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You Can Only Paint One Leaf at a Time
Spiritual Lessons from a Mural
Last week, I visited my little sister, who just had a baby.
She named the baby Abigail!
…and even though that’s my pen name, and my sister had technically forgotten about it, I’m telling everyone the baby was subconsciously named after me.
"That's fair," my sister said. "Now, help me pick out a decal for the nursery."
“How about a mural like I did in your room when you were a teenager?” I asked.
I sketched out a big tree for the corner, with two little sister birds cuddled up in the branches. My sister chose a favorite verse, and we picked up acrylic paint from Hobby Lobby, which if you didn’t know is an American craft store so large you could lose a car in it.
Now, here is one of my many idiosyncrasies. I really love painting murals. But I don’t like repetitive activities. And because murals are so large, you often have to paint the same texture, color, or shape over and over again.
I have a friend who thrives on this kind of tedious work. Data entry is her idea of a good time. But I struggle with things like filling spreadsheets, painting leaves on trees, and peeling potatoes.
I always want to quit when there’s about 15% of the chore left.
“This seems like enough potatoes,” I’ll think to myself, because I’m feeling done peeling potatoes.
Back to the mural.
I painted the tree trunk and branches fairly quickly. My sister helped fill in the color, and then I added “K + A = Sisters” in a heart on the trunk.
For a while, my artistic vision carried me along. Two branches of leaves in, however, boredom and dread set in. That’s when excuses began popping up.
“Maybe it’s fall and the leaves have mostly blown off,” said my brain. “Or maybe we could just give up on the details and paint this like a big green cloud.” I shook my head.
“No, Abby. You can do this. You can do hard things.”
“Yes, but this isn’t difficult. It’s boring.”
I painted for another hour. Here's how the mural looked:
The next morning, I got up and kept painting.
“She’s lucky we’re related,” said my brain after another hour. I turned on music.
“From the fear of serving others, from the fear of death or trial
From the fear of humility
Deliver me, O God, deliver me, O God.
And I shall not want, I shall not want.
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want.”
— I Shall Not Want, Audrey Assad
It was then, as I was painting the gazillionth leaf, that I had an epiphany:
As great an idea as I may have, I can still only paint one leaf at a time.
All the most beautiful ideas are still accomplished just one step at a time. Because we finite people can really only live one moment at a time.
We can only be in one place at a time. We can only do one thing at a time. We can only hear one person at a time. (Unless you’re Brazilian. Y’all have a special talent.) We may try to multitask, but multitasking only leaves us frazzled and ineffective.
And so we live one moment at a time, as it comes, trusting in Someone who has a bird’s-eye view of time and space to direct our path. He is creating a masterpiece, arranging all the pieces, fitting them together like a mosaic. We may not see it now, but we will someday.
“Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” — Isaiah 30:20-21
So when we face tasks difficult or boring or slow, we remind ourselves that serving others and choosing humility are not always glamorous, and that’s okay. Because God is doing something with every small, seemingly insignificant act of obedience.
Don’t give up now. If it doesn’t look good, He’s not done with it yet.
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." — Galatians 6:9
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