I recently had a group of close friends go on a mission trip to Haiti. God richly blessed their experience and provided a hedge of protection around them as they travelled and came back safely with lots of fantastic stories and a heart on fire to serve the Lord. As a present, they brought me back a painting done by a local artist. It was the perfect gift. I was unable to go on the trip this year, so the painting was a great reminder of the trip I took two years ago and of all the Lord showed me while I was there.
The painting is of a scene I saw plenty of times while in Haiti. The main focus is a cool, blue river flowing through the center. Right up front there is a horse drinking from the river, a little further down there is a handful of women washing clothes, and towards the back there are some houses with their occupants working outside. All around the river are vibrant trees, plants, and fields with birds flying high over the scene. It is such a detailed, beautiful painting and people are always stopping in my office to ask me about it. Today someone asked, “So that’s what it looks like there? I would love to see it in person someday.” My visitor hurried off to a meeting with a quick goodbye but I was left reeling. This question, seemingly innocent, really threw me for a loop.
I had to stop and look at the painting and ask myself, “Is this really what I experienced? Does this painting really capture what I witnessed?” My answer: no. I didn’t remember this idealized glimpse of Haiti. Somewhere I’m sure there is a clear blue river flowing, maybe up in the mountains, but in the cities where I served, the rivers were not something you would want to wash your clothes in, though some families did if they had nowhere else to go. I remembered the garbage piled up, usually burning because there is no other reliable waste management system, and many other unsavory scenes that ought not to be painted.
Suddenly this painting meant a whole lot more to me than it did before. Now that I saw beyond the surface of the painting and began to see the bigger meaning behind it, I felt that I understood better why God had prompted me to hang this painting in a prominent place in my office. I thought about the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words; I think my painting is worth two thousand. One thousand for what it shows, and another thousand for the stark difference between reality and the scene painted on the canvas. I began to pray about what else I had been missing, just looking at what something had to offer based on its surface value. God answered me with one word: people.
I thought of all the people that I come in contact with every day. All of the men, women and children I see at the Mission coming for the myriad of services Haven of Rest provides. What do I see and what do I assume? Did I judge an outward disgruntled look when I couldn’t see the bright and bubbly person beneath that was simply having a bad day? Did I judge a wide smile for a happy person when really they were trying to cry out to me for help? Every person that comes to the Mission has a story, and that story may not be on the surface; only God knows.
God teaches Samuel a similar lesson in 1 Samuel 16:7: “But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or in the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; but the Lord looketh on the heart.” May God show you something today that you have missed just beyond the surface, just as He showed Samuel many years ago and me today.