Formulas are nice when you want to control your results.
Living creatively is risky.
Yet the first thing that we are told about this God in whose image we are created is that He Himself is creative. He is a creator.
You can never tell what will come of living creatively. Even many who are courageous enough to practice an art form and share it with the world would prefer to live more formulaically.
Many of our choices in this life can be directly guided by what God says through His Scriptures. Am I angry with someone? I should not kill them. Do I see something I like in a store window? I should not steal it.
Yet there are so many other areas in our lives where we are asked to live as courageously as artists, to be riskily creative with our choices. We ask God where we should live, where we should go to school, whom we should marry, what sort of career we should pursue, how exactly we should parent our children, and we are dissatisfied with the answer that God can use us wherever we are and on whatever path we choose.
There are other, more specific situations, in which we long with all of our being to do the right thing, to obey God, to be like Jesus, yet that right thing is far from clear. This is where we yearn for a formula. We desperately want to be able to turn to a page, a verse, and get a specific answer for a specific issue.
We tell ourselves it is because we want to obey, yet perhaps it is often closer to the truth that we simply do not trust God’s Spirit in us. We do not trust that the Holy Spirit can guide us in the way that honors God. We are too fearful to take the risk of living like an artist.
I have been in the middle of just such a situation this week and have found myself searching anxiously for a formula to tell me what to do. I was attacked by a dog, a dog that is owned by a neighbor with a history of keeping dogs who have to be put down for attacking people.
Whether or not my neighbor knows God, I am not aware. What an amazing opportunity to make God known to her! And I live in a neighborhood filled with children. God asks us to protect the weak, to care for those who cannot care for themselves.
How can I do both of these things? How can I glorify God to my neighbor and protect the children of our neighborhood at the same time? Certainly an eternal soul is more important than any physical harm, yet God also calls us to work toward justice and the defense of the weak.
Part of the trouble that I (and most of you, I would wager!) like to know my path several steps in advance. Preferably enough steps in advance to allow me to see the end. I do not like walking forward when I can only see the space where my foot will land next.
I knew my next step. I knew that God was asking me to meet with the owner of the dog and just speak with her, but that wasn’t enough. I wanted to know what would happen after that. I wanted to see all the way to the end, to know how I would both protect the children and make God known to my neighbor.
God did not ask me to plan out all of my steps to the end. He did not tell me the formula I should use to accomplish both of these goals. He did not give me the task of making certain that everything was ordered perfectly in order to reach His aims.
He only asked me to do the first thing and to trust Him with the rest, to live creatively and allow the Spirit to guide me one step at a time.
So I did. I met with the dog’s owner without knowing what would come next. I took the risk of starting down this path, trusting that God will shine His light ahead when the time is right. I don’t yet know the ending to this story. I don’t know how God will work things out.
So I live like an artist, taking the risk to wait for His light without planning all of my steps to completion, knowing that God is far more able to control the ending than any number of formulas that I might follow.
Even though I still like formulas.
Art credits: God Creating the Sun, the Moon and the Stars by Jan Breughel; Paint-by-numbers photo by Isabelle Bart; Christ with the Children by Carl Bloch; Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Henryk Siemiradzki