By Steve Wyatt
In August, my wife and I were nestled on the lush lawn of the beautiful Sun Valley Pavilion in Idaho preparing to enjoy Tchaikovsky’s Symphony Number 5. What we hadn’t anticipated was a stunning visual display that would take place in the heavens; a show that created a fitting backdrop for an elegant musical concert—but even more, a powerful teaching moment.
Chris and I had picked the hottest week in Idaho to escape the hottest place in America—our home in Phoenix. The blazing heat had further complicated an already spreading problem in the northwest—wildfires. Thousands of acres were being affected—thankfully not in Sun Valley, although our idyllic setting was marred by the heavy smoke that had settled in, to the point of obscuring the surrounding mountain peaks almost entirely from view.
Beauty in the Fire
Midway into Number 5, someone noticed that the setting sun was shining its last rays of the day our way—but, amazingly, it was reflecting a full orbed, beet-red image that was, to put it mildly, simply breathtaking.
As I reached for my iPhone to snap a shot or two, I remembered from freshman science class that orange and red tints in the sun are caused by floating particles in the earth’s atmosphere. And that’s when it hit me: The damaging wildfires that were eating up the forests nearby were also leaving in their wake a life lesson.
The smoke that was blocking my mountain view was made up of millions of tiny, obscuring ashes. And those tiny ashes were creating, with the help of the evening’s bright sun, a brilliant show of color and vibrancy that could not have been seen in any other setting.
Beyond the Storm
I once again grabbed my phone, but this time to record my racing thoughts.
“Steve, if you look only at your storm, all you will see is its ravaging, destructive effects. And confined by such limited vision, you will have no option but to remain confused and discouraged.
“When crisis comes your way, if all you care to know is who’s at fault and why won’t this just go away—if your only reliance is in your own feelings about everything bad that is happening to you and around you—you will fail to see the beauty of this disappointing, but instructive, circumstance. Joy comes, and beauty emerges, only when you choose to look through your storm and beyond your storm.”
Hammered by my own words, I put my phone away—but what I couldn’t do was tamp down the fire those words had sparked in my heart. It was then that I suddenly realized: Every life-altering, breathtakingly defeating circumstance in my life (and I have had many such awful storms) had also brought with it great beauty.
I reached for my phone a third time, this time to see the photographic image of the red sun through the prism of this fresh insight. To my surprise, the red sun wasn’t there! The smoke was still there—the obscure mountains, too. But in the spot where “my sun” had once so clearly shined, there was nothing but haze.
My photographer wife informed me later that the lens on my phone wasn’t capable enough to fend off the photons that my eyes could filter; and that’s why the picture I had so hoped to capture never did materialize.
And yet, I saw it. She saw it. So did hundreds of other people. The same fire that brought great devastation had also created great beauty. But (get this life lesson) you have to use the proper lens to fully see it. You know, the lens of faith that enables you not just to look at, but to look through, beyond, and above life’s storms.
After all, the God who brings storms is also the God who calms storms. And that God says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
It’s important to know the difference between hard, hurt, and harm. Have you ever had an infected tooth pulled? Was it hard to endure it? Yes. Did it hurt to have it pulled? Yes. But did that experience harm you? No. It ultimately helped you, didn’t it?
I have learned there is great value in a hard, hurting storm. Like a wildfire, it can initially devastate, confuse, and terrorize you. But if, with eyes of faith, you can look to “see” God at work behind the scenes of your storm, you will also, in time, see great beauty emerging from the ashes.
But Lord, it’s dark! I feel like I’ve lost my way! I need the storm to stop! And if the fires must continue to rage, I need to know that you are with me!
Eyes of Faith
The trouble is, this side of Heaven, we’ll not see him. Not with these feeble eyes. The photons of his brilliant presence are too complex. But you and I can see him with eyes of faith.
The Bible says, “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). The kind of faith that, when God says, “[I] will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6), you tap into—so that you keep straining to see him—simply because you know that “never leave you” is exactly what God will do.
And that’s faith. Holding to the confident realization that God is, even in trying circumstances, working for your good. And that no matter how tangled your life becomes, no matter how painful your issues, no matter how devastating the blows of your life, God will always be with you. And even more, he will guide you safely through the storm. And then bring beauty because of the storm.
Far too many of us focus on the flames—and so we panic. But when we panic, we cannot trust. And when we cannot trust, there is no hope.
Before I put my phone away for the last time, I jotted one final thought:
God has gone on record that the people who most reflect his perspective are those who courageously walk in some measure of blindness. Who accept the unexpected, who embrace the unknown, and who seize the unimaginable—and yet, keep looking for God’s beauty . . . anyway.
Sifting through the debris, peering through the mist, squinting through the smoke—call it whatever you want, I call it faith. Faith is living in an absolute confidence plus an abiding conviction that even in the wake of a fire there is still reason to hope.
So I strain to see the beauty. Not because I’m compelled by wishful thinking or any other fanciful, fickle feeling. I strain to see . . . because my faith is rooted in the character and the work and the Word of God.
Steve Wyatt is a minister and freelance writer in Anthem, Arizona.
Ten Perspective Exercises
1. Look the situation through a telescope: What does it look like from very far away? Try a microscope: What does it look like on a cellular level?
2. How would the situation be viewed during a different era?
3. How would a child describe it? An elderly person? A person in a primitive village?
4. What would your younger self advise you to do in the situation? What might your future self say?
5. How do others involved see the situation?
6. How might a painter portray the challenges and opportunities you face? Which elements would be portrayed literally and which would be presented figuratively?
7. If there were a symphony inspired by the situation, what movements and moods would it have? How would musicians and listeners feel during the piece and after?
8. Outline the situation like a novel. What was the inciting incident? Who are the characters? Who’s the hero? What events might be the climax and resolution?
9. Be your own inner counselor: ask supportive questions about what’s going on.
10. Think in extremes: What would happen if you did nothing? What would happen if you did the most drastic thing you can think of?