One of my favorite things about becoming a parent has been the constant metaphors that open my eyes to the nature of God. It’s through interactions with Mia that I find myself coming to a greater understanding and appreciation of the depths of God’s love and work in my life. A few weeks ago, however, it was my friend, Rachel, whose daughter gave me a profound glimpse into the Lord’s burning desire for prosperity in our lives.
Rachel and I were sipping cappuccinos, unsuccessfully trying to convince ourselves that we could save money and make them just as good as Starbucks, when four-year-old Charlotte trudged over to us in exasperation. She was holding a red crayon and a dramatic facial expression of clear irritation. “Mo-om,” she groaned, tacking on a second syllable to indicate her intense grief. Rachel didn’t respond verbally, only raising her eyebrows to imply a listening ear that was far from eager to hear whatever complaint was about to be set before her. “Molly’s coloring outside the lines.”
The three of us turned to look at two-year-old Molly, gripping her crayon in a tight fist and scribbling so ferociously that one might wonder if she was trying to complete two pictures at once by forcing the color straight through the paper onto the next page. She looked up at us and broke into a huge grin, innocently unaware that the chaos of color on her paper would be so easily tidied and brought to life if she adhered to the guidance of the lines.
For some reason, staring at Molly’s pandemonium made me recall a recent moment with the second graders at our church’s public school religion class. They were learning the Ten Commandments and I couldn’t help but notice how bland and authoritarian the list appeared on the board, as if it contained no more depth or purpose than a sign above the sink reminding the kids to wash their hands. I wondered how many years it would be before some of them stumbled upon the mindset that rules are meant to be broken and started embracing the “Only the Good Die Young” lifestyle I ran blindly with for too long. (The look on my mother’s face when my phone rang and she realized that song was my ringtone will forever be burnt into my memory.)
So what does the monotonous list of the Commandments have to do with the colorful discombobulation Molly had created? In that moment, those lines became, for me, the so-often-overlooked guidance that the Ten Commandments provide for us. The disorder that was being produced as a result of Molly’s ignorance of those lines was the turmoil that our lives tumble into when we ignore the wisdom of the Commandments. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this turmoil is that it so frequently goes unnoticed when we assume that all is well, often because we look around and see that we’re surrounded by others in the same circumstances with the same struggles. This is how it is for everyone, we tell ourselves, so it’s okay that it’s like this for me. But does it have to be?
Often, when I take a step back and make an honest assessment of my life, the situations and relationships that are causing me the most grief are those where I’m failing to conduct myself in accordance with the guidance contained in the Commandments. The further I stray from the lines, the worse my picture looks.
And just in case we need another metaphor (if Jesus spoke in parables, these comparisons must resonate at least somewhat effectively), we stay within the lines on the road to avoid disastrous car accidents. They’re not there to take away our freedom. They’re there to keep us existing harmoniously among one another.
So it is with the commandments. If only there was an easy way to communicate to a seven-year-old that this is not a list of musts and must nots from a rigid disciplinarian seeking to suck the fun out of life. Au contraire! This is instead a deeply intrinsic set of directions from the very creator of mankind who knows us through and through and designed us to function, no, to thrive, according to these words. Sadly, since our human nature is tainted, we have an inborn tendency to question authority and as a result, our culture has manifested this idolization of the bada… ahem… rebel, if you will (this is Catholicmom, after all). But there is a difference between authority and tyranny. One uplifts, the other suppresses. One strengthens, the other squelches. One awakens greatness, the other forces servitude.
Trust. We must trust that our God is not a tyrant at work in opposition to our desires, no matter how difficult it often is to understand his work. We’re his creation! How could he want anything other than for us to flourish? He longs for nothing more than to take the blank page of our lives and infuse into it the richest, most vibrant colors we can imagine. But if we refuse to cooperate and instead roam around on our own terms, attempting to plow our own paths, the effects will likely be unfortunate, maybe even more so than a four-year-old tattling on you and a twenty-six-year-old comparing your handiwork to sin. Sorry, sweet Molly!
Food (or a counterfeit Starbucks cappuccino) for thought: How can I help myself to bear in mind and also to communicate to my children the importance of adhering to the Ten Commandments’ wisdom in order to find real, lasting peace in our lives?