As the students and teachers of Dandelion School were packing up to leave on their one-week vacation for the National Holiday, I was scrambling to gather all the supplies I would need while everyone was gone: seven colors of paint, a handful of brushes, some palettes, some bowls for water, and a ladder. Then I closed myself into my classroom and stepped back to survey the giant, blank, whitewashed wall. Considering my complete lack of experience, I didn’t know if the outcome would be wonderful or pathetic. But I took one deep breath, started some music, and began.
I took an image of a world map from the internet and put a grid over it, then drew the grid on my wall with peach-colored chalk, using the tiles on the floor as reference points. I forgot to ask for a measuring tape. Then with red chalk, I began to draw. Starting with Africa, I worked through the grid squares to draw a rough outline of the continent. After each completed square I was tempted to step back and assess my work, but I kept telling myself, not yet, not yet. As soon as my chalk found its way back up to the Red Sea, I jumped back to see the completed continent, and what a smile it brought to my face! It actually looked like Africa! Through Asia, Australia, Europe, South America, and then North America, I worked in the same way, drawing large portions before allowing myself to see the whole map. By 9:00pm, the whole world was outlined on the classroom wall. I went to sleep quite pleased and excited for the next day.
9:00am found me in my classroom again, pouring a glob of orange paint onto a palette. Another deep breath, and I smeared the paint on the wall. No turning back now! Little by little, I filled in the continent of Africa, carefully tracing the edges with the tip of the brush, and using watery paint to fill in the indents on the bumpy wall. I didn’t look at the whole continent, not yet, not yet. When the last bit was painted, I took a few steps backward and looked up: it was even better than yesterday! On to Asia!
Asia is huge. Because of its size, I had two bottles of green paint to use. However, as I began to paint, I realized that something was wrong with the paint. It was clumpy, and somewhat gelled, and even adding water and swashing it around with my brush barely helped. But I had already started… so there was really no choice but to go on. Working my way slowing across the northern border of Russia, I became more and more frustrated at my slow pace caused by the defective paint. And filling in the middle of Asia proved even more frustrating as the paint didn’t spread evenly but left some patches lighter than others. The difference was drastic, and I had no idea how to fix it. With my nose inches from the wall, I tried patching things up but it seemed to get worse. Finally when the whole Asian continent had at least some green paint on it, I climbed down from the ladder to take it all in. Wow. Suddenly, the messed up paint didn’t look so bad. In fact, it kind of looked like a textured image of the Earth’s terrain. Cool.
After lunch, I continued on – Australia in scarlet, Europe in purple, South America in dark blue. Dinner found me half-way through South America, with just North America looming overhead. I began the last continent in light blue, working my way through the familiar shapes of Mexico, Florida, and the west coast. I was so close, and so excited. Every time I climbed down to move the ladder a bit further west, I refused to look up, not yet, not yet. Finally, by 8:30pm, the last tip of Alaska was painted. I quickly descended, moved the ladder to the side of the room, and ran over to the opposite wall before turning around: I squealed in delight! I knew every little detail of that painting, but now that I came away from it to see the whole picture, it was entirely different and far more stunning.
And of course, I was struck right there by a similarly stunning spiritual parallel.
Most of us have experience suffering on some level. Most of us have at some point prayed, “God, what are You doing? Show me the reason for this.” Whether it’s something as small as getting sick on an important day or as big as tragedy, I know I’m not the only one who has begged God to help me understand what He’s doing. Even as I have prayed with and for others, I have often uttered the words, “Father, please show us the picture You’re painting, because we don’t see it right now.” Now, I can’t help but wonder if many of those times His answer was a gentle, Not yet, not yet.
In my mural project, I could have stepped back to survey my progress every five minutes. But I would never have had that exhilarating feeling I experienced after waiting for a full view. In hiking a mountain, you could turn around every 10 yards to assess your height, but you would never feel like you had ascended very far.
Maybe God’s motive behind waiting to reveal His actions and purposes is to stun us with the beauty of how far we’ve come. Maybe the ugly mess you're in will turn out to be a bit like my dysfunctional green paint. If you are discouraged by what feels like unchanging character weaknesses, maybe God is about to reveal to you just how different He has been making you from who you used to be. If you feel like God has been saying “no” over and over and over in your life, perhaps it's because He is about to show you not just one explanation, but a dazzling masterpiece.
God is at work; He is painting. Philippians 2:13 says that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure,” and Romans 8:28 reminds us “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Don’t worry, don’t fear that He has forgotten you. Rather, faithfully wait on Him, and trust that it will indeed be worth the wait. Hold fast to the promise of future fulfillment, the pledge of almost, in those words: not yet.
(Here's a picture of the [almost] finished wall.)
(Here's a picture of the [almost] finished wall.)