NE BRIGHT SUMMER DAY AN OLD woman sat alone on the porch of her little farmhouse. She sat thinking back over the course of her life and reflected on the twists and turns that brought her to this day. As she sat thinking she closed her eyes.
A few moments passed when her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of whistling. She opened her eyes and focused them on a red-faced young man walking up the road to her house. It was a hot day and she could see the sweat stains on his buttoned-down shirt; nevertheless he whistled a happy tune.
Asking a Favor
The fellow soon stood at the edge of her porch and introduced himself. He explained that he was the new pastor at the church in town. He was on his way to visit someone when his car had a flat tire. He’d left his car a mile or so down the road, and hers was the first house he saw. Could he use her phone to call for a tow truck and to tell his wife where he was?
Delighted for the company, the old woman showed the young man into the kitchen where the phone was. Once he completed his calls, there was nothing to do but wait. The old woman put together a snack and a cold drink, and the two of them sat silently on the porch looking out at the field across the road and the horizon beyond.
Occasionally a car passed by. The young man, used to making pastoral visits, broke the silence with his usual list of questions about family, work, and “How long have you lived here?”
The woman smiled at his polite inquiries and answered each question in turn.
Finally the pastor ran out of questions, and they sat there in silence, no tow truck in sight.
The young man decided he was actually enjoying this moment of quiet. He remembered he had a sermon to preach that weekend and it was Friday. He hadn’t given the subject much thought but he knew he would use something from the story of King Solomon; after all, Solomon was one of his favorite Bible characters.
He recalled the story from the book of Kings where God came to Solomon with the question “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (1 Kings 3:5).
Yes, the pastor thought, Solomon would make a good sermon topic. As he sat thinking over the points of the story and mentally forming a rough draft of his sermon, he decided to ask the old woman the same question God asked Solomon.
As he looked at her he could see from the smile in her eyes that the woman was enjoying his company, even his silence. Her careworn face showed lines of character that had been formed from years of test and trial. Smiling back at her, he could see in her eyes a reflection of the cheerful young woman she once was.
“So,” he said at last, “if God came to you and said, ‘Ask! What shall I give you?’ how would you respond?”
The old woman paused and looked down at her hands. For a brief moment her head and eyes bent low in sorrow. The young man wondered if she was thinking of her dead husband and how she would ask God to reunite them. Or maybe she was thinking of a son who had drifted far from home, or a daughter who left never to return.
Knowing What to Ask
The old woman lifted her head and looked to the horizon. She carefully searched the sky, as if the object of her desire would appear if only she looked hard enough.
The woman began to speak about the beautiful things in her life. A beautiful red rose with velvety petals; a beautiful sunrise that filled the morning sky with light; a beautiful peace when the world stands still and silent.
Questions for Reflection
1. Think of a time when you were deeply disappointed by some personal or family tragedy. How did you maintain your connection with Christ? Be specific.
2. Does the fact that you’ve survived past disappointments make it any easier to endure present trials? Why, or why not?
3. If your life was a painting, what would be its primary colors? Why those?
4. Why doesn’t God rescue us from all our painful, ugly memories? Or does He?
The woman explained that one night God did ask her that question. Many years ago, as she knelt by her bed, she heard the Lord’s voice asking her what He could give her. It took only a moment and she knew her answer. She wanted a pure, perfect, beautiful life—a perfect unmarred record.
“You see,” she explained to the pastor, “our lives are like beautiful paintings. Each stroke of paint is perfect in its shape and color, but all together they present a painting beautiful to behold.
“Our lives are like a beautiful flower,” she continued. “Every petal is beautiful and perfect by itself, but all the petals together are even more lovely.”
She said that when she looked back on her life she saw that the painting was not so pure or beautiful to look upon. The colors were not right and a few strokes went in the wrong direction. It just didn’t look right. She wanted to take out all the places where she had hurt others.
So, she responded to the Lord that she wanted a pure, perfect, beautiful life, a perfect record free from pain or sorrow.
Eventually, the old woman decided that she had been dreaming that night because for many years she waited, expecting God to somehow erase or undo all the unwanted memories and events of her life. But it was only old age that erased her memory; even then it wasn’t completely gone, just faded.
The woman paused and leaned back in her chair. In the silence the pastor wondered if she was politely letting him know that she didn’t care for church, or God, or pastors. Surprisingly, the young man noticed no trace of bitterness or anger in her expression.
Finally, an Answer
“Well,” she continued, “the Lord seems to like this old farmhouse. He came to talk to me again the other night.
“As I knelt by my bedside, I heard the Lord tell me how beautiful and perfect my life had been. He told me how pleased He was with me. For a moment I laughed and reminded Him of that night long ago when He said He would give me the perfect history I wanted.
“To this the Lord replied, ‘My child, the painting of your life is beautiful and perfect. The trials and troubles did not vanish away, and the past has not changed. But when I look at you, I see a righteous child, a child who loves her God, and those around her. I see the history of a life written by Jesus Christ—a painting made perfect by His hand.’”
Just then a tow truck pulled onto the dirt road and came toward them. Silently, the young man smiled and touched the old woman’s hand. As he stepped off the porch, he thanked her for her hospitality and walked to the waiting tow truck.
Julie Farmer was a student at La Sierra University in Riverside, California, when she wrote this parable.