Why Life Is Not a Paint-by-Number

paintbynumberStill, well into adulthood, I find myself just wanting to fit in. It’s not in the same way as it was in high school of course. I’m not hoping to be invited to the right party or pretending to smoke a cigarette or claiming my drink in my plastic cup wasn’t water, when it was. This was how I “fit in” as a teen. Today, I want to fit in with a life that follows the appropriate succession of events.

I realized this recently over lunch with a friend. We discussed how each life phase brings its own set of expectations. With college, a degree and a job. With a job, a spouse and a home. With a spouse and home, children. That’s as far as we got because between the two of us, that’s as far as we’ve gotten. But I’m sure the expectations continue as your children grow and your career progresses. And I think we continue to live in a tension pulled on one side by fitting in and on the other side by wanting to be our own person. Rarely can we be both but always, we want both.

We’ve learned life’s paint-by-number. We see the outline; we just don’t always have all the colors to fill it in. This can be irritating and disheartening and depressing and discouraging. We want all the colors.

In about four weeks my little sister will get married to the best guy. It will be beautiful, and I’ll cry “ICan’tBelieveMyLittleSisterHasGrownUp, She’sSoBeautiful, LookAtMyDadGivingHerAway” tears, like I did at my older sister’s wedding. Yet, this has reminded me of a color I haven’t found. Barring a strange act of God, I’m not getting married in four weeks nor in four months. And I’m looking for the instructions for my paint-my-number, and I can’t find them.

Maybe your instructions appear to be missing, too. Maybe something has not happened in your life succession you thought should have by now, or something happened too quickly and you weren’t ready for it and you’re still reeling. This can make us feel out of place. Like we’re doing something wrong. Like we don’t fit in.

Think about the words Paul uses to describe us in his letters: Aliens. Sojourners. Exiles. Strangers. These are the things we were before Christ. The words he uses to describe us after redemption? Citizens. Saints. Members. God’s people. I like “members” best because it can so often feel we’re not a part of the club, and we so often find more comfort in the pieces fitting and the societal norms than we do in our own salvation.

And the sad part is, when we make moves based on these expectations, we forget who we are. We forget the quirks and passions and dreams that make us us and we turn them over to what make us feel a part. We forgot that we already are a part. We forgot that we “are no longer strangers and aliens, but…fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).

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25 Comments

Filed under Blog what you blog write what you write, Solving Life's Mysteries

25 responses to “Why Life Is Not a Paint-by-Number

  1. Irritating, disheartening, depressing and discouraging. Oh yes, I’m familiar with them all. In fact they are my heavy companions this very morning. In writing that I realize I need to cast them away. Thank you for this post. I came across your blog yesterday and am excited to explore. Somehow it helps me to find others in this same season of life. Press on! Be courageous :)

  2. This is so true, Andrea. Although I’m about to graduate college and get a job and have filled in those “color” on the painting of my life…I’m missing the spouse, marriage, and children colors, too. And it truly IS discouraging and disheartening when the 17 year old in your church finds that and 26 year old me is still blank in that section. But I was just praying recently that Jesus would remind me of all the blessings and good things in my life instead of focusing on the one thing I feel is missing. It’s like I can’t see the forest because I’m looking for the tree….but God’s plan for my life doesn’t have anything to do with anyone else’s plan and He doesn’t have a timeline. And even though others in our lives see things as “paint by number” and that I should “have those numbers filled in by now”…thank goodness Jesus just sees us each as beautiful unique creations that become masterpieces in His hands.

    • Thanks, Nicole. I feel ya. I’m a youth group leader and some of the girls in my small group have had more successful relationships than I have :) I hope you feel encouraged today!

      • Andrea,
        I am a youth group leader too and I definitely have had some of my girls be in more successful relationship than I have. It can have that depressing feeling and like you said, like I’ve done something wrong in my life. However, I have to think that maybe, just maybe, they are successful because they have learned from my teaching and my own life mistakes that I share. My life is my life, not someone else’s. Comparison is the thief of joy (Theodore Roosevelt). Thanks for this post :)

  3. Matt

    Have you ever noticed that a kid that colors within the lines seems joyful of that while the kid that doesn’t worry about the lines is most joyful about the picture they made? There is something to be learned from a little kid that doesn’t worry about coloring within the lines. If we are so focused on using the right color and staying within the lines we can easily miss out on the beauty that is within ourselves and in others.

    Thanks for getting me thinking this morning.

    • Matt, that is so true! I find that others seem to be much more concerned about why I haven’t met some of these expectations than I am.

      • Matt

        Nicole, don’t let society tell you what colors go inside what lines. Don’t let others tell you that you can only judge success by meeting their standards. God made us individuals, not clones. I’m a good bit older than you and have never been married, and that’s okay. I may never get married and that’s okay. I spent most of my adult life painting by numbers and it’s kept me from reaching my potential. Don’t worry about the 17 year old that you think filled in a piece of the painting that you haven’t. You have your own painting that you will be working on for the rest of your life. And as long as you aren’t painting by numbers and aren’t worried about staying in the lines, your painting will be unique and beautiful in God’s eyes. Remember, the great painters didn’t and don’t paint by numbers.

  4. Wow, this complements the Liberate article I read this morning: http://liberate.org/2014/07/07/cookie-cutter-christians/

    I’m 42 and a single mom and so grateful that life is not paint by number or cookie-cutter.

    Keep up the writing! You have a gift!

  5. Good post
    And we are still aliens in this world because we are not of thus world. So when we feel out of place and like were not fitting in…..it’s okay. We are not of this world so when they hate us remember they hated Him first.

  6. Your honesty is, once again, so refreshing. Thankful for you…

  7. Denalyn

    Love this! I want to quit looking for colors that aren’t in my box! LU

  8. Leniel Macaferi

    Great writing and reading! Tells a lot in so few words…

    Keep pushing till you hit your target and you and ONLY TOU know what it is. You’re doing a great job so far.

    Regards from Brazil,

    Leniel

  9. Love your writing!. Unfortunately though I can relate My life is one big REGRET. My life is so far off the tracks of what I pictured and expected my life to go. I feel like God has let me down big time. I have been sick for 17 years and still do not have any answers as to how to get better. I have dizziness and imbalance problems I have noise sensitivity, My husband didnt sign up for this either and my sons life is nothing like it should have been. Any advice or prayers is appreciated

  10. josephine

    thank you, Andrea for your post. I can totally relate with your post. A lot of times, I feel almost overwhelmed by challenges in my life and I look around me and it seems like every1 else is having a swell time in this life journey. But it’s so so comforting to know that am not alone in whatever phase am going through,that no matter what I am going through, there’s always a reason to be grateful to God.

  11. Richard

    My life is so overwhelmed whereby I’ve questioned a million times if God is the God I’ve heard of. I’ve wished to die several times if it were not for my two beautiful kids. After four deaths in my family over the period of one year, my finances went south..while that was taking a big part of my peace, my sight is 50% gone, then my landlord got sick and he wants to move back in his house where we live, so he gave us a notice to vacate, both our washer and dryer broke and my wife’s car transmission went out. All that on me in the same period of time. Makes me wonder what really God wants me to do!!!!! Because I cannot take this anymore and I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel….will somebody pray for me. Thanks alot

    • Matt

      Richard, you aren’t alone. A few years ago, I hit rock bottom. I questioned God and some nights I just sat and yelled at God. I’m still climbing out of that I hole I fell into, but I am climbing out. I’m climbing because I have some amazing friends that encourage me and lift my spirits. I’m climbing because of writers like Andrea, who through their heartfelt words my faith is beginning to reignite. Richard, consider me your friend. I’ll pray for you but do me a favor, don’t give up on yourself or God. You know, sometimes the tunnel is long and sometimes it turns and so we can’t see the light at the end. It doesn’t mean it’s not there, you just can’t see it. Remember there is always a sign when you drive into a tunnel, “Turn on your Lights”. Turn on your lights, Richard. Illuminate the tunnel with your own light. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:14-16. Re-light your candle and you’ll find the tunnel isn’t so dark.

      Peace and Love to you Richard.
      Matt

  12. Man, it’s amazing how this is me right now, exactly. Thanks so much for posting — so related to this! <3

  13. Expectations can be tricky– they can drive us toward a goal or they can drive us bonkers. For myself, choosing to fit in would reduce the inquiries about the path I have chosen: specifically, leaving my teaching position in the public school system after 6 years in favor of finding something that brings me soul satisfaction. When we choose to color outside of the lines or, Heaven forbid, bring a color outside of the given set, our decision to try something new isn’t always well received by a society that desires ready-made labels. As ever, thanks for sharing your thoughts, Andrea.

  14. Dorain

    Life can be so confusing and seem so distant. I have pledged my life, body and soul to God. I dnt want to be married or have children. Some recently told me that God has answered my prayers with someone to help me n this person to married. I know this person. 49 yrs old man that I have no attraction to or admire. I’m 33 yrs ambitious, independent working with the youths in church. Now! I feel angry, frustrated I just do not know what to do. I just want God to be pleased with my life.

  15. Pingback: ‘The Waves and Wind Still Know His Name’ | English Lessons

  16. Andrea, this is such a great way to put how a lot of us have felt/will feel at different times in our lives. It’s so freeing to know that with God we’re always accepted AND he’s in complete control.

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