And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. Acts 17:25-27
A couple weeks ago, I had a couch delivered (yay furniture, yay adulthood, yay ikea), and once it was sitting in my previously empty living room, I realized how empty that room still was. Like any good do-er, I googled ‘craft store’, and was thrilled when the closest hit wasn’t Michaels or Joanne’s or Hobby Lobby, but a local art supply store. I spent two hours at that store–picked up three yards of canvas, fifteen little paint tubes, a set of brushes—and carried my haul back home. I’d found a few paintings that I thought would look nice, but I’m much better with acrylics than water color, so I figured some modifications would be fine.
Boy oh boy was I wrong.
It’s not that the finished canvas was awful, it was actually really cool, but it wasn’t at all what I wanted. I wanted a diluted depiction of a spread of succulents, and what I got was this vibrant canvas that looked like a backdrop for a Nickelodeon show. It didn’t match the room, it didn’t feel true to my style, and the whole aesthetic of it was just off. I kept it up for a week or two, to see if it’d grow on me.
In my econ classes at Baylor, we talked a lot about sunk costs. It’s a term that means the amount—of money, time, resources, etc. – that you sink into a project. Regardless of how the project goes from there forward, that’s how much you’ve lost, and you can’t take it back. It’s not quite a point of no return, but it’s just a matter-of-fact that you reach a place where you can’t undo things and you can keep blundering onward, or just admit to the losses and find another solution.
My canvas was a sunk cost. I’d spent hours on it, energy on it, and it just wasn’t what I wanted. So I could keep it up, becoming increasingly annoyed by its hanging on my wall, or just admit the mistake and take it down, let someone else benefit from it.
A friend of mine is a social worker; she works with kids, and since the canvas is so bright and vibrant, it’ll be perfect.
Sometimes I treat my faith walk like that canvas.
It’s not what I envisioned, it’s not what I wanted, it’s not as good as it could be…but I’ve spent so much time to make it this way, and that has to be worth something, right? Even if it’s not my best, it could be much worse, so I hang onto it. Yes, I can see the glaring errors, yes I can see the stains and every errant brush stroke. But I try to salvage it, try to cling to it, try to learn to love it.
And if I listen to other people, it’s a really great canvas; they’d love to have it, it looks just like something they painted last year. Have I exhausted this metaphor yet? Looking to other people for validation of something you already know isn’t working is not the right way to fix it. You have to admit the sunk cost, pull the tacks out of the wall, and grab a new canvas.
There’s no shame in starting over.
I’m not saying every time you make a mistake in your faith, you revert back to your first-conversion faith, to when you were six and liked the picture of lions and lambs in heaven and thought you’d like to be there with Jesus too. Because when you start this new canvas, you have a little better of an idea what not to do.
That’s why we say faith journey, not faith destination. You have to regress and redo, always reworking parts of yourself and leaving mistakes behind. Folding them up and putting them away and asking God for new things.
Sometimes, we get stuck in the rut of how we’ve been doing. Well I’ve always read my Bible this way; surely this must be right. I’ve always prayed this way; it’s the only way to reach God. I’ve always sung these songs; I can only worship the Lord like this. We know that Jesus doesn’t change, that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But we do. And it’s scary to think that what ‘worked’ two years ago won’t work now, and that suddenly God isn’t in the place we always knew we could find Him. Did God move? Did He miss the rendezvous point? Of course He didn’t, of course He didn’t change just to throw us for a loop. Often, He wants us to shift.
When my parents moved from California, I had a bit of a spiritual panic. I didn’t grow up surfing, but we went to the beach a lot. Most Sabbaths, actually, we’d walk along the shore for hours, trying to beat the tide and getting funny tan lines. In fourth grade, we’d taken a field trip to the beach, and wrote our own psalms there. The ocean was where I saw God. And no, not in a nature is god kind of way, but it’s where I recognized so many of His attributes.
I saw anchors, holding fast against changing tides, and understood what it meant to have your faith in something stronger than you. I saw the vast sea, it’s colors undefinable and its depths unfathomable and knew how small I am. I saw shells, and God whispered that He will always leave promises of beauty in my life. Seaweed would always make me jump, then the waves would wash it away; I was reminded that God would take away my fears. The sand made my feet rough, but I learned to keep walking.
And then, they moved. I was happy for them, and they were excited for their house, but I had this nagging voice: now where will you see God?
My first winter in Colorado, flying home to a new house than the one I’d been raised in, I got my answer. Birds floated in the center of an icy lake, insulated and warm by the care of a Creator who crafted them to withstand the frozen water; God would look after my needs. Mountains were blanketed in frothy snow; God would cover my mistakes in His righteousness. And when the sun melted away the snow, and creeks swelled with pure water; God would warm me with His love. In California, I knew God’s power, His strength. In Colorado, I saw His compassion, His tenderness.
When you feel a change in your faith, God has not removed Himself from you. He’s asking you to re-orient yourself to Him. It’s okay that you need that readjustment, we all fall short. But when the moment comes to start over, let go of your sunk cost canvas of faith. Don’t cling to the magenta, when He offers you evergreen.