Beauty and to Spare

In a little village in Ohio, the sunrises are spectacular. Light blazes out over the pastures, fiery orange meeting radiant green.

I’ve never seen it. But my friend Madelyn sends me photos as she sits outside with a cup of coffee in the still morning hours. It’s a little piece of paradise that seems so removed from my suburban home with the traffic noise and too-close neighbours. Then in winter, I get snapshots of blanketed snow while Madelyn warms up by a crackling fireplace.

In return, I send her photos from the east coast of Australia of migrating whales and golden sunsets spilling across the shimmering ocean. Or the ordinary but spectacular scenes from my backyard—flocks of cockatoos flying overhead, glowing in the morning light; chirping blue fairywrens landing on my fence.

Choosing Beauty

It’s one thing to intentionally seek out the beauty in your ordinary life. But what do you do when you long for the beauty someone else enjoys? Or when—as is common in our fallen world—you lose a beauty you once enjoyed?

As Madelyn and I have discovered in our friendship, you have a choice to make.

Madelyn adores the ocean, but her nearest beach is a day’s drive away. She told me of the temptation to be jealous of my frequent beach visits and how she chose instead to let God show her more of his beauty: “We can either wish our view was that of our friend’s or allow our friend’s view to become part of our own through that friendship.”

That’s true of differing life circumstances too. Madelyn is engaged, and in just a few months she’ll walk down the aisle toward a wonderful man. As I’m single, I could choose to seethe with jealousy, closing myself off and ruining my joy (and hers). I could nurture bitterness toward God for not allowing me to experience that particular image of his love. Instead, he invites me to see more of his beauty through their relationship.

I’ll see my empathetic friend carry the sorrows and burdens of her husband. I’ll see my tender-hearted friend extend to him—and one day, Lord willing, to their children—the gentle love of Christ. I’ll see my courageous friend choose to stay and rejoice when marriage is harder than she expected. All of it will give me a clearer vision of the beauty of the God who works all these qualities in her.

And while she prepares for marriage, I’ll enjoy the giggles of my niece and labouring at a job I love and curling up in my quiet house in the evenings to read and drink tea. Madelyn doesn’t get all the beauty. It’s just a different beauty. Different gifts, same Giver.

Redundancy of Beauty

The goodness of the Giver is our anchor when we’re tempted to covet what others have. Our God is not stingy with beauty.

In one of the Green Gables books, Anne Shirley looks out on the winter scene outside her window:

Anne always hated to see the beauty of the untrodden snow marred by footprints; but that could not be helped, and there was still beauty and to spare at eventide when the west was aflame over all the whitened hollows in the violet hills and Anne was sitting in the living-room before a fire of rock maple.

I consider Anne a child of spring. She longs for the warm breeze and living things. Yet even in winter, when the wildflowers are covered with snow and the birdsong is muted, Anne sees “beauty and to spare.” The winter sunsets dazzle her. And when the pristine snow becomes spoiled by footprints, there’s yet a different kind of beauty to see—the delight of her sons as they explore the world.

Tim Chester has described the “redundancy of beauty” in our world. God made every leaf unique, and he does it over and over as the foliage dies and bursts forth again in spring. Day by day, God displays his beauty in a million ways simply for the glory of his name and the joy of his people.

No matter where we go—Ohio or Sydney or anywhere else—that beauty is on vibrant display: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). We don’t need to grasp after the beauty someone else enjoys as if there’s a shortage where God has placed us. His people from all walks of life can confidently pray along with David, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may . . . gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” (Ps. 27:4).

Even in our darkest days, we can choose to believe there is beauty and to spare.

Eternal Beauty

We need the sight of beauty our friends experience, to see as they see. When I’m shivering through a long and rainy winter, Madelyn’s photo of a vase of fresh-picked yellow tulips reminds me the sun will return and the flowers will bloom once more.

On opposite sides of the world, Madelyn and I enjoy diverse gifts from the same loving Creator. Our views of God’s beauty are richer for sharing them with each other. I get white shores; Madelyn gets a far green country under a swift sunrise. For now, we’re content to share those beauties through each other’s lives.

But one day, God will turn the rain-curtain to silver glass, and he’ll roll it back, and we’ll be home with the Lord in a world of inexhaustible, imperishable beauty. No shortages. Nothing to miss out on.

In Immanuel’s land, we’ll trade stories of how we glimpsed Christ’s beauty in the good times and the bad, in our own lives and in the lives of those we love. Face to face with our Saviour, we’ll know what it truly means to see beauty and to spare.

1 Comments

  1. Keith Quan August 3, 2023 at 6:05 pm

    Amen! “There is a way of looking at the world that sees God’s goodness gifted to us and that causes us to live with constant wonder at his daily provision. There is another way of living that feels constantly slighted by God and others and becomes a greenhouse for bitter roots to flourish.”-David Gibson

    Used to see a young theologian’s publication with jealousy. Now thankful to God for the glut of theological talent and happily read the results of their years of study that I don’t have to do now. 🙂

    I’ve had both Beauties. Married for nearly 16 years going to bed literally thinking I have a perfect life. Singleness now. Teaching Bible twice today, getting ready to teach in the fall, unscheduled counseling a friend in need, and about to FaceTime a friend hundreds of miles away at 3am. I lack no good thing.

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