My spirit sighed in relief, accomplishment, and comfort. It had been a full day of adventuring, and now I was done for the day. I finished setting up camp, getting my car reorganized, equipping my tent with what I needed for the night, and putting on sweatpants and loose comfortable layers for the evening. Everything that needed to be done was done, and now I could soak in the beauty around me. My feet rejoiced as I forced off my hiking boots and slid my feet into my warm soft sandals which had been baking all day in the heat of the car. It was time to quiet my soul and be wholly present in the natural beauty around me, relinquishing action for the comforting silence of creation.
I sat on top the picnic table at my campsite to look out upon Lake Tahoe on the most eastern edges of California. I had lucked out and scored a campsite just atop the rounded slope that spilled down into Emerald Bay. Just days prior I was in the heat and desolation of the Mojave desert and its Death Valley. Although it has its own appeal, it was now so comforting to be aside water, in an air that grew increasingly cool with each passing minute. I felt like I had really arrived somewhere and felt accomplished for again having survived the harshness of the desert.
I took a deep breath of the cool pine-filled air with the knowledge and awareness that I didn’t deserve any of this, yet it was lavished upon me. The most striking and comforting feature of the moment was the sunset my eyes beheld. The sun had dipped behind the piney bluffs sending an arsenal of colors: warm oranges, vibrant pinks, rich purples and blues, to jab into the soul and evoke awe.
By this point, in all my travels and wanderings, I had pondered and written quite a bit about natural beauty and the spiritual truths hidden within. Features and phenomenons in nature, although they serve their own selfish purposes, also are symbolic and reveal truths about God and man. I had come to adopt a philosophy summed up in a phrase that repeated in my mind: “beauty is never wasted,” meaning that behind every beautiful feature or event in nature there is a message God planted to be found. It was all intentional.
So here I sat in front of a rich sunset above an angelic lake, framed by dark sweet pines. I’ve learned a lot from streams and rivers. The moon and sky tell truth, the rainbow holds promise, and even a majestic tree speaks power. What is the meaning behind a sunset? Such beauty is so exquisitely extravagant, it must hold a powerful and prized message. Its display is so moving. I began to think of how some things are universally beautiful. Many differ in opinion, but I do believe beauty is objective. I have never met someone who would deny the beauty of a sunset. It’s these things which are universally beautiful that are all the more compelling to me in that they carry a message.
I had to pause and start at surface level. A sunset marks the ending of a day, the closure, the wrapping up. If I were to relate that to human life, well the closure and wrapping up of life is death. But death? Really? Death has so often a negative connotation, and a sunset is beautiful. Does a sunset, something so beautiful, really hold a message about death? Two summers prior I had lost my Grandpa Hodge. It was his time to die. It was his sunset. He was the first family member I lost as an adult, and, at that time, I was thinking of how death, although often viewed as a loss, is really the completion of something. It is the race fully finished. If you live a life in accordance with God’s will, everything that you were meant to do in life, all your purpose, your calling, is complete at death. It is the most glorious of accomplishments! It is the most relieving, freeing, and beautiful of things. There are no more questions to be had, no more searching for purpose, no more toil and pain. There is a richness and completeness. The beauty of a life fully and rightly lived coming to its closure can parallel both the melancholy and celebratory beauty of a sunset.
Then I started thinking of the different colors of the sunset. Why does a sunset have an array of colors? What is the purpose behind this? Why are some sunsets more beautiful than others? Why do some have more colors than others, and how come sometimes we can’t see the sunset?
I started attributing the colors of the sunset to the overarching qualities of a person’s life. When a life comes to an end, we can see the summation of a person. We can look at a life in its entirety and identify the qualities that person beheld. As a sunset can be rich in red, orange, pink, blue, purple, so a man’s sunset can be marked by his own colors, whether it be kindness, generosity, love, bravery… When a life comes to an end, and we reflect upon the person, these attributes become brightly evident on display.
Some sunsets are more monotone, as some lives are marked by one outstanding attribute or quality. Other, perhaps more beautiful sunsets, are marked by many colors. Many attributes are on display for the lives appealed and touched a multitude of people in a multitude of ways. Then, there are the sunsets that, well, aren’t. We don’t see a beautiful display. Instead there are clouds or storms. There is no beauty to be seen, but just a gradual fading into abysmal darkness. This is the life not rightly lived, the life pursued apart from God. The life that lacked forgiveness; the life that turned cold; the one that was troubled and overcast by its own selfish ambition; the one in which goodness did not take root; and there, in that, death is not a completion nor fullness. There is no beauty to be seen. The palette is dismal and downcast.
When it is my time to go, or to put it frankly, when I die, what will be the colors of my sunset? Will there be a richness and beauty on display? Will my life be complete? Yes, through God’s grace, I will work to make it so. But if I were to pass today, what would my sunset look like? What qualities will summate my life?
At this point in my musings, my mind was on fire and delighted by the richness of thought. I was inspired. I broke open my journal. I could make a list of favorable qualities and consider the evidences in my life that point to each. I wanted to pause and consider the colors of my sunset. I began to think of positive qualities, and then my mind was steered to scripture: Galatians 5:22-23 says “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Perhaps these were the things exhibitable in life, things worth nurturing, the ingredients of the most spectacular and beautiful of sunsets. I realized that in these nine things which constitute “the fruit of the Spirit,” all other good qualities stem. From Love we get self-sacrifice, endurance, forgiveness, trust, humility, and bravery. In Joy we find happiness, charm, and hope. In Peace we find resolve, resilience, calmness, comfort, acceptance, security, confidence, and unity. In Patience there is perseverance, maturity, and knowledge. In Kindness there is selflessness, consideration, giving, charity, and thoughtfulness. In Goodness there is integrity and trustworthiness. In Faithfulness there is loyalty, bravery, and the unwavering. In Gentleness there is calm, patience, even-temperament, nurturing, and respect. In Self-Control there is wisdom, intention, and perspective. All of these constitute beauty.
If my sun were to set, in all honest and sincere reflection, I think my colors on display would be honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, bravery, comfort, resilience, and intention. These are the positive qualities I most identify with. I do not share this to boast. After all, these all come from the fruit of the Spirit. They are found under the umbrella qualities of love, peace, goodness, and faithfulness. And these are not products of my own being. They are from the Spirit of God, which is a gift. In identifying these colors of my sunset, I’ve also come to find that I am lacking in the display of others. I want my sunset to display the full array of colors, and what I most need to work on is nurturing more joy and kindness in my life. My life can at times be plagued by pessimism, unjustified negativity, and unrighteous reflexive acts of self-preservation.
Through this reflection, I was very much intrigued to read up and study the “fruit of the Spirit.” When my travels were over and I was home, I did just that. To my surprise I realized these nine things were packaged together in a singular Spirit. There are not separate fruits. They come together. The singular word “fruit” is used with the singular indicative verb of “is,” not “are”. The spirit of God, living in his people, endows us with all these qualities as one gift. They don’t need to be planted or harvested individually. They are in every redeemed believer, at our disposal to employ in our lives, to transform this world and point others to Christ. The only thing that keeps some attributes from being more apparent than others in my own life, is my own faulty human nature. As Jesus says in Luke 9:23, we have to “deny” ourselves daily and follow him. Then the Spirit of God can really shine through, bringing fruit to life and eventually color to sunset.
When I consider the colors of my sunset and become preoccupied with all that would entail, I am not just thinking of a display. I am not here thinking of just how I want people to be thinking about me upon my passing. That is missing the point. As we reflect upon the colors of our sunsets, it is really a time to take moral inventory, to examine our lives and see if they align with all the potential we have in the Spirit of God. Then, as we are more aware, we can take action steps to remove more of our selfish being, to weed out the clutter and clean the storeroom of our lives, to allow more colors to shine through in our life and become evident in our sunsets. This is achievable only through an active relationship with God and ceaseless pursuit of Him. These attributes, these colors, don’t develop individually or by our own will. Rather, quite contrary, and astounding, they become bright and richer the more we know and yield to God. The more we come to know God, the more He will be made known in our lives, evident in the fruit throughout. Thus, when the time has come, and our mortal life is passing, there too, beauty can be found in the colors of our sunsets.
There aside Lake Tahoe, as all the color faded in the night sky, the sunset complete, I zipped up my tent, shimmied into my sleeping bag, and rested my head on my pillow. It is true, I said to myself, beauty is never wasted.
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