Introductory Note:

God’s beauty and goodness and truth are so vast that we can only comprehend in bits and pieces. Katelyn Dixon writes that painful experiences can actually provide a frame—a narrowing of our focus—that brings comprehensible tastes of God’s glory to our attention. It’s a kind of comprehension that Katelyn calls “beholding,” and she invites us to ponder how it works. Have you ever come face to face with your own weakness in a way that brought fresh waves of gratitude for God’s provision? Can you recall a loss or hardship that brought you a crystal clear glimpse of what is truly good, what actually matters in light of eternity? By God’s grace, we can reclaim our limitations and even our pain as frames for beholding.

Grace Pouch
Content Manager

Although we rarely con­sid­er it, the frame which graces a work of art tells us some­thing impor­tant. The con­fines of a frame say, This is the art piece. Focus your atten­tion here, on the sto­ry being told in this image alone.” The frame frees us to focus on the cre­ation in front of us, instead of the wall sur­round­ing it or the oth­er paint­ings hang­ing beside it. 

In the realm of unique­ly Chris­t­ian art, icons serve a sim­i­lar pur­pose. An icon is a rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al depic­tion of a saint or bib­li­cal event which serves to draw us deep­er into the spir­i­tu­al truth por­trayed in the flat, two-dimen­sion­al image. The image itself frames the deep­er truth we are meant to receive.

While trav­el­ing in Ire­land this Novem­ber, my hus­band Drew and I encoun­tered a vast­ness of beau­ty that was dif­fi­cult to take in. Every­where we looked, it seemed, there was a fresh man­i­fes­ta­tion of beau­ty revealed to our sens­es. I found myself fram­ing count­less shots through my cam­era lens, tak­ing hun­dreds of pic­tures in an attempt to cap­ture some­thing of the enchant­i­ng scenery around us. Now, the flat images on my screen serve as icons that evoke the deep joy and awe I expe­ri­enced when explor­ing those sacred land­scapes. In his work Beau­ty: The Invis­i­ble Embrace, Irish author, poet, and priest John O’Donohue describes the gift of tiny win­dows com­mon to tra­di­tion­al cot­tages in West­ern Ireland:

A small win­dow exer­cised a dis­ci­pline of pro­por­tion in rela­tion to the exter­nal beau­ty. It nev­er offered you the whole land­scape: instead, from every angle you looked, it chose from the land­scape a unique icon for your eyes. The grace of lim­it sug­gest­ed more than your eyes could visu­al­ly grasp.”

Frames and icons offer us the grace of lim­it which helps us shift from mere­ly see­ing an image to behold­ing it. This move­ment from see­ing to behold­ing is evi­dent in the bib­li­cal sto­ry of Job, and it all comes down to the frame. After a sea­son of hor­rif­ic suf­fer­ing and loss, Job is final­ly ready to get a bit cranky with God about it. Why can’t he see God in the midst of his pain? Why is God allow­ing this to hap­pen when Job is inno­cent? God final­ly answers Job’s ques­tions from a whirl­wind that is utter­ly vast in sight, sound, and scope. In the midst of Job’s dark night of suf­fer­ing, God pulls back the veil to reveal his pow­er and care at work in every fiber of cre­ation. How does Job respond after this dis­play? He says this:

My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5)

See­ing God’s pow­er and pres­ence through the frame­work of his pain moves Job from a spec­u­la­tive pos­ture towards an inti­mate, wor­ship­ful pos­ture. My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.” It is the frame of Job’s suf­fer­ing that final­ly enables him to move from know­ing about God through hearsay to behold­ing God as he was meant to be seen. Job may not have cho­sen the frame he was giv­en, but it was through that very frame that he met God.

Could it be that our lim­i­ta­tions — our unwant­ed sto­ries of pain and bro­ken­ness — are actu­al­ly what lib­er­ate us to behold God through the par­tic­u­lar frame­work of our lives?

I think of the sto­ry of my divorce — a sto­ry which holds immense shame and regret. Divorce was the one sto­ry I had deter­mined not to tell with my life, yet eight years ago I found myself in the messy mid­dle of it feel­ing bro­ken and betrayed. I cried out to God to end my pain, but he did not. Instead, God gave me a new way of behold­ing beau­ty in bro­ken­ness, his light in my dark­ness — and that has made all the dif­fer­ence. Years lat­er, I can see God’s faith­ful­ness shin­ing through the frame­work of my bro­ken heart­ed­ness. Not only can I trace God’s pres­ence through my land­scapes of pain, but I can also detect beau­ty in the brush­strokes with which he is paint­ing my sto­ry where I once saw only ugli­ness and dark­ness. There is light break­ing forth over dis­tant hills, and from this place I behold the land of the liv­ing. Where I once saw only a pic­ture of bro­ken­ness, I have found grace in the frame of divorce — a grace that frees me to focus on God’s redemp­tion in my sto­ry. This makes me wonder:

What if instead of avert­ing our gaze from the most shame­ful aspects of our sto­ries, we lean in and ask God to show us how to tru­ly see?

Do we dare believe that God’s glo­ry shines all the brighter through the frame of our suf­fer­ing and weak­ness? After the apos­tle Paul prays three times for the thorn in his flesh — his unwant­ed sto­ry — to be tak­en away, God tells him, My grace is suf­fi­cient for you, for my pow­er is made per­fect in weak­ness.” When we go through dif­fi­cult sea­sons we often think, I didn’t want this to be part of my sto­ry.” But because our vast and infi­nite God lim­it­ed him­self in becom­ing human and even fur­ther by dying on the cross, we are part of the most beau­ti­ful and true sto­ry of all.

Jesus — his life, death, and res­ur­rec­tion — is the frame through which we move from see­ing our sin and death to behold­ing our liv­ing God. When we look at our lives through the frame of the cross, we behold our­selves and the world as it is meant to be seen: full of beau­ty, just crack­ling with the pres­ence of God. We see evil and death defeat­ed, and we glimpse the king­dom of heav­en com­ing towards us even as it sur­rounds us now.

Just as the lim­i­ta­tion of small cot­tage win­dows in Ire­land serve to cre­ate an icon from each patch of land­scape, so do our sto­ries frame a unique per­spec­tive which is ours to share. What view of God’s king­dom land­scape does the frame of your life reveal?

May we behold glo­ry with­in the grace of lim­it. May we find free­dom in the frame.

Come and find the qui­et cen­ter
In the crowd­ed life we lead
Find the room for hope to enter
Find the frame where we are freed
Clear the chaos and the clut­ter
Clear our eyes that we can see
All the things that real­ly mat­ter
Be at peace and sim­ply be.
(From Come and Find the Qui­et Cen­ter” by Shirley Ere­na Murray)

Text First Published February 2023 · Last Featured on February 2023

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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