The Spiritual Discipline of Coloring Books

The best news I have for you today is that there are oreos and open windows. That when things have gotten really sideways, there are crayons and usually something to scribble on. Jesus practically invented adult coloring books. He said, “Unless you come like a child, you can’t enter the kingdom of heaven.” So if things are looking truly bleak, I find my way toward heaven’s door with markers and the outlined picture of a cupcake. The narrow way.

I love how children come. If they aren’t running away and ignoring me completely, they’re barreling into me with every ounce of their despair on display. My lap is their last resort, so when they finally come it is not in their Sunday best. Little hot messes. Sticky fingers. Grabby hands. Strange obsessive plans percolating in their brains about how to control the world, and wailing in misery when they fail. The strange spawn of Violence and a Sweet Tooth. You know, pretty much exactly like me. When they’re finally at their wit’s end, they launch themselves onto me like a trust fall. Limp and sweaty. Streaked with muddy tears and smelling like a truck stop. This is how he invites us. This is where he invites us. He says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden… I bought Crayola.” He knew that his lap would be my last resort too.

This is holy work on the worst days. Stopping. Throwing ourselves, un-showered and angsty, into something immoveable and good. Putting the Rubix Cube of the universe down and backing away slowly from the frantic fumbling for meaning, success, love, security, purpose. And the really hard stuff like good hair, nice housekeeping and smaller pants. Pulling the hungry suckers of our sticky octopus brains off whatever meaningless detail we’ve gotten wrapped around, and just doodling. Or better yet being silent in the quiet of our own hearts. But silence is hard, so doodling is a good step in the right direction.

Father Thomas Keating, the Trappist monk, says with a twinkle in his eye, “The first guideline for entering into Centering Prayer is just to sit down. Which isn’t too difficult for most people.” Clearly he hasn’t been hanging out with many moms. Sitting down is not our strong suit. Unless we want to stand up and find poop on the walls. But there it is… Stop. In the whirl and swirl of everything. When you’ve reached your wit’s end (or maybe even before, if you’re having a very wise day) come and throw yourself into something ancient and infinite and safe. Some big magic that’s barely beyond the surface. Something that grants permission in the deepest places. The eternal arms that hold. The eternal voice that murmurs, “You are enough because I love you. That was always the truest thing. Now, let’s color a unicorn!”

God raises beauty out of ashes. Always. It’s in his nature. On really bad days, sometimes resurrection can only be found in sitting down. Accepting his sufficiency. Delighting in the freedom to stop and be held. When hearts of truly broken and things are worse than ever, God created Oreos for such a time as this. Broken open for us and for many. One small black and white way out of death and into the loving heart of God.

When snot runneth over everyone’s bottom lip and they lick it off, which is utterly gross, there are yoga pants and a dash of online shopping. Hallelujah! When it’s been four days since you showered and the kids are rampaging, there is a swipe of mascara. With a wave of the wand, you can transform into Adele. Sometimes that’s all it takes to bring you back to life. Two layers of mascara. Grace upon grace.

We thought it was the big things, the deeper questions, the theological gymnastics of the professionals that would un-muddle our experience at it’s most tangly, but it was always the little ones. It was always the still small voice. The narrow way. The little lost lamb. The smallest lurch of faith in the right direction. It’s not rocket science, apparently.

Jesus said it again and again; that it was simple. That it was easy. That is was light. That it was startlingly obvious and utterly available. If we are feeling the opposite, I hazard a guess we have somehow strayed from grace. It’s a simple little thing to shift back into the green pasture when the wheels are flying off the crazy train. Just sit down. God’s presence is always nearer than we thought. He is a “very present help,” all evidence to the contrary. We need only learn how to lurch into his lap. His lap, where labor ceases and the work of healing our confused and fragmented hearts begins. Sit Down. Pick up a coloring book. He’ll meet you there. When the mind settles… when the crazy calms… This is the doorway to contemplative prayer. Sometimes it starts with Lisa Frank.

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