One of my favorite painters is Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of artists. He painted these magnificent landscapes of America at a time when we were just beginning to lose vast swaths of our wilderness. One of his most intriguing works is a four-painting series entitled “The Voyage of Life.” When I worked in DC, I would often walk back to my offices from the Capitol rather than cab just so I could walk through the National Gallery of Art. These paintings were a frequent stop.
There is a lot of truth in this painting, as well as great beauty. But I think a more apt depiction of my life would look something like this:
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It’s far from beautiful, but more truthful. Am I the man looking up in desperation or the youth looking forward with anticipation? Do stormy skies threaten or do beautiful flowers bloom? Am I looking wildly for help from God or am I trusting patiently in his steadfast love? All of the above.
Our path is very rarely completely smooth sailing or violent storms. We’re generally heading into and out of squalls, with periods of calm in the midst, and sometimes even great joy in the midst of hardship. That’s the true Voyage of Life, you never know what you will face around the bend. It’s also hard to know what other people’s journeys look like. Especially when what we know of most people is what they post on social media or through fleeting meetings at church or casual conversation at our kids’ ball practice. Most of us aren’t familiar with all the bends and rapids of someone’s river. But almost certainly they have both highs and lows happening simultaneously.
But I’ve found that whether it’s joy or pain that will meet me, how I fare depends a great deal upon where my focus is. If I’m blessed with pleasure and triumph, but I take my eyes off Christ, those blessing become hindrances. If I’m faced with trials and focus on the problems instead of the One guiding me through them, I’m battered and bruised and I can fail to see what blessings God has brought through the trials. Wherever I am in the Voyage of Life, there is only one sure and steady guide who will bring me to safe harbor at last.