a five-year-old boy who had just had an eight-hour bone graft operation. I walked into the hospital room to see his tiny frame languishing in the stark, white hospital bed, wrapped in bandages. Once again, my own frustrations were muted.
Often I can get so enveloped by my own selfish worries and pathetic woes that I temporarily forget who it is that I serve. Then I go to Job for a reality check, and chapters 38-40 put me in my place every time. Who am I to whine and fuss to the One who says to the sea, “This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt”? (Job 38:11). He is the One who knows where the darkness resides, who brings forth the constellations, who disperses the lightning, who tips over the water jars of the heavens (Job 38).
Consider the Cost
As we gather around our television screens to marvel at the seemingly superhuman athletes competing in the Olympic games, it is equally important to keep a healthy perspective. It’s easy to gaze at the competitors as they make their events look so effortless, and to assume that they have it all, that they are the so-called “lucky ones.”
We can sit back in our fraying Lazy-Boys and envy their glory. We may even presume that each of them has his or her own personal staff at their beck and call — personal trainers, dieticians, biokineticists, wardrobe sponsors. We may think they spend every waking moment training, practicing, looking after their bodies to be ready for their ten seconds of fame.
And yet of the 200 countries that have participated in the Olympics since 1896, 79 of them have yet to be awarded a single medal. That means that in a span of 116 years, only 60 percent of countries represented have finished the games with medalists in their midst.
Take Ugandan swimmer Ganzi Mugula, for example. Not a name plastered on the re-plays, I know. But a man with perspective. It took him 12 years to make it to the Olympics, and this year he made it on a wild card. Did he win a medal during his 27 seconds in the pool? No. In fact, he didn’t even have the luxury of spending his days in training. Instead, he works full-time as a computer technician for a bank in Uganda.
Unlike some who can afford to hire experts to fine-tune their skill, Mugula is very much aware of his fortunate position. In an interview, he patted his swim trunks and stated, “These cost $358. I dive in and I’m done for 20 something seconds. If you tell someone the cost they think you’re mad.”
Now there’s a man with perspective.
Not all of us appreciate the cost as Mugula does. In fact, his quote made me think of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. If I fully comprehended the cost involved of Jesus going to the cross, I would not be so quick to abuse God’s grace. I would need “reality checks” far less frequently. I would live my life with a proper perspective — an eternal perspective.
The familiar hymn lyrics come to mind: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
So as we gear up to watch the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games on Sunday, we can rejoice with all the participants for their remarkable achievements. Yet we must not lose sight of the real race that we are running. The one where we are called to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1b-3).
And in those moments when we are tempted to grow weary and lose heart — when we feel overwhelmed by reasons to complain — let us not forget the cost.
As believers, the reward we look forward to is far more valuable than a gold medal. But just as Ganzi Mugula’s journey to the Olympics wasn’t plain sailing, so we may experience trials and grief as we wait for glory. First Peter 1:6-8 tells us, “though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials… These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
The glory we wait for is not our own, nor does it consist of worldly, temporal material. It is far greater than standing on an Olympic podium receiving the gold. It is far, far greater than ourselves. And as much as I may fail to admit it, it is far greater than my personal bubble filled with complaints.
Just like when I paint, it’s important — no, necessary — to step back on regular intervals to get the bigger picture, the proper perspective … the full canvas upon which God is painting His perfect and eternal masterpiece.