Outside The Lines

Do you remember the freedom you had coloring as a child? I’m not referring to the feelings you may have towards your elementary school art teacher (let it go!). No friend, I want you to remember that time you felt and truly believed that you could do anything.

What did that freedom to dream feel like?

What did it look like?

Can you still go there today

Why or why not?

A few years ago, I did an experiment during college that continues to drive me to color way outside of the lines, even today. The assignment was so incredibly easy to administer that I actually only allowed myself two days to complete the entire project. I was required to ask a group of children, teens, college students and adults to describe what Heaven looked like to them. As they were describing the various images and verses that filled their minds, I would silently slip-out a few pieces of plain white paper along with a dozen brand new boxes of crayons. You guessed it – all they needed to do was draw out what images were floating through their minds. I conducted the interviews on an individual basis and no guests were permitted to view one another’s works.

You can just imagine how all of this went down.

The younger children, all kindergarten through second grade at the time, excitedly tore into the crayon boxes and with their tongue curled in seriousness these artists got to work. As I watched, each student smiled as they worked. Some hummed to themselves. Others shared stories with me as they created. Though some were smudged, smeared, way beyond un-recognizable lines that represented full families, these child eyes saw pure delight. All became masterpieces not defined necessarily by me, but by the artists themselves. I felt so excited, encouraged and uplifted after meeting with these young Picasso’s that day.

But we don’t stay young, unfortunately. We age and look what occurs in just a few short years.

I presented the same project to my teens hand-picked for this experiment. They froze. I literally felt helpless looking through my adolescent selection as each one seemed to stare back at me for a moment looking down at the blank paper before them. I remember thinking, “Should I open the boxes of crayons for them?” Yet, slowly each one dug in and they began to smile as they created. Most commented, “I’m not really good at this anymore.” Funny how in just a few years our thoughts are formed that define what we can and can’t do well. The completed projects took much longer than the younger group, yet the artists were not completely proud of their work. I had to reassure a few that the drawings would remain with me and would not be displayed in public. Though fun, the joy of creating was gone. They lost the freedom to dream.

But what about college students running full force into preparing for their future? Surely they could take a risk with a crayon, right?

The college students I needed for this assignment were hard to find. I was not paying for their time, though I did eventually add in a pizza near the end. Time was much more guarded now. As my friends were presented with the task at hand, I was prompted to provide color pencils, Internet access, rulers and more time. Most wanted to put forward their best effort, yet seemed as if no matter what was provided, their best artistic talent would not be good enough. I wasn’t judging nor did I comment on any of the drawings that day. It seemed like the students I interviewed on this college campus saw the same challenge a first grader easily completed as an immediate failure for their skilled efforts.

Perhaps the older we get the harder it becomes to really dream. Perhaps we try too hard and forget Who placed these dreams in us to begin with?

Assuring adults that their participation would greatly assist my grade (yes also known as bribery), I sat the crayons and blank paper immediately within their view. Just as with the teenagers, my adults just sat there looking at me like a deer reacting to a truck head light. No movement. No comments. Just silence and very slow processing. Some reached for their phones, others slowly grasped the crayon box while the majority simply continued to discern where to begin. By the end of the allotted thirty minute time frame, I ended with a few stick figure drawings, some sentences in the same color crayon, a few symbolic drawings and one blank page. None of the adults I interviewed wanted their work shown. None felt like their drawings were worth viewing by complete strangers, even if it did help my grade. These adults had simply given-up on the idea that they could dream and be heard, create and inspire others, or even simply go beyond coloring nicely between the pre-printed drawn out lines.

As a child, we feel so free to simply be who we are. There is no need to be anything outside of simply being a kid. Children have big dreams and truly believe that they will come true. Yet, as we age, we start to define our worth and abilities by how others define us. We slowly begin to shape our worth by the influencing words, positive affirmations or rejecting taunts and negative objections from those that matter the most to us. Our hearts begin to ache as our view of the Artist becomes clouded through each uncertain step we take, giving-up on anything more than what feels safe.

[tweetthis]It’s time to slow-down and allow yourself permission to return to the starting line. [/tweetthis]

Why move slowly? Because each stroke and every step matters. You matter and so does the drawing you are creating through Him right now.

The faster we move and react to the pressures of this life, the more distorted, unsure, unfamiliar and unwanted our ideas of God seem to become. If God becomes uncertain, what do we have to look forward to in heaven? What do we have to look forward to here in this life?

And when we continue to move faster, we start to believe that we can’t stop. We lose our identity in the many things we do, rather than to Whom we belong.

God does not want us running around in our masks trying to avoid others that dare to uncover our real identity.

God does not want us moving so fast that we lose sight of the freedom to draw outside of the lines that others tend to refine us to believing. God never created our dreams to be stuck within the lines we can’t see past. No. Our God is waiting for us beyond the lines, calling us to join Him through a faith that shines the brightest as we follow being His kids, excited to be drawing for Him.

[tweetthis] God never created our dreams to be stuck within the lines we can’t see past.[/tweetthis]

God wants us to experience the fullness of a life worth living. He wants us to never stop experiencing the excitement of soaring with Him in freedom each and everyday. Can you just imagine the picture you can create riding on His shoulders? You see, when we rest in Him, He moves us to places we cannot get to ourselves. He draws a picture through our lives. He draws us out – way outside of our pre-drawn comfort lines.

What is your drawing revealing about your trust in Him? Are you ready to go beyond the comfort lines? Do you think it’s safe to dream outside the lines?

Bethany is an ICF trained Certified Professional Christian Life Coach (Christian Coach Institute Graduate), Motivational and Inspirational Speaker, mentor to women and an author. Bethany defines herself as a child of God who loves to use her passion for change to inspire others. She has overcome disabilities, wading through the trials and rewards of marriage and motherhood. She enjoys being a wife to Steve for 10 years and mother to three boys (ages 7, 5 and 2). She is a double brain cancer survivor, a 9 year veteran in the field of youth and children's ministry and has published poetry, featured blog posts for numerous ministry websites and children's ministry curriculum contributions. Bethany is currently working on her first book to be released this Fall as well as various freelancing projects. Bethany always welcomes new coaching clients and speaking opportunities!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

27 thoughts on “Outside The Lines

  1. Oh, Bethany! This is such a powerful post. As a teacher of primary-aged children, having worked with the elderly, and knowing myself, every word rang so true to how we are. I love teaching/tutoring now the younger children for they are like sponges and eager to learn. I love being around their free-flowing little minds and hearts. Expressing an “I love you” just flows and a hug and a note and all that. I love that age. I am a color-in-the-lines girl. Always was, but I like the neatness of it, I guess. But I have dreamed and followed, and dreamed and been stuck. I know where I am by the way I react to a dream or words from God in whatever form they may come. I don’t want to be stuck. I want the freedom. But I also want God’s plans for my life. I am still learning!!
    So thankful you were a near neighbor at Kristin’s today. And thanks for coming by my place.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

    • Linda –
      Oh how your comment just spoke to my heart! I really believe you hit on why I enjoy helping out with children’s ministry! The excitement, the questions and the deep curiosity are so encouraging to me! I’m in a class right now and I’m the type that feels HORRIBLE asking questions because I have this idea that I’m bothering everyone with my curiosity. While an over abundance might not be good, a curious student stretches the potential for the entire class. I’m starting to be ok with my curiosity!

  2. You, smart person, you!!! What a fabulous experiment. As soon as I reached the paragraph where the adults were given the exercise I wondered *what would I draw* and immediately a vision of a lovely small mansion with a great front porch overlooking the heavenly sea – crystal blue and clear. And, I saw flowers, lots and lots of flowers.
    I never ever want to color between the lines…
    I always learn something from your posts! xo

    • Ok Susan! I want to see your drawing now! Maybe a future post? Hmmmm?
      My drawing resembled mountains flowing with water into a gentle stream, glowing from the sun. I’ve drawn that picture so many times too… Love your comments my friend!

  3. Bethany, I want to color outside the lines with you, and most especially with a God who doesn’t care if we color outside the lines. I actually love to color. It is a great stress reliever. I wish other adults would feel the joy of coloring outside the lines. Kids sure can teach us well cant they. “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them.”

    • Well said Tara! I agree with the idea that coloring can be a stress reliever! With my kids, I’ve started coloring more and yes…it completely takes me to a peaceful place!

  4. What a cool assignment! I know that in some areas of my life I’m apt to grab the crayons and draw away. In other areas, I’m more of the deer-in-the-headlights. You’ve definitely given me food for thought, my friend!

    • Anita –
      Even the deer in headlights can move towards the line, it just needs to avoid the current collision! Maybe it’s that moment that God may be gently pushing you to the edge of familiar to see more possibility. You never know!

  5. Oh my goodness…such a great post! I love how you take us along in your experiment, and I love your message that He comes right along with us and wants to partner with us, if we are vulnerable and willing to give Him those dreams so we can soar with His purposes in our lives. Awesome!

    • Bonnie –
      I loved this experiment! Many other students reached different conclusions, but I’m so glad mine ended the way it did! It really makes me feel better about being a kid at heart!

    • Love your place Kristin! Wouldn’t miss it! There is a reason, even with my crazy schedule, that I make a point to be part of your community! I just wish I had more time to read!!!

    • Your welcome Barbara! I am at the beginning of my journey as a Life Coach and I love sharing the thoughts God has been stirring up in me! Love how He draws us out and calls us closer to Him at the same time!

  6. Oh so much good stuff to chew on here. “These adults had simply given-up on the idea that they could dream and be heard, create and inspire others, or even simply go beyond coloring nicely between the pre-printed drawn out lines.” This got me.

  7. “Perhaps the older we get the harder it becomes to really dream. Perhaps we try too hard and forget Who placed these dreams in us to begin with?” This post could not be more perfectly times. You see my dreams are so far beyond the box of a white sheet of paper… I get myself all stuck. Thank you for this inspiring nudge to go for it. I’ll let you know when I truly do.

  8. Sad to see people lose their childlike wonder and creativity, but exciting that God wants us to come to Him like a little child! Your post is a great reminder of His will for us!

    • Jennie – I don’t think you have lost that. For instance, what was it that made you start writing? Why? There is a passion of color there that drives you my friend. I’ve seen it in action! It’s still there!

  9. Hmmm Sadly I would be in that adult group, telling you I am not good at this. You are right, God did not create us to be like that. Thank you for reminding me! 🙂

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