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