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coloring inside the lines


We bought Jasper a coloring book and a set of jumbo crayons to keep him entertained on our long road trips. He’s three, so for him the thrill of the activity is simply the fact that he can make marks on the paper and scribble to his heart’s delight and nobody is going to stop him. He loves the pictures, even though he is coloring anywhere but inside the lines. This is absolute entertainment to Jasper, and as long as it gives us a two minute break from his incessant, “What’s that?”, it was well worth every penny.

When I was a little girl I loved coloring. Opening up a brand new coloring book, sliding the palm of my hand down the inside crease and admiring the fresh page in front of me was wildly exciting. I chose my colors very carefully. And it was also very important to me to color inside the lines. I wanted my pictures to look just right. It gave me a sense of peace and harmony to see everything in order. The page was organized. And the colors were more vivid when they weren’t overlapping and competing with one another.

Coloring inside the lines.

There is something wildly freeing about coloring within the God-ordained margins of our lives. We are all too familiar with the frantic pace and gut gnawing feeling that comes when we start pushing ourselves past the boundary lines of peace. And we wonder what might life look like if we didn’t run on ragged every single moment of the day. We know that staying inside the God-ordained margins of our lives keeps us balanced and give us sustainability. But we struggle with the tug of war between expectations and reality. While we can’t control the chaos around us, we can control how we will manage it, and how much of it we will invite into our lives.

This past summer Joel and I took some time to evaluate our lives. We came to a sobering realization that we have been trying to color outside of the God-ordained margins of our lives for a very long time. It wasn’t intentional, and our motives were pure; we wanted to serve God and please him. We actually thought we were doing good things. And we probably were, but we were not always doing the best things. We were doing things that seemed right, but as we began to take a microscope to the lifestyle patterns we had created we realized very quickly we were coloring way beyond the lines of our coloring book pictures.

We were burned out. Weary. The coloring pages were full, but there was no pretty picture to show for it.

The more Joel and I began to walk this road of introspection, the more we realized that while life, work, family, relationships, ministry – all the things – will never slow down and never invite us into a well-balanced life, the more important it is for us to internally set the margins according to God’s design, and not waiver…not one little bit.

We also discovered that when we color outside the God-ordained margins of our lives we do two things: 1. We rob other people of the opportunity to color their own picture and create the image that God has designed for them, and 2. We rob ourselves of peace, and we end up over-performing, which was never how God intended for us to live.

So where do we begin? How do we pull ourselves back inside the lines?

1. It begins with a pause. Self-reflection is the first step in seeing the picture more clearly. Time set apart to allow God to speak to our hearts, help us to reprioritize, and to give us a fresh beginning.

2. Learn to say no. There are so many good things out there, but not every good thing is the right thing. Be unapologetic about protecting our priorities. If the opportunity before us holds the potential of pushing us outside of our coloring lines, then be okay with letting it pass us by. This one also takes a great deal of trust. I don’t know about you, but I often say yes to things out of fear that I may never get another opportunity again. What I have ended up discovering is that saying yes to a very good thing, but at the wrong time, makes that good thing a bad thing for me. As we face all the choices out there recognize that if this “good” thing is not a good fit during this season of our lives, then it is not the right thing for right now. Trust that God will bring the best thing in his time.

3. Incorporate time for fun and time for rest. One of the biggest challenges Joel and I faced as we began to realign our lives was building in time for fun and rest. And this was not because there was no time for it, but mainly because of the guilt we felt. Time for fun and rest? That seems so selfish! But it is not. In fact, we are far more productive when we have built in time for recreation and time to decompress. Those two things fill us up so that we have much more to give to each other, to our children and to the ministry.

4. Empower others to share the load. Depending on other people is hard. I struggle to delegate certain household tasks to my children because I am certain they will not complete the task according to my standards. Because of the control issue I have I tend to either do it all myself, or I become overly critical of the person performing the task, which makes them less inclined to want to help me out in the future. Part of coloring inside the lines is learning to empower others. Giving them a task and even allowing them to fail, but ready to lovingly instruct and then hand the task back to them again. Giving my kids a responsibility but then pulling it out of their hands after one mistake is not empowering, it is demoralizing. However, giving them opportunity to try, to fail, and to try again, empowers them and keeps me safe within the God-ordained margins of my life.

5. Embrace the picture God is drawing of us. Each person has a different picture to color. It can be so easy to measure our value based on someone else’s coloring page, but that only feeds the frantic lifestyle patterns. Learning to find contentment within the margins God has set will produce joy and peace, something I think many of us are longing for. For each person there is a meaningful purpose, unique and precious, but we often miss it because we have our eyes locked on the picture someone else is coloring. Learning to embrace the picture that God has ordained for us gives us the freedom to fulfill the plans and purposes that God began knitting together from the moment of conception. Every life was created to reflect the beauty of our Creator, and what that final picture will look like really depends on whether or not we are willing to cooperate with God’s design. Embrace God’s masterpiece.

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