Have you done much art? I enjoy art, but with everything on my schedule, I rarely make it a priority. Recently, however, when Covid-19 restrictions were lifted enough that I could visit some relatives, we enjoyed having a paint night together.
I decided to do a landscape, since painting people is far more difficult.
We used acrylic paint. When using acrylic, the typical strategy is to start with the furthest back part of the picture. From there, each new layer can be added on top.
In my case, the furthest back thing was the sky.
I knew I planned to put a tree in the foreground. I hoped my tree would resemble an Elm. I knew the sky would be visible through the leaves and between the branches of the tree. Therefore, I wanted more than just a flat blue sky.
I took my time, trying several times until I was satisfied with the gradient from deep blue at the top of the sky, to light blue at the horizon. Then it was time for clouds. I added wispy white clouds.
That done, I moved on to the next layer – mountains. At first I made them flat, but that was too boring, so I added shadows and highlights. Much better.
Time for the grass. I spread plain green across the space. I added a little more variety to the green, then left it at that for the time being. Later I would add more details.
Stepping back, I examined my painting. The bright colours and my hard work had paid off. I was pleased with my background.
The next question: where to put the tree? I frowned. Did I even want to add the tree? The background had turned out so beautifully. Would adding a tree in the foreground harm the beauty of it? What if I did a poor job of the tree?
Despite my fears, I knew the picture would look empty and incomplete without something in the foreground.
I squeezed some brown paint onto my palate. Taking a deep breath, I added a tree trunk. Then I added branches and leaves. Finally I added texture to the grass.
Eyeing my painting, I considered adding something else to the foreground on the other side. Perhaps a road or a creek? Yet those same fears crept up again. What if I did a poor job adding it. All my work on the background would be negated.
This time I decided that my painting was complete.
As I considered the process of creating this painting, I marveled at the importance of background. Much of my time and effort had gone into forming the background with great detail. Had I neglected the background, it would have been an entirely different painting.
Indeed when watching a pro artist, it can be astounding how much detail they put into the background.
Is there a life lesson I can learn from this?
Yes, I believe there is.
Sometimes it seems as though so much of life is background stuff. Washing dishes, doing laundry, writing emails, buying groceries… the list could go on.
At times, I feel anxious to get on with the “big stuff.” I want to do things that feel important and belong in the foreground.
At moments like that, I have to stop and remind myself of the importance of the background stuff.
In Luke 16:10 (ESV) we read, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”
I find it helpful to switch the words “faithful” and “dishonest” with other words to help drive home the point. Am I being diligent in the very little things? Am I being intentional and wise in how I handle those little things? Am I a good steward of what I’ve been given, no matter how small or background it feels?
In the Bible, I see lots of the “big” moments – David defeating Goliath, Moses leading Israel out of Egypt, Jesus’s time of ministry. If I pay close attention, though, I can also see snippets of the background stuff that enabled these “big” moments to be handled well.
David faithfully tended his father’s sheep, including fighting off bears and lions (1 Samuel 17:34-37). Moses was “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22 ESV). “Jesus, when He began His ministry, was about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23 ESV).
Each of these had years of little stuff that served as a background to the big moments of their lives which the Bible tells about.
Sometimes, I find the stuff that might seem big, is indeed a compilation of many small things that add up to a big thing. To be a pastor or Christian camp director, for example, is largely made up of doing lots and lots of little things well.
What about my life? Is all the daily background stuff going to one day culminate in an unmistakably big moment? I don’t know.
What I do know, is that God has called me to be faithful with what He has given me to do here and now, no matter how menial.
As I am faithful with the little things, He will unfold His plans for my life. Perhaps there will be a “big” moment in my life, but perhaps not. Regardless, may I seek to be faithful that one day I may say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7 ESV)