The story is told of a young boy who every night as the sun was setting would look out of his bedroom window, across the rolling hills and sweeping valley’s to the house on the hill in the distance, whose windows always shone a brilliant yellowy-orange, a house, he believed, made of gold! A house that made his look so ordinary, so everyday. His was a look of longing, a longing that one day would take him to see that house of gold.
As the weeks passed the boy finally seized his opportunity and embarked on the long journey over hill and valley. After what seemed like many hours of walking he arrived at the house, only it was not shining a brilliant yellowy-orange and its windows were not made of gold. As he stood perplexed by it all a young girl, about his age, came out of the door of the house and made her way towards him. “Where is the house of gold?” he asked. “I’ve been seeing it for many weeks now, and I came to see it for myself but it isn’t here, have I taken a wrong turn, is there another house further over the hill?”
With a look of excited recognition, the young girl replied, “House of gold! Yes! Yes! I know of such a house, I too have seen it.” And she grasped his hand and said, “Come with me to the top of the hill, in a moment the sun will set and I will show you this house of gold you seek.” Together they sat, and as the sun set, she pointed over the hills and valley’s and sure enough there, sat on the hill on the distance was the boy’s home from which he had come, it’s windows shining a yellowy-orange, the house of gold!
Author Brian McLaren once wrote, “What you look for determines what you see. What you focus on determines what you miss. The way you see determines what you are blind to, and what you render invisible.” Perception is a funny thing. Not only does it shape what we see and how we see it, but it also determines what we miss and do not see.
I remember some years ago being shown a puzzling picture that was quite obviously that of an old woman’s haggard face. I was then told to look again, what did I see? ‘An old woman’s haggard face’ I replied. I was then told that if I looked hard enough I would see not simply the haggard face but the profile of a very beautiful young woman. I looked and looked, but just couldn’t see it, as long and as hard as I tried, the haggard face was all I could see.
Then the one showing me the picture began to slowly, and in great detail, outline the young woman’s profile and suddenly there it was, as clear as the haggard face. What had been completely invisible was now obviously apparent.
I wonder how many gold houses and haggard faces we see in the things and people around us that blind us from deeper or even different realities? Often we can avoid people, shy away from situations or hide from particular challenges because we perceive them to be a certain thing. And the more we perceive it that way the more deeply entrenched we become in that opinion and the more stubborn to protect it. We see this in our children regularly. I have young children who often, when introduced to new environments or new friends will draw premature conclusions that they’re not going to fit in, that they won’t be liked, or no one will want to befriend them….and on it goes, one preconceived judgement after another.
I cannot begin to tell you how often they have been proved wrong. Environments they deemed would be hostile were in fact inviting and welcoming. Children they were convinced would ignore them or make fun of them became wonderful friends. Sometimes it is not the haggard face that causes us to miss the beautiful profile, but our stubborn insistence that the beautiful profile is not there! It may be that we might have to walk over to the house of gold before we fully appreciate the house we have just left.
The writer of Ecclesiastes has this wonderful line, ‘He has made everything beautiful in its time’ (3:11). All that we see, all whom we meet, all that surrounds us, holds an integral beauty not purely of its own but one that has been placed there by a creator himself rich in beauty and boundless wonder. In the gold rushes of the 1800’s in South Africa, in places like Pilgrim’s Rest and Barberton in the Mpumalanga province, hundreds of locals and traveling prospectors found themselves wading into the hills and mountains in search of their fortune. When asked why they would want to dig around in the mud and dirt and rocks of those hills they would answer,
“We don’t go into the hills looking for rocks and mud….we go looking for gold!”
Perhaps for some of us the challenge may be that the next time we go wading in to a new situation or environment, or stand at the threshold of a new friendship, we do so committed to looking for gold not simply for mud and dirt. Perhaps for some of us we may need to keep our hearts open enough to appreciate that in every haggard face there may well be hidden a beautiful profile.
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