Faith and Experience (Boho Elephant)

Have you ever attended a Paint Nite? The brand promise is that in the course of one evening with friends new and old, you will produce a work of art, even someone like me who has never taken an acrylics class. I’ll let you be the judge of the results.

But what I enjoyed most was the process.

The instructor placed a finished canvas and a blank canvas at the front of the room. Using the blank canvas, she then modeled for us, brush stroke by brush stroke, saying things like, “Start in the top middle and draw a really big butt.” (Clearly, my cultural bias did not understand or execute this first step well or the ear of my Boho Elephant would be more in proportion.) But I persevered. I listened. I put paint brush to canvas and painted, despite the fact that when I looked at her finished canvas or mine, I could not see an elephant, Boho or otherwise.

Isn’t this a little bit like life?

We take our first steps and hear resounding applause from our parents. You’d think it never happened before in the history of man. (They do get over it by the time the 3rd, 4th or 7th kid comes along.) They teach us and do their best to prepare us to be independent, and self-sufficient; to be “good” people. We go to school and our education strives to teach us how to learn and to prepare us for future success. College helps our minds gain flexibility and develop cognitively to reason effectively. A family, steady career, life choice or even an important mentor may continue to shape us and determine our future perspective. We become the sum of our experiences and our thought patterns become routine.

We lose sight of the finished canvas.

Many years ago, during a particularly difficult season, one of my brothers gently said to me, “There are some things that you can’t think your way out of, Ali.” Strange words to me then, but I let his words marinate.

And as I did, the canvas of my life started to come into focus.

Yes, our lives are a series of experiences: some good and life-giving, some painful and perhaps unavoidable; others are the result of bad choices. But it is through God’s grace that we find transformation and renewal during each of these seasons. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2-3). Brush stroke by brush stroke, He draws boundaries and guides us along the right paths. He is our Shepherd throughout this life and the next- leading us beside quiet waters and green pastures, comforting us and refreshing our souls (Psalm 23).

Being a Christian does not mean that the pain stops or that we will be greatly blessed with only good things. But we know we are already richly blessed, even in our struggles. We no longer rely solely on ourselves, or on experience as a teacher. We step out in faith, in total dependence on our Creator and in interdependent relationship with others, resting secure in the knowledge that we do not walk alone.

“Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you” (Isaiah 55:3a).

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