The rare opportunity to sit in the woods in solitude for hours was a gift I could not pass up. I reached the small lake at mid-day and walked around the silent park in the bright, November sunshine, feeling free and eager to have some time alone with my Creator. This late in the year there were no other visitors to this beautiful picnic area and the quiet was profound and complete. There were no people, no vehicles, no birdsong, no insect hum. Only the wind blew gently, whispering to the trees and stirring the water into slow, lazy ripples.
I sat on the boat dock and looked over the lake to the great island that stood in the middle; an island so large that the lake looks more like a moat that surrounds its high, rocky cliff walls. The beauty of it was undiminished by the lateness of the year—the poplar trees were fading from brilliant reds and yellows to a more subdued russet and gold, the oak leaves darkening to the shiny brown of highly-polished leather. The stately hemlocks, full and verdant, covered the top of the island like a crown of green, and mountain laurel crept and wove itself through the tree boles and spilled over the sides of the rocky cliffs, trailing down to the water. Even those trees whose leaves were now all lost were lovely, their lacey twigs and branches standing against the sky in bold bas-relief. It was a peaceful scene, perfect for prayer.
So many things were troubling my heart, and I poured it all out to the God Who Hears. Everything I’ve ever done in my life marched through my conscious thought, it seemed, and most of it bad: every mistake I ever made, every misjudgement, every hastily-spoken word, every temper lost, every sin I ever committed. I was foundering in regrets that I knew I had no business hanging onto, but could not seem to put behind me. “I know I’ve asked forgiveness for all these things before, Father. Why can’t I move on?”
“Look,” He said. “Look at the water.”
The lake was covered with the fallen leaves of November—dead and discarded debris. I watched the wind skimming them over the surface of the water in slow, unpredictable patterns. Then I looked deeper and could see, beneath the surface, the island reflected perfectly in every detail. In the brightness of the sun, the image was as crisp and three-dimensional as the original, only occasionally wavering as the wind roused up ripples. I could see there every leaf and branch and rock, as solid-looking as reality itself.
Then I noticed that when I looked at the leaf debris on the surface, I could no longer see the reflection of the island in the water. And when I looked at the reflection, I no longer noticed the debris. Interesting.
“I am the island,” God told me. “You are the water.” Oh.
“You have a choice,” He said. “You can look at the debris on the surface of yourself, or you can look at My image inside of you. Both are there. Both are true.” Oh.
Others have a choice to make, as well. They can look at the debris on my surface, or they can look at Christ in me. Both are there. Both are true. I can’t make them choose to see one or the other.
I have this choice to make about other believers, too. I can concentrate on their debris, or I can see Christ’s image in them. Both are there. Both are true. One brings joy in relationships and the other causes division and misery.
The next day, I told a friend about what God had taught me at the lake, and she expressed a desire to see it for herself. As we drove up and parked, I was a bit disappointed, because the sky was now overcast and the reflection was not immediately evident.
“I see only your debris!” my friend teased, and we laughed together. However, as we walked toward the lake, the reflection appeared after all, not as crisp and clear as in the bright sunlight of the day before, but muted and smudgy and rather surreal.
“It’s beautiful,” my friend gasped. And she was right. It was an Impressionist painting of the island etched into the water, as lovely as any Monet masterpiece. As infinite as God Himself, His image is infinitely complex and can be seen differently in different lights. We can choose to look for Him, no matter what our circumstances. Christ in us, the hope of glory— our only hope in a world of debris.
One day, He will sweep the debris away and there will be nothing to see in the water of my soul but His image. Until then, I can wallow in the despair of the debris, or I can revel in the joy of His reflection in me.
. . .the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. Colossians 1:26-28