It was a gloomy day in the fall of 2006. I was skipping my nursing classes yet again trying to cheer myself up with a trip to the Chicago Institute of Art. My favorite place in the whole museum was the room with Monet’s “Stacks of Wheat (End of Summer)” painting . On this particular trip I decided to move closer to the painting and really study it. I was expecting to see some revelation of artistic genius.
Up close and personal it just looked like a mess. The paint was a disorienting chaos of random splotches haphazardly smudged and dashed across a flat surface. If I am honest it looked like a total disaster. Yet we consider this a masterpiece.
I began to step backwards slowly concentrating on the image. With each step I took backwards the image changed. The chaotic brush strokes turned into softer textures. Moving back further those soft textures formed shapes and began to make sense. These random shapes became a soft blurry image of a farm house and trees.
Finally, about 6 feet away from the painting, what was once chaos now was the soft light of the sun falling across a stack of wheat. From far away it was easier to see that every seemingly messy and random brush stroke was an incredibly delicate expression of a quiet moment captured by Monet in the French countryside.
This was a profound metaphor for me. When we are in the midst of struggle, hardship, suffering or even just knee deep in the ordinary parts of life, it seems like all there is. Up close our lives may look more like messes than masterpieces. But when we step back and think of our circumstance as a part of our own larger story and the story of humanity, we begin to see a clearer picture. I encourage you to take the long view of your life. Yes, the circumstances in front of you right now may feel like a mess. You are probably not wrong about that.
Step back and let the texture of that suffering soften. Step back and let the shapes and truths of that struggle become clear. Step back and allow space for both light and dark. Step back with me and marvel at the masterpiece that is your life. If you cant step back right now, please know that what feels like chaos and darkness is just one brushstroke of a bigger masterpiece that you still cannot see yet. This Monet is a promise to you and me that one day you will find the beauty in places that still feel like a mess.