At the moment our three year old is learning how to colour in. She generally does a great job, but when she is tired or her concentration wanes, then the colours start to wander. At this point she is normally reminded by the adult with her to “stay within the lines.” In her colouring books the picture outlines are provided for her. An array of mermaids, princesses and fairies wait for her to simply add her own colour choices. Yes, I have tried to encourage her to colour a wider range of pictures but in her world everything is sparkly and girly, and colouring in a truck just won't do! She often chooses colours that aren’t quite the norm, filling in green hair or black fairy wings, but I’m sure if she is told enough times then she will slowly learn to choose the “right” colours!
From an early age we often start to create an outline of what we think our lives should be like. We create an outline of the perfect job, perfect spouse, perfect wedding day and perfect children in our perfect house. Mentally we draw the outline of our lives and if we’re not doing it quickly enough (or at all) then others helpfully prompt us with questions or advice about the outline we would like to colour in when we grow up!
Then we start colouring.
We try to choose the right shades of qualifications, friendships and hobbies in an aim to complete our outline with the appropriate colours. All the time we compare our colour choices and shading to the pictures that others are completing. We try harder and harder when we think our colouring in doesn’t measure up to theirs.
As a teenager all I wanted was for God to tell me which colour to use, in which section and in which order. When I look back through old prayer journals they are filled with desperate pleas to be given the answer. I wanted the plan, the blueprint, the outline, the schedule, the timeline or anything that would give me the vaguest clue what the finished picture would look like.
And to varying degrees I’ve done that ever since…
Did Jesus really die so that we could live our lives striving to colour in perfectly?
Did He give His life so that we would be restricted to a one-size-fits all colour palette?
Is that really what Good Friday was all about?
Did Jesus really go through that torturous day so that we could live a life staying within the lines that we, or others, have drawn for us?
As I thought about these questions the words of John 10:10 came to mind:
I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (MSG)
I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]. (AMP)
I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. (CEB)
When I read the words of John 10:10 I don’t imagine a neatly completed colouring page finished using 12 preselected colours from a packet. This verse brings to mind an artist covered in paint, holding a palette displaying every colour in the spectrum, ready to fill the canvas with depth and life.
If we’re not careful then our tendency to colour in, rather than let God create, extends to our churches as well. At its inception, the denomination I belong to infuriated the established church around it. The Salvation Army refused to stay within the lines of what church should be. It threw away the colouring book, handed God a blank canvas and asked Him to create something new using the widest array of colours possible. Then slowly, over time, fear of God’s creative chaos set in, the lines were redrawn and colouring within them became the norm.
I’ve sat in many groups where frustrations have been shared between those who like to colour in one particular shade and those who would love to explore the other colours available. I don’t mind people having different preferences but if you keep insisting that I’ve got to colour in green then I’m going to reach a point where I wonder why God bothered sending a rainbow.
I don’t think my picture necessarily has to look the same as yours.
In fact, I’m pretty convinced that it’s not meant to be the same!
To me a life of faith is the opposite of colouring within the lines. Rather than being presented with a set outline, where we simply choose the colour palette, God calls us to partner with Him to create a masterpiece. Nothing in His word encourages a life where we simply stay within the lines. It suggests a life where wax crayon with it’s restricted colour mixing properties, just won’t cut it. Ultimately God urges us to have faith that He knows what the finished picture will look like and trust that it's way beyond anything we could dream or imagine.
As I reflect on all that happened on Good Friday, many shades of one colour comes to mind.
Because of this day, a day filled with shades of red, I am able to live a life of glorious technicolour. I am able to live a life taken from the gallery of Jackson Pollock, rather than from the pages of a child’s colouring book.
A life lived in all its fullness!