There was one thing I knew certainly: I couldn’t stay in my hometown any longer. Mom and Dad are great. Ever-loving. Supportive. Give great hugs and are my biggest fans.
But I couldn’t help but feel like I was an overgrown kid. I had just turned 30.
I needed a change of scenery, and beyond the windows of the house where I grew up, there was a countryside full of splendor. It was fall on the East Coast, and it was washed in fiery colors.
I opted to take back roads from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. — around green fields and past scuttling brown deer and through wide open spaces caught between spring and autumn. The winding journey proved to be a sweet remedy for all of the pain stacked like cemented bricks inside my heart.
I was really hurting.
I recently had returned from war-torn Liberia, a West African country left ruined by 14 years of vicious civil war. I had spent a total of a year there, working as a freelance journalist and volunteering in a remote hospital and a school. Over my year, I had experienced extreme lows. I had felt real terror when a gang of ex-rebels busted down my door at 3 a.m., surrounded my bed, and held a gun near my head.
I lost Tarweh, DeShields, Emmanuel, and a handful of babies to sicknesses and complications that could have been treated or prevented if Liberia only had better medicine and technology. I heard the painful stories of unthinkable atrocities — child rape, executions, death everywhere.
When I returned, I met unexpected personal woes. I turned 30. I was boyfriendless and living at home. I didn’t have a job. I felt isolated and forgotten.
I struggled with a deep sadness that I didn’t understand. I tried to be happy, but I just wasn’t feeling it. (For more background on all of this, see Part One of this series, “Did Jesus Get into an Emotional Funk?“)
I decided to get out of town and head back to a city that once had made me happy. I had lived in the Washington, D.C., area for about three years before moving to Liberia. I had a lot of good memories and many good friends there. The city was full of fun events and culture and 30-year-olds who didn’t think 30 was just a big deal.
I knew a week-long visit wasn’t a cure to my sadness. But I hoped it would usher in a little bit of happiness and refreshment — the kind of transformation that comes naturally and magically like the changing of the seasons from green to gold.
It had been many months since I had driven those long, dipping back roads, and I didn’t remember the beauty that was so visible along them.
At one point, the road opened to a wide vista of blue-blue mountains against a sky the colors of pink roses and sweet peas. Lanky trees were weighed down with thousands, maybe millions of leaves the color of straw. They seem to reach like flames to the heavens, kindling the fire of fall colors.
In that moment, I was struck by the unexpected beauty before me — and moved to tears. I was so sad, but I felt a little hopeful. I knew my life was in His hands. I knew that somehow He’d make things turn out OK again. I felt blessed to see such magnificence through the splash of my windshield. I felt grateful because I knew it was a gift — something I probably wouldn’t have seen had I taken the big, mean, busy highway.
What is it about beauty that draws us in, gives us the confidence to trust, calms and settles the anxious parts of our souls?
Perhaps it is because earthly beauty is God’s design. It is one way He has chosen to reveal Himself — to affirm His power and creativity and care for us.
“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge,” declares David in Psalm 19.
God’s beauty inspired the psalmists to poetic praise:
- “The LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him, Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength” (Psalm 96:5-7).
- “Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty, Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain. He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind” (Psalm 104:1-3).
- “O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength Because of Your adversaries, To make the enemy and the revengeful cease. When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1-9).
There is something in recognizing God’s beauty that has the power to change our thinking, pacify our fears, restore us to truth. And it only takes a little glimpse of that beauty to “change the whole timbre of the day,” writes Marva J. Dawn in her book, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly:
I was returning from a speaking engagement and had to pass through the San Francisco airport. I had been there a month before and had discovered in one of the quieter waiting areas some gorgeous flat-weave wool tapestries done by Mark Adams. This time I had only ten minutes to get to my next plane, but it seemed worth the effort to hurry over to the tapestries for just a moment’s look at their beauty. To my great delight, I then learned that my plane would be leaving a few minutes late, so I returned to the wall hangings, sat on the floor in front of them, and enjoyed for seven full minutes their exquisite, many-colored varieties of flowers. A gentleman passed by and asked, “Are you all right?” I laughed and told him that I particularly loved looking at the beautiful flowers, but afterward it made me sad to think about how rarely people dwell on beauty in our society.
Dawn goes on to write that indulging in those moments of beauty had the power to carry her “through the rest of the evening” despite a painful ear ache and having to wait a long time for someone to pick her up from the airport.
Dawn’s view on the power of beauty has been realized in all of our lives at some point. It’s why you force yourself to wake in the early darkness on a vacation day, rush outside to the shore with tangled hair and a warm blanket, plop down in a seat of cool sand. It’s why you wait and watch in expectation as the sun slowly wakes and rises gold and red and pink above the dark waters. It’s why you gasp and breathe deeply and sigh. It’s God’s beauty. He has revealed Himself. He has shown you that He is there.
Recognizing God’s beauty has helped me to realize that He is at work in the difficult times of transition.
God never allows transition without unveiling His beauty. We need only look to the beauty of the seasons He created to be affirmed in this truth. Because we see it year after year, we know that summer’s verdant green will become autumn’s crimson. We know the crimson must become brown and cracked and ultimately must die. And we know that, thankfully, this isn’t the end — that the green will return, that God does promise new life, that beauty in every season never comes without transition.
We also can trust that as we experience difficult transitions in our lives, God won’t change. He still reigns over His creation (Psalm 47:7-8).
In her poem “The Autumn,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning reminds me that despite all the changes of His world, God remains the same and will use change for good:
Hear not the wind — view not the woods;
Look out o’er vale and hill —
In spring, the sky encircled them —
The sky is round them still.
Come autumn’s scathe – come winter’s cold —
Come change — and human fate!
Whatever prospect Heaven doth bound,
Can ne’er be desolate.
Just as I find simple delight in the beauty of a changing leaf, I want to find delight in the simple ways God is making my life beautiful by taking my uncertainty and my sorrow and giving me peace and comfort. And just like the grand perspective I have of the changing seasons, I want to live in God’s grander perspective for my life — the one that promises me He will stretch out his arms over the landscape of my life, hold me in a tight embrace and ultimately release me into His beauty and brilliance.
I still was very sad. But surprisingly and mysteriously, as I witnessed God’s beauty that day, I felt like I trusted Him again.
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“Digressing into Depression? A Journey Through Common Sadness” is a five-part series based on author Christina Holder’s bout with intense sadness following several upheavals in her life. It is a glimpse into one woman’s struggle with sadness and is not meant to be a resource for those facing clinical depression or to replace counseling from licensed mental health professionals.
Focus on the Family has counselors and care specialists who are available weekdays to talk with you, provide information and encouragement, suggest resources, give referrals and pray with you. If you are struggling with depression or mood disorders and would like to talk with one of them, you can find more information here.
Copyright 2010 Christina Holder. All rights reserved.