A Word About Elephants

A couple of years ago, my wife and I made a trip to Thailand. It was our first time to visit that part of the world, and we loved the beauty of that small country, the culture, the food. I was teaching missionary doctors who had gathered for a time of rest and renewal from the rigors of practicing medicine on the mission field. But one particular memory we will always hold with great fondness was our day-trip to see the elephants.

Elephants are still considered sacred in Thailand. And in recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on the ethical treatment of those regal animals. Elephants were once forced to work in the jungle timber, working long hours dragging trees and loading trucks. But today, sanctuaries have been established to protect and care for elephants. My wife and I had the opportunity to visit one such sanctuary, and we learned something we would never have imagined about elephants.

As part of our experience at the elephant sanctuary, we were escorted into a large, outdoor arena for a show. Several elephants were led into the arena, and their handlers pushed a very large ball into the center of the ring. Then, you might say a soccer match broke out between two teams of elephants, running back and forth and up and down the arena, kicking the huge ball with their enormous legs. Their powerful kicks launched the ball toward a wide goal at one end of the arena. The crowd loved it. The elephants seemed to love it. Who would have thought an elephant could play soccer.

But that wasn’t the most amazing thing we saw, the day we visited the elephants. After a few minutes of watching those pachyderms kick that ball around, those elephants were led out of the arena, and five others were led in, accompanied by men carrying easels and paints. With incredible dexterity and precision, we watched those elephants take tiny brushes in their trunks and ever-so-carefully begin to paint on the canvasses before them. Not just scribbling nonsensical splatters of paint. Those elephants painted pictures. One of them painted a picture of an elephant that was absolutely amazing. I saw it with my own eyes. And those paintings were then for sold for big bucks in the gift shop next to the arena.

Who knew an elephant could play soccer? And, for that matter, who knew an elephant could learn to paint self-portraits? They say an elephant never forgets. But what a tragedy if all those elephants I saw could only remember how to drag a log through the timber. What if they were continually troubled by where they’ve been instead of focusing on what they could learn and do.

The Apostle Paul talked about memory, but he didn’t have elephants in mind when he wrote to the Philippians, “… I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Never assume the picture God is painting with your life is defined by the limited jungle of your past. Your portrait has been painted by the very hand of God. One of a kind. And absolutely priceless.

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