One of the fascinating things about becoming a parent has been the experiences that open my eyes more so to God the Father. Frank Sheed wrote, “God’s dealings with mankind may often be seen more clearly by some comparison drawn from the material universe, because both human beings and the material universe are creatures of the same God, and there are all kinds of family resemblances between the various works of the one master.”
So it is through interactions with my daughter 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 enjoying a rare, uninterrupted visit when her four-year-old daughter trudged over to us in exasperation. She was holding a red crayon and a 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 wasn’t too eager to hear the complaint. “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 I wondered if she was trying to complete two pictures at once by forcing the color straight through 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 no diving sign over the toilet in a public restroom. (Those exist.)
I wondered how many years it would be before some of these kids 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. (Forever branded in my memory is my mother’s facial expression upon discovering that my ringtone was Billy Joel melodically requesting a Catholic girl’s virginity.)
So what does the monotonous list of the Commandments have to do with the colorful discombobulation Molly had created? In that moment, those lines resembled the often overlooked guidance that the 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 Commandments’ wisdom.
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 those timeless commandments. Dishonesty, jealousy, absolute devotion to the wrong things… The further I stray from the lines, the uglier my picture appears.
After all, we stay within the lines on the road to avoid disaster, right? 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 precious set of instructions from the very creator of mankind who knows us through and through and designed us to function – no, to thrive – according to these principles.
Sadly, since our human nature is tainted, we have an inborn tendency to question authority. But there’s a difference between authority and tyranny. One uplifts, the other suppresses. One strengthens, the other squelches. One awakens greatness, the other forces servitude.
Look, God is not a tyrant at work to oppose us, no matter how difficult it can be to understand his work or how tempting it is to assume that we’d do a better job in his position. We’re His creation and he wants nothing other than for us to flourish. He longs to take the blank page of our lives and infuse into it the richest, most vibrantly ordered colors we can imagine.
But if we refuse to cooperate and instead roam around on our own juvenile, shortsighted terms, attempting to plow our own paths, the effects will be unfortunate.
On the other hand, if I seek the truth and search with an open heart for answers to the deepest questions being called out by my soul, there is no doubt that peace and order will reign in my endeavors. Because when we begin to act in accordance with our deepest purpose, we become free.