Seeing the Big Picture
When I was a kid my parents often dragged me and my brother to museums. It wasn’t just that they were trying to ram some culture down our throats; they were genuinely inspired by art and wanted to share that passion with their children. Much of which was lost on the two of us who whined and complained our way through centuries of magnificent works of art until we reached the great pinnacle of the museum experience: the gift shop.
But I remember being fascinated with one particular style of painting known as pointillism. That’s the medium in which small distinct dots are placed in patterns that make up images. When you stand up close all you see is a bunch of dots. But as you back up, the figures and background begin to emerge. At a certain distance you can no longer even tell that there are any dots at all. They blend together to form what looks like a typical painting.
Perhaps the most famous example of pointillism is the late-19th century Georges Seurat painting titled “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” It hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago, a place I went to (of my own accord!) a few times when I was attending seminary in Chicago. They have a great gift shop, by the way.
I was thinking about this recently as it relates to our lives. So often we focus on the dots while missing the big picture. We get annoyed with our children for spending too much time on the Xbox rather than giving thanks for the gift of their very existence. We get frustrated with the time it takes to attend to the needs of aging parents rather than being grateful for their continued presence in our lives. We focus on doing the dishes rather than enjoying the company of our guests.
As with encountering a pointillist painting, it’s important to take a step back to see the big picture of our lives, even as the details and annoyances of the everyday continually draw us in. Otherwise we get to the end of our lives and realize we weren’t really paying attention to what, in the end, matters. To paraphrase Bill Clinton’s slogan on the economy, “It’s about the relationships, stupid.”
Much of this is about living a life of gratitude and thanksgiving. That’s the posture of faith; a way of viewing life as a gift from God rather than something to endure or “get through.” And it’s precisely why attending to relationship with the divine makes a difference. God pulls us back, away from the dots of life, allowing us to see things in all their glorious living color. And when we let God do this, the full image of God’s love for us becomes increasingly clear.
I still love museum gift shops. And while I no longer see them as sweet relief from the cruel and unusual punishment of being exposed to art, my kids sure do.