The other day, I was absentmindedly doodling lyrics in a notebook. This is a long-standing past time of mine that I developed in college when waiting for classes to start. Pretty much came as a result of me not knowing how to sketch accurately but wanting the same feeling. So sitting there, I wrote the lyrics to a favorite song out in cursive and then started sketching over them in different colors and playing with the design. The more I sketched, the more refined the words on the page became. They were clear and exact and they looked better and better the longer I worked with them.

Now, as I said, I’m not artist beyond my color coordinated lyric sketching. Still, I’ve learned from watching others far more talented than me in that area that it’s never a one-step process. This process isn’t found in sketching only. It’s in any artistic endeavor that showcases a person’s creativity and taste for beauty. Architecture, sketching, sewing, graphic design, composing and of course for me, writing. They all have multi-step processes of refining whatever is being created in front of them

At the end of the day, we’re not much different. Everything we know about creating beauty is learned from our own creator. He’s the master of it all. I’m regularly left in awe of God’s creative abilities. Never mind the fact that I live in a world with sunrises, oceans, polar bears, fog, redwoods, and elephants. I can’t even sit down to write a book without acknowledging that the only reason I’m able to tell a story is because he made the concept of a story in the first place. I may be a storyteller, but he is Storymaker. So I think it’s safe to say that when God made us, he knew every part of the creative process intimately.

But so often when we look at ourselves as new creations in Christ we get frustrated with where we’re at. We want to be so many places and do so many things, but more often than not it feels like we just get knocked down at every turn. You lose your chance to work that dream job. You run out of funds to pay for college. You injure yourself and can’t play your dream sport anymore. Your business collapses from underneath you and you have to start over from scratch. In a world where we’d love to confidently stride forward, we find ourselves doing the hateful dance of two steps forward, one step back and it doesn’t typically sit well with any of us.

To cope with this, we regularly reassure each other that “God doesn’t make mistakes!” and “God has big plans for this season!” or even “God made you with a purpose!”, but how often do we pause to consider what the process of making us that way might take? Might I suggest that the things we view as setbacks or derailments might be the repetitive marks of the pencil that draw out the best-sketched works of art?

We’re told as much in the Bible. James 1:2-4 tells us “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” and Romans 5: 3-5 backs this notion up by saying: More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

You are not being abandoned when you go through setbacks. You are being refined.

I wouldn’t have been a very good author if I wrote Captain Acorn but never even looked at it for edits. It would have been this messy, unrefined document with almost zero potential beyond its original starting point. No one would want to read a book that was filled with grammatical mistakes, wild formatting errors, major plot holes, inconsistencies, and misspelled words. I didn’t want that for my book. I wanted more for it. I loved my book too much to leave it in an unfinished draft and so I went back to work after the story was already told. Sections were changed or taken out, words replaced, names changed, paragraphs altered. By the time Captain Acorn was ready to publish, it was a very different book than the one I’d first started with.

God treats us the same way. He made us at a starting point when we hand our lives over to him, but he has a lot more in mind. When we finally close the book on our lives, we are never the same person we started as. Our trials define us, change us, mold us, and God uses them every step of the way to make you into something incredible in his kingdom. What we see as trials, God uses as brushstrokes. What we look at as tribulation, God uses to make edits. What we feel as heartbreak, God uses to make a story we never thought would have been possible during the first draft. Your life is going to go through trials and setbacks, but if you are able to lean into the opportunities they bring you may just find the draft of your story getting that much clearer.

Going through another draft of your life is not a punishment but an improvement.

Crafting a masterpiece requires decisive, intense work, and believe me, God has every intention of making you into one of his masterpieces. God loves you entirely too much to make you into some stick figure doodle and leave you at that. He intends to sketch a self-portrait.

Setbacks and trials hurt in the moment. I’m not going to pretend for a minute that they don’t, and believe me, I can speak from experience on that one. But there is great comfort in the fact that the things that seem to go wrong in life aren’t just coincidence blown in by some ill-fated wind. They are the moments that move us and change us. They are the moments that make us into art. A trial could do a lot worse than that, don’t you think?

Let’s find some joy,

A.R.