Looking for Character
Several years back, my wife and I spent a painfully large number of hours hunting for a new house. After the 19th house, they all start to blend, and you can’t remember which one had the great deck, and which one had the kicked in sheet rock.
Very quickly, though, you become an expert on neighborhoods and home design.
I noticed that certain neighborhoods were full of cookie-cutter houses. It didn’t matter which decade—there were streets with ‘60s single-level ranch clones, mirror image ’80’s split-level homes, and matching ’90’s McMansions each with “dry stack rock” veneer on the front.
These homes were built quickly with little care. They used the same floor plan over and over again, only rotating it for variety. None attracted me.
The homes that drew me in had something unique about them. There was the 1908 farmhouse expanded multiple times over the years, with the remnants of an apple orchard in the back. Another was a ‘60s ranch with the big windows that had a host of interesting built-ins, including a trap-door in the kitchen counter so you could drop your trash and recycling directly into bins in the basement. We ended up buying an ’80’s two-story with big decks in the front and the back, and an inexplicable little inside/outside sunroom with a leak in it.
It’s these unique features–sometimes strange, sometimes wonderful, sometimes messy–that give the home it’s character.
Don’t Be A Cookie Cutter.
You’re the same way. As adolescents we so often live our lives trying to be like one of those cookie-cutter homes, blending in with our tribe as best we can. (Even if it’s the tribe of kids who are alternative!) As adults many of us try to find our value in our appearance, or performance, or accomplishments. Yet it’s not those things that determine the shape of our lives.
In my last post, I shared about my own deep struggles with acceptance and value, and how I found a new perspective on my life from Ephesians 2:10. This passage has been a trail marker in my own spiritual and emotional recovery path, reminding me of where I’m headed. I’m sharing what I’ve learned, calling it the 210 Life. This offers a new place to stand from which to look at your life, your relationships, and your purpose in the world.
It starts with something I’m calling Position 1. “You were created by God, a hand-made piece of art, with a good and beautiful purpose.” The last post tackled the first phrase, “You were created by God…”
Today I want to remind you of the power of this second phrase. You are “a hand-made piece of art.”
You are a hand-made piece of art.
Those homes that had no character, they weren’t built by craftsmen or artisans. They were thrown together by developers intent on turning land into money. They look the same. The cost the same. They all fit together in the same price range. But that’s not you.
You were made with care. In Jeremiah 1:5, God says “I chose you before I formed you in the womb.” Psalms 139 makes it clear that there is no part of our lives that God isn’t intimately familiar with. More than that, God was there when it was happening, all the way back to when we were “knit together in our mother’s womb.” (Read the whole thing. It’s one of the most centering passages of scripture!)
If you think through the idea that you are a hand-made piece of art, made by God the ultimate artist, there are at least three implications that can change your life experience.
1. You have value.
The first implication of this is that you have value. One of the reasons collectors pay such unimaginable prices for original art is because each is truly one-of-a-kind. It’s not a duplicate; it was lovingly, thoughtfully formed by the artist’s hand. That’s true of you.
2. Even the hard parts of your life.
The second implication of this is that this applies to your whole life, not just the good parts.
We might be OK with the idea that the best, most idealized parts of our lives are God’s work of art. But what about the dark stuff? What about the mistakes, and the trauma, and the things that we don’t talk about at dinner parties?
Well, if God made your whole life by hand, and if God was present at every part along the way, then something about those dark and painful times is included in the artwork. Did God mean for those terrible things to happen, or cause them? That’s a question for theologians to debate.
But what we can be sure of (according to Romans 8:28) is that God redeems even the darkest circumstance in our lives, and uses them for good.
2nd Corinthians 4:7 says, “Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us.”
God has planted His life within us, but our lives are broken. So, not only are those dark and painful broken places a part of the artwork, they are the very place where God’s power and grace can most clearly be seen in our lives.
3. God’s working in all of it!
The third implication of this is that all of your life, the good and bad, is meant for God’s purposes. The wins and victories aren’t there to fuel your pride or prove your worth. They are gifts. They provide you with opportunity, a chance to be of influence, a platform to live for God’s glory.
But that’s not your whole life.
The losses and painful moments are not there to crush you or punish you. They don’t prove you’re worthless. They are opportunities to partner with God in the process of character growth. Those difficult times are the fertile soil where character is born, with fire that purifies, and pressure that softens us and makes us more compassionate. It is in these painful places that we can best understand the needs of others and the heart of God. Above all, it is in these places that we learn the bitter but transformative truth: we are not God; we need God.
Maybe this is a new way of seeing your life. If you stand in this place, you will find it freeing. You don’t have to bear guilt or shame because your past is something you’re not proud of. You don’t have to be defined by things you’ve done or things that were done to you; those times in your life are being redeemed by a God who loves you and is working all things in your life together for good. You don’t have to fight and strive to perform a certain way to prove your value.
Your value is already set by the One who made you who you are.