“It is easy to find out whether our lives are focused, and if so, where the focus lies. Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning? Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day? Dare to have it out with God and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focused on Christ and His glory.” ~ Lilas Trotter
Lilias Trotter was an artist and missionary to Algeria who lived from 1853-1928. Her Wikipedia page summarizes her story well:
“Trotter was a nearly self-taught artist, her mother believed her talent exceptional, and in 1876, she sent some of Lilias’ drawings to art critic and social philosopher John Ruskin while all three were staying in Venice… Ruskin praised Trotter’s artistic skill, and she became an informal student and a good friend despite the disparity in their ages. Ruskin told Trotter that if she would devote herself to art, she would “be the greatest living painter and do things that would be Immortal.”
Lilias earnestly sought God’s will through prayer and placed her gifts in the hands of the God who had given them to her:
“I have no more to do with these gifts than with the color of my hair.”
Seeking First the Kingdom
Lilias came to the decision that she could not give herself to painting and continue to seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. Ruskin was deeply disappointed and hoped that she would change her mind.
Lilias began to work at the YWCA, teaching regularly and “did a considerable amount of teaching and (unusually for respectable young women of the period) fearlessly canvassed the streets alone at night near Victoria Station for prostitutes who might be persuaded to train for an employable skill or to simply spend a night in a hostel (Wikipedia).”
She soon felt the Lord calling her to be a missionary in North Africa and persevered even after she had been rejected by the North African Mission Board on account of her poor health. The Board agreed to work in harmony with her although not as a member. Nine months later, Trotter and two other women set sail for Algeria.
Mission life was hard and her health unstable, but as she and her small group persisted, they saw God at work even in the midst of much resistance. By 1920 there were 30 missionaries working alongside her. She never solicited funds because she said God’s wealth was boundless.
Lilias continued to faithfully serve the people of Algeria until the day of her death.
A Life Well Lived
Many may look at Lilias’ life and think that perhaps she wasted her artistic talent and the opportunity to become a famous painter. But I have to agree with filmmaker Laura Waters Hinson who writes , “Trotter’s stunning decision bids us to question the true meaning of success. Could you and I follow an unglamorous conviction at the risk of sacrificing personal wealth and fame? With her artistic legacy on the line, Trotter chose to relentlessly follow her calling, which meant choosing obscurity over celebrity.”
Hinson continues, “Trotter did not judge her worth by the number of people she reached in her lifetime or the number of her paintings that hung in galleries. She teaches me to trust more in what I believe I am called to do, regardless of the outcomes. I do not believe the takeaway from Trotter’s life is that our work should be obscure—I believe what matters is the posture towards our work.”
Recently, Hinson directed a movie which tells Lilas’ life story called Many Beautiful Things . Before the movie came out, I had never heard of Lilas Trotter. Afterwards, I knew I would never forget her. I hope that you will either watch the movie or read the biography that has been written about her life. Hers is truly a life well lived!
DC Area Folks: There will be a screening of this film on May 5 in DC! The screening will be followed by a discussion with filmmaker, Laura Waters Hinson, and author, Dr. Steven Garber. Tommy Hinson of Church of the Advent will moderate. Click Here to purchase your tickets!