“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” Sean O’Conner, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
Oh the beautiful things that don’t ask for attention. Isn’t that life?
Very rarely do the beautiful things arrive with a fanfare.
Most often I find they are beautiful because they do not need to seek attention.
Some of the most beautiful moments of my life were not planned, they just snuck up on me.
I stumbled upon their beauty by simply taking notice.
The first two quotes are from a movie called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and it has become my new favorite. It captures the beautiful awkwardness of this thing called Life. The story is about a man who has hidden himself away into obscurity and by a series of comical events steps out into life and finally participates. The story is awkward at times, but beautiful all the same. Walter starts out day dreaming about all of the fantastical things he wishes he was brave enough to do. His imagination is ridiculous and absurd, but then aren’t all imaginations? He works for Life magazine with a made up motto of:
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”
This motto is then fleshed out in Walter’s life throughout the movie. It is a beautiful piece, in both story and image, of film.
It is what I would love life to be, but life is so much more than a movie. And oh those beautiful moments, they aren’t defined by me. Thankfully, there is an Author of this awkward dance we call “life” and he both directs and brings forth the beautiful things. They come in ways and in places we least expect. They come from the ashes of our mistakes and failures. God, the definer and creator of all things beautiful is constantly at work and we get to participate in his masterpieces.
We don’t get to choose how the beautiful things come or when they come. Part of the beauty is that they take you by surprise. They don’t ask for attention, they just are. They aren’t beautiful because they are noticed, they are beautiful because they exist. They don’t conform to social norms and they don’t abide by our rules and guidelines for what defines beauty.
This it was how I found Detroit, a beautiful thing. We headed up to that lost city once again this summer for mission work with Detroit Love Inc. There were 50 or so people living in a worn out Polish building. We had no lice infestation or plumbing problems this year and so many of us waited and waited for the proverbial boot to drop. Community formed and blossomed through adversity, miscommunications, mistakes and clashing personalities. God continued to move and we got to be a part of it all. The “boot” came in the form of tragedies and heartache happening at home and in the lives of our families. Spiritual warfare happened, but God defended and sustained. He continues to do so, even though we have left that mission field and have returned to another.
This trip was beautiful because it didn’t ask for attention. Our students carried a heavy work load and pushed through long days with 100+ inner city kids at VBS. They encouraged, improved and outdid themselves. We worshiped God with our words and actions, not just through times of song and testimony. It was beautiful.
Detroit, much like us, is this damaged place. It is full of potential and willingness to change. When God moves the evidence of His plan stands out. This team reaped the benefit of years of prayer and dedication to bringing the Gospel to Detroit. Detroit reaped the benefit of years of prayer and dedication to seeing the Gospel lived out in the lives of our students. There are still several darkened and abandoned places, waiting to be reclaimed, in both the city and the lives of those on the trip. We are all a work in progress. Thankfully God is the one doing the working and thankfully he is not done with us yet.
There were several moments where I was able to sit in the stillness, in the awkward silence and see beauty. Many of those moments happened when we were all crammed up on a stage listening to a Spotify (ad filled, mind you) collection of worship songs, singing along and praising God. Some moments happened during morning devotionals when everyone is working through the devo book and trying to not fall asleep. There were also several moments of beauty in the craziness of running a vacation bible school with distracted children. Hearing our students teach a lesson, lead a group, share the Gospel, teach a goofy song, all because they love Jesus and want to tell others about him, it was beautiful.
Rarely do beautiful moments feel beautiful. So often they feel very awkward and overwhelming. As we do not create the beauty, we do not control it. Sometimes we don’t even see it until someone points it out. We confuse beauty with perfection. They are not the same. Perfection comes in a sterile, surgical package and has no longevity in the world. We confuse the two because perfection does not require those raw, awkward, all consuming moments of us. It comes and stays in its neat packaging and everything goes along seamlessly. Beauty sometimes looks like a 3 hour long VBS program turning into a 6 hour long VBS program, corralling 40 some 7-10 year olds, teaching for the first time, letting 5 girls braid your hair, running out of snacks because more kids came then were expected and working a mission team so ragged that no one complains about having to be in bed by 9:30. Beauty sometimes looks nothing like any of us were prepared for, but seeing God work all things together anyway.
Beauty sometimes looks like disciples making disciples. For example, one of the girls I have gotten to know a little over the last two years, asked me to talk with her friend’s mom about letting her kids come to VBS. I spoke with the mother and explained what we do at VBS. After I told her that we teach children about Jesus and how to be like him, she politely told me that her children would not be attending. I went back to the van I was picking up VBS kids in and told the girl that her friend’s mom had said “no”. She sat there quietly for a little while and then explained that her friend was Muslim. She didn’t bother to tell me that before, because it really didn’t matter to her. Not because she was being insensitive to the girl’s family or their beliefs, but because since coming to VBS she has been changed and wanted the same for her friend, no matter the girl’s current beliefs. It was a beautiful moment. It vividly displayed 1 Corinthians 13:13,
“And now these three remain: faith and hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.”
That is the beauty for ourselves as well as for Detroit.
While we are only in Detroit for a few weeks out of the year, these three will remain: Faith, Hope and Love.
May I never trade beauty for perfection and may my eyes always be open to the beautiful moments on display.
God is always ever showing, creating and bragging on his beauty, if only we would take more notice.