The Coloring Book of Life: Scribbling and Creative Artistry

October 10, 2021

When I was a child, I loved to color.  It was so relaxing to sprawl on the living room floor with my coloring book and box of 64 crayons (complete with crayon sharpener in the box, I might add!) and color to my heart’s content. 

As a very young child, I was content to color inside the pre-drawn lines. It didn’t matter if my crayons were dull; even a dull crayon could fill large spaces in no time at all. Then, with one picture done – move on to the next! It wasn’t about quality but about quantity – just get ‘er done!

As I got older, and my motor skills improved, a friend showed me how I could liven up my work by tracing over the pre-lined parts of the coloring book page with a sharpened crayon, in order to make my work more interesting. To do this, though, I would need to pay patient attention to what I was doing; take the time to ‘participate’ with the original coloring book artist by tracing that artist’s lines and then add nuances of color to unexpected details. 

One day….as I was coloring the inside of an eye – the iris, solid blue-green; the lashes a flourish of black – something seemed missing.  I thought I had learned all I needed to know, but I was wrong! Another friend showed me a final flourish: don’t leave the iris a dull, solid space – add a flick of white to give light and life to the work! The subsequent coloring book figures became masterpieces worthy of a place on my mother’s refrigerator!

Getting ‘er done – or participating in a creation. The final product was always a reflection of me and my level of maturity, and less a commentary on the page I was coloring. 

Immature scribbling in coloring books with dull crayons is not a far leap from the immature scribblings we often inflict on people’s lives as we make general assumptions as to who they are and why they are who they are.

It is one of the reasons we are in the mess we are in today!  

We scribble our way through the coloring book of life more interested in quantity of life and relationships rather than the quality of life and relationships for all.

We may no longer have boxes of 64 crayons (come to think of it, these days kids have 124 crayons in their boxes!), and most of us no longer have coloring books (though some have been part of a recent trend toward ‘adult coloring books’ filled with complex mandala patterns that aren’t for the faint of heart) but, we all do have opportunities to bring out the evolving colors of life in each other and opportunities to see the divine light living within each soul.

But so often, we blow it!

It is so easy to take a quick look at the page of another’s life and lump her into a scribble of stereotypes. 

We see cultures, races, political and religious affiliations, social and economic groupings, sexual identities, and other large spaces we can each list, as objects easily colored in with dull crayons (a color labeled ‘all’) and wide sweeping scribbles. 

I imagine you can scribble in the blanks with assumptions you have heard or perhaps made yourself:  All Christians are…….; all Muslims are…..; all Jews are…..; all atheists are…..; all whites……; all blacks…..; all brown…..; all Southerners……; all Northerners….; all Midwesterners…..; all Californians….; all athletes…..; all rich people…., all poor people……; all right-to-lifers……; all pro-choicers….; all heterosexuals….; all LGBTQUIA+….; all vaxers….; all anti-vaxers…..; all Republicans…..; all Democrats……; on and on and on.  

What a bunch of impatient scribbling!

How often do we take the time to patiently listen to another’s life experience; to trace the lines of his life journey? 

How often are we willing to listen to another with an ear to learning the nuances of her life, seeking to understand why she believes the way she does, or why he responds to circumstances the way he does?  

To assume that, if another individual doesn’t believe what I believe, or live the way that I live, she is flat out wrong, is no more than the scribbling of an impatient child.

Each life has been carefully created with details waiting to be discovered and understood – nuances of color waiting to emerge into a glorious pattern of being; a life waiting to be heard – not scribbled over by someone just waiting to tell him how wrong he is and then move on!

Noticing the life details in others brings depth of understanding.  

Patient focus on the other allows us to see the spark of the divine lying within.

And the sharpener that puts a fine point on our metaphorical crayons?  

Questions. 

And listening for answers.

What life experiences influenced her beliefs? 

What individuals in his life impacted his thought processes?

What teaching contributed to her current understanding of various issues?

The coloring book of life is filled with the pages of the lives of the created.  

They are pages not to be scribbled on by the impatient and immature, but rather pages to be brought to life as we work with the original Artist to create the masterpiece of peace-filled and loving community which is the intended peaceable kingdom of God Isaiah 11:1-10 (the complex yet perfect interconnectedness of those difficult mandalas, perhaps?) 

Such collaborative work requires patient attention to the details the other’s life; treasuring the creation that God has already lined out, honoring the divine spark in each other. 

We have done a lot of harm to each other over the years with our scribbling.  

It’s time to grow up – and learn a better way.

And who knows, maybe one day our work will even be worthy of having a place on God’s refrigerator door! (had to say it!)

And to God be the glory!  AMEN.

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

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