Ghost Lines on the Portrait of Our Lives

Originally published Tuesday, 21 October 2014.

I walked into the school room one afternoon to see my son's progress on a poster he was making for Scouts.

"Hey, Buddy, don't push down so hard with your pencil. Remember what your art teacher told you? You'll end up with ghost lines," I said.

He sighed. "I know." Picking up his eraser, he scratched furiously at the lines. But they were still there.

My son has learned in his art class that when you are drawing in pencil, it is important to sketch lightly because if you need to erase something, it won’t leave ghost lines. But when you push down hard, no matter how much you erase it, there will be a faint line showing that there was once a mark there.

The Ghost Lines of Life

My life is filled with ghost lines. Most days, when I glance at the portrait of my life, I don’t notice them. But sometimes I am forced to step in close like I did recently when I wrote an article on a difficult topic. Writing about such things brought back a flood of memories from childhood, memories that, while they have since been redeemed, revealed that ghost lines remain scratched onto the canvas of my life. In fact, the closer I look at my portrait, the more lines I see. Times when I've been rejected by friends. Losses I've experienced. Sins I've committed. People I've hurt. Dreams that have been dashed. Wrong paths I've taken.

I’m not alone though. We all have ghost lines on the portraits of our lives. Things from our past that we’ve done, things that were done to us, and hard things we've experienced, that are forever pierced into our memories. Though time marches on and the lines fade, they are still there. Though there may have been redemption, forgiveness, rescue, healing, and new life, the evidence remains of what once was. For those whose lines run deep, it's a constant battle to fight for joy in the present because the pain of the past still aches and throbs.

Just how do we live with ghost lines? How do we look at the beauty of our portraits as they unfold without being distracted by the shadowy lines around the sides?

Living with Ghost Lines

This is what it means to live in the already/not yet of redemptive history. We’ve already been freed from the power of sin, yet the presence of sin still remains. We are already saved and are citizens of heaven, yet we still live in this sin stained world. The battle has already been won but there are still skirmishes left to be fought. We have forgiven others who have wronged us but our memories still linger. This is why we all cry out "How long, O Lord?" and "Maranatha! Come quickly!" Even the earth groans in anticipation as it too awaits the day when redemption and restoration  comes to completion.

While I wait, I take great hope in that fact that my Savior has lines of his own. They mark the places on his hands, feet, and side where he bore the wrath we deserved. And these marks are carved into his resurrection body, the body he ascended into heaven with, and the body we will one day see face to face. He has chosen for all eternity to live with these lines, a testimony of his love, mercy, and grace.

Ghost lines tell stories. And one important story they tell is that things in my life have changed. The shadows of lines that linger remind me of how far I’ve come. The fact that they are only shadows of what once was shows me that God is in the midst of redeeming all things, even the stories of my past. They remind me that he has been with me all along. They are marks of his glory and grace, tracing for me the ways he has carried me, saved me, rescued me, and forgiven me. Like Paul, I can look back at the stories these lines tell and see how he has been my strength in weakness. Also like Paul, I can show my portrait to others, point out the lines, and boast in what God has done.

My ghost lines also reveal to me that God is an Artist, intimately involved in the masterpiece of my life, creating something amazing despite my childish scrawls and scratches. As I watch it take shape over the years, I can see the transformation taking place. I cling to the promise in Philippians: "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (1:6).

On that day of Jesus Christ, we will all stand in the galleries of heaven and see God's finished work. What a thrill that will be! The portraits will all be complete. They will be perfect, no longer marred by sin and shame. And we’ll celebrate forever with the Master Artist of all the wondrous things he has done.

How about you? Do you have ghost lines around the edges of your life's portrait?