Coloring Inside the Lines

from april…

Ever colored in one of those adult coloring books?

Over one October weekend, we were on a traditional camping trip up north. At one point the kids were sitting at the picnic table coloring in these books. So Ciara and I joined in as well. Pretty soon I look up to notice only she and I were left coloring. The adults.

Maybe they went in to start dinner. Ha. I wish.

We continued for about an hour. These coloring sheets had our unwavering focus. The more detailed and chaotic the design, the more focused on it we were.

That is interesting isn’t it?

I mean, we were somewhat listening out for the kids. In case they got stuck under a fifth wheel camper or something, but besides that, we were so involved in coloring and getting each blank spot filled that we hated to have to stop and do something else. But you better believe we came back later and finished. And when we did, our minds allowed us to focus on something else. Plus we were so proud of ourselves. Did we frame them? No. Do we even know where they are right now? No. So why was it so important?

As I was coloring, I was observing all the lines in the design which separated one part from another. For example, mine was a very eccentrically designed owl. There were little lines in the design of its wings. Lots of them.

Our brains use lines as a form of separation, or change, or guardrail. Naturally, it’s our first instinct to stay inside the lines and also to change the color on each side of the lines in a color page.

I almost audibly said “but I want it all the same color”, referring to the wing, as if it were arguing with me. As if the lines themselves were shouting, “you must stay in the lines and change the colors”.  Across the table, Ciara was battling as well. Her lines were shouting at her “you must stay inside the color palette”.

The rebel in me, DID NOT stay inside the lines OR change the colors. Nor did I stay inside a particular palette of colors. I colored one wing all the same color. And it was almost uncomfortable. I looked up and waited expectantly for the Coloring Book Police to come arrest me.

It was unnatural because I forced my mind to push its limit. I forced my mind to ignore expectation. And to ignore the dark lines trying so hard to keep the colors in and contained. Even the colors themselves were trying to direct my next moves.

Funny how we don’t even realize what is driving our choices sometimes.

When we are little, we are taught (and then teach our children) to color inside the lines.


Is it to condition them to recognize moral “lines” and which ones not to cross?

Or is to condition them that they can only be so creative. As long as it’s within the lines of expectation. As long as it’s within the boundaries which our society has pre-drawn for them? As long as it’s what a certain person or religious group thinks best? To let someone else think for them?

Perhaps I’m dabbling in a concept which explains why we only use ten percent of our brains.

Because we’ve been conditioned not to use more than that.

Expectation is a dark and wooly beast. Like a ghost- you don’t see it, but it’s there haunting you in every choice you make. Even down to a coloring page.

It’s EXPECTATION-for us to fill every blank space, or any SPARE TIME with something. Anything. As long as we are staying over committed and overly busy, we have something to focus on besides what we really should be focused on.

It’s EXPECTATION- to have the house clean enough to eat off the floors, and all the laundry done and put away in color coordinated piles- no matter how unrealistic it may be.

It’s EXPECTATION- to use our left over 45 seconds at the end of the day (if all goes perfectly on schedule) to say our prayers and thank God for all He has given us.

Guess what?

God doesn’t want your leftovers. Keep your 45 seconds at the end of your perfect day.

All this EXPECTATION is what is killing good people. Driving them to feelings of inadequacy and depression. Driving them into bitterness, and divorce. Driving them into abandoning their responsibilities. Driving them to alcohol and drugs, and whatever else that helps them escape how much society tells them they suck. It even dooms relationships before they even start. And it’s the reason they end.

It’s those same lines which drive us to be separated from each other. Most times, not in positive ways.

As Followers of Christ, we are to be different. In the world, not of it. We should be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. But these lines of difference should not be keeping our salt and light inside. We are to bring color into the darkness. How will we do that staying inside our lines?

I’m not referring to moral lines or personal guardrails that keep us in check. That’s another subject.

I’m referring to comfort zones.

Societal expectation is dimming our lights.

Shining our lights brightly feels like coloring outside the lines. Uncomfortable. Unnatural. Unexpected.

That’s why a kid helping an old lady across the street with her groceries makes headlines. Because its unexpected. The norm, and expectation is that he would mug her instead.

It’s the same reason why shooting stars are so beautiful to watch. Rare, but if you catch a glimpse of one, you feel special. You stop in your tracks to see if you might see another one.

How will we be a shooting star if we are blending in with the night?

Matthew 5:14-16 tell us this:

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

When we focus on the expectations of the world around us, we lose sight of what really matters. We drown ourselves in busyness and chaos, only to be disappointed in the outcomes and in ourselves and others. We put our God-given lights under a bowl, right along with the blessings that may come with it. And half the time, what we devote so much energy and stress to turns out to not be that important.

Maybe our prayers should not be to have more time. Maybe they should be to have courage to color outside the lines. Courage to shine unexpectedly. Courage NOT to devote so much time to expectation. Or if we want to be really crazy, don’t color it at all. Some things are better black and white. 

Maybe then the schedule and the laundry wont matter so much and we wont be forced to give God our leftovers.

I bet if we could step out in faith, we would see how beautiful and radiant we could be.

Is it weird I got all this from a coloring page?


One thought on “Coloring Inside the Lines

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