My right hand clutched the blue crayon so tightly, my fingertips turned from pink to white. I don’t remember what the picture was, but I remember how I wanted to do a good job coloring it. I started slowly, coloring along the black line of whatever empty shape or picture was on the page. I noticed the boy sitting next to me was almost done, and instinctively, I sped up. When I did, the blue color started leaking past the lines with loud squeaking noises. The boy next to me looked at my page and announced, “That looks horrible! You’re not supposed to color outside the lines like that, Tasha!”
Another classmate responded to the boy sitting next to me by saying, “It doesn’t matter, and it’s no big deal. It looks great.” Maybe he saw how hard I’d been trying.
I looked from one boy to the other, wondering who I should believe. One was a voice of judgment and shame, the other, a voice of grace that believed my coloring could grow and change with time.
I’ve never been great at coloring in the lines. For much of my life, I believed there were hard lines I needed to keep myself contained in so I could force myself to be the phantom student, daughter, wife, mother, friend, writer, fill-in-the-blank I was “supposed” to be.
When I starting working in full-time ministry overseas right out of college, I wanted to make sure I fit into the lines of excellent missionary, cross-cultural superstar, language learner, teammate, and friend.
When my husband and I first got married, I was intent on becoming the best wife I could be. I planned to read all the books, imitate godly women, and make sure I was “coloring in the lines” at all times. A friend told me about a book she read the year before on how to be an “excellent wife.” Inspired by Proverbs 31, the book walked through characteristics that an excellent wife would have.
I didn’t get very far in that book. Barely through chapter two, I closed it and threw it across the room. At that point, I hadn’t heard or studied the context of the poem that Proverbs 31 is. I didn’t know it was an acrostic poem originally memorized by men, that personified wisdom, not a phantom woman.
In each of these scenarios, I was that little girl in a classroom again, holding that crayon as tightly as possible, ready to will myself to be what I thought I was supposed to be, ever-aware of how far I had to go by other’s (often wrong) standards, and constantly failing my own expectations no matter how hard I tried not to.
At every transition and every daybreak, there are voices and narratives to listen to. I’ve clung to the harsher voices because they carry an illusion of safety. I’ve feared that too much grace would let me run astray — so far outside of the lines that I would be lost forever. But God says grace is abundant, not scarce. It is given unreservedly, never earned. Pride is its enemy, not the failure to measure up. It isn’t license to personal preferences and liberty; it is the gateway to living motivated by love and loving others freely because of it.
There’s no hope for transformation without the unlimited space of Jesus’ grace.
The world still feels tense most days. I’m struggling to navigate changed relationships and places that aren’t what they were before. Photo memories pop up on my phone at just the right time, cruelly reminding me how much has changed. I sense tightened, readied fists in people’s words (my own included) — on social media, while driving on the highway, and in the narrow aisles of the grocery store down the street where my cart and kids are taking up what feels like too much space. I feel the constant temptation to point my finger at the people who I think are “the problem” driving in the round-a-bouts or just a few rows over at church.
In elementary school and now on the edge of midlife, if I listen to the spirit of little boy who shamed me, I become someone who carries shame and delivers what I carry. If I listen to the voice of Jesus with a crayon in His hand, I become another presence of grace, motivated to keep going, to keep learning from my experiences and my mistakes.
Becoming an excellent [fill in the blank] may be a goal for some, but it’s fast dead-end for me. Gazing at Jesus, the ultimate One with enough excellent love to go around, is a better way. Jesus takes what is weak and uses it as a vessel for His unmatchable strength. Jesus pursues the un-excellent and makes beauty from what I’d choose to throw away. Jesus takes our coloring-outside-the-lines to show us our need for Him. Jesus guides our tired hands toward good and tells us we are His beloved, who can do nothing less and nothing more to be offered His living water of ever-flowing grace.Leave a Comment