There was a small artist who had lived in a society that did not value art. He had a long journey to make and did not want to go. But he could not get out of it. When would the journey begin and end? Where would it take him? He had no idea.
Suddenly one particular picture had come to his mind. It had begun with a leaf caught in the wind, and it became a tree; and the tree grew, giving birth to numerous branches and deep roots. He wanted to paint this great tree before he embarked upon the long journey. He started working on his canvas with obsessive attention to detail, trying to make every leaf uniquely beautiful.
He lost interest in all his other artworks when the great tree became a single vast embodiment of his vision. He laid out a canvas so huge that he needed a ladder to reach all four corners.
An incomplete job
The artist worked hard but he didn't get a lot done. No matter how hard he worked, very little actually showed up on the canvas. In addition, he was constantly distracted by many mundane chores and duties that prevented him from giving the work his undivided attention. His 'kind heart' also turned out to be a double-edged sword. He was doing many things for his neighbour to the point that he could not fully focus on his masterpiece.
One night he sensed that the journey he had put off was about to begin. When he knew that he had to leave the house and the canvas behind, he began to weep. How could this be? His work was still incomplete.
After his departure, people who acquired his house noticed only one beautiful leaf on the crumbling canvas. It was put in the Town Museum but only a few eyes noticed it. One day the Museum was burnt down. The artist and his painting were soon forgotten in his country. What a sad story, isn't it?
But the good news is that the story does not end there.
True reality beckons
The artist found himself on a train toward the mountains of the heavenly afterlife. It didn't take long until the steam engine gave a whistle, the brakes were put on and the train stopped. There was no station, no signboard but only green embankment. He went outside in spring sunshine and looked up in complete amazement. Before him stood the tree, his tree, fully finished and bursting with vitality; its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind just like he had envisioned.
His work was incomplete and forgotten in his old country. But in his new country, which is in fact the real world, he found that his tree was part of the true reality that would last forever.
Some of you may already know this short story from J. R. R. Tolkien titled "Leaf by Niggle". I can often identify strongly with Niggle. What about you? Almost everyone wants to make a difference in this life but all will come to naught in the end unless there is a true reality beyond this world.
My last column
After five years of writing voluntarily for Press Service International (3 years as young writer and 2 years as senior writer), this is my last column for Christian Today Australia & New Zealand. Recounting the above story has given me a striking resemblance to my own work and writing endeavours, and to an extent, my life as a whole.
I’ve written 53 articles for PSI over the years. Some articles were written quickly and hastily, others carefully and thoughtfully. Some were written from the comfort of my own desk, others on the road and during mission trips. Sometimes I had no time, was too tired, or couldn't think of any topic to write about. Some articles were No. 1 most popular on Christian Today while others quietly appeared and disappeared.
Numerous times I wanted to call it quits. But God’s grace enabled me to continue with the audience in mind. I thank God for giving me the privilege to share my writing on this space, while shaping and moulding me in various ways in the process.
The Grand Finale
In this world, our work will always fall short in some way, shape or form. Often they will be fruitless and frustrating even on our best days. But we can take comfort in the fact that our work in this life is not the final word.
Eventually the tree that we seek - be it peace, justice, mercy, beauty, joy or love – will come to fruition in a true reality beyond this world. In his book "Every Good Endeavor", Tim Keller commented: "If you know all this, you won't be despondent because you can get only a leaf or two out in this life. You will work with satisfaction and joy. You will not be puffed up by success or devastated by setbacks."
So let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9). When we reach our true home, the deepest longing of our heart will finally be fulfilled.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to acknowledge a few people who have made this journey possible: My sincere thanks go to Mark & Delma Tronson, Alison Barkley, David Chang and Natalie Chu. Thank you also to all who have been reading my articles.
The end… but this is only the beginning of the next chapter.