As I was grading papers this morning, I came across particularly heartbreaking words of a student. Words that made me realize how blessed I am. Words that made me realize how much my students hurt. Words that made me realize how desperately this student searched for the peace only God can bring. I longed to comfort the teen and prayed for words of wisdom as I responded on his paper. While I formed my response, I found myself remembering a story told to me years ago.
I can still recall sitting in the office of Mark Robinson, the director of the Baptist Student Union at Florida State. I was interning there for a year after graduating from FSU. I cannot recall his reason for telling me the story, but the impact of the narrative has remained with me, powerfully affecting my walk with Christ. While the origin of the story is unknown and may have other variations, Mark’s version went something like this…
There was once an artist commissioned to paint a Portrait of Peace. He spent years trying to decide how best to represent peace within the confines of canvas and paint. Finally, he painted an idyllic harbor. The water was serene. The sky was blue. The sun was shining. Boats gently rolled with the swells of the waves. Birds lifted their wings, following the tranquil currents of the wind. Serenity was displayed with each brush stroke and color. Everything about the picture spoke of peace, or at least the peace we continuously search and long for.
After painting the portrait, the artist faced tragedy after tragedy, ultimately leaving him without a family and penniless. It was the deep anguish of heartbreak that convinced the artist to repaint his Portrait of Peace. This time, his brush strokes were harsh and his colors were dark. While he painted the same harbor, it was almost unrecognizable. The once calm harbor now faced torrential rains and fierce winds. The once blue sky had become dark and foreboding. The sun was hidden behind ominous clouds. Boats were tossed about, crashing into each other, splinters of wood filling the harbor. You might begin to think, what kind of peace is this? This new portrait doesn’t come close to painting peace.
You might even question the artist’s sanity. That is, until you look deep into the cliffs that line the harbor. If you look hard enough you will find a bird tucked back into a crevice of the cliff just big enough for the tiny creature. The storm rages, yet the bird has found shelter within the strong rocks of the cliff. The bird still experiences in the storm. I’m sure it feels the effects brought on by winds and rain, yet it is still safe, protected—peaceful. So peaceful, in fact, the bird seems to sleep. This was the artist’s new Portrait of Peace–a tiny, frail bird facing perilous storms tucked safely in the arms of the rock.
If I had to choose which of the artist’s paintings best represented peace, I would desperately want to choose the first. Don’t we want our lives to always be beautifully calm and serene? We never choose to be tossed about by the storms of life. No one would choose the torrential rains of the second portrait. But whether we choose them or not, the storms do come. The hurricanes of life attempt to sweep us away, threatening to drown us in oceans of despair. When I begin to think of the realities of life, I know deep down, the second Portrait of Peace is the one I long for. I believe it is the Peace our God longs to give.
Isaiah 54:10 says, “’Though the mountains move and the hills shake, My love will not be removed from you and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,’ says your compassionate Lord.” God does not promise a life free from storms. He does not promise a life filled with sunshine and cloudless skies. But he does promise his infinite love and his unshakable peace. Peace that brings you comfort in the midst of tragedy. Peace that whispers in your ear that it can be well with your soul. Peace that is only found in the cleft of the Almighty Rock. During your storms of life, allow yourself to be sheltered by the Rock. You may still feel the rain beating upon your face, but you will not be swept away. This, my dear friends, is the true Portrait of Peace.