Drawing God

In the front of my church, there is a 30 foot stained glass window of Jesus ascending into heaven.

It’s pretty garish and doesn’t quite coordinate with the electric blue and fuchsia pews and purple carpet. The ethnically white Jesus is in red robes on a blue background and has a face as symmetrical as a Ralph Lauren model.

I don’t particularly like this stained glass window, but when we inherited this building, we got the Jesus, too.

As churches and individuals, we all have our depictions of God.

Some of them are based on the theology we grew up with, some on a literalistic reading of the gospels, some on our culture, some on our fathers, and I doubt any single one of them is exactly correct. Even among people seeking God with their hearts and minds and souls, there is much diversity.

That range of opinions between people who love God yet describe him slightly differently used to make me panicked and worry constantly about getting it right.

But I have come to a new realization

If God is like our father – only perfectly good – and he delights in our being as much as our becoming, then I don’t think he’s particularly concerned with me getting everything just right and checking that off the list. I am God’s child and he treats me like nothing less, which means he’s far more interested in relationship than rightness.

I used to be trapped in the lie that God was always disappointed in me. I thought he wanted something from me that I wasn’t capable of giving: perfection. I believed that he had forced his love arbitrarily upon me instead of other people, but that I had to work to keep it, and that I could lose it at any moment. I may not have been able to articulate it, but I acted like God was waiting for me to fall so he could kick me while I was down. To teach me a “holy” lesson that would someday make sense, sure, but a kick nevertheless.

No good parent would do that, even in some twisted motivation scheme.

That way of thinking, my friends, was hell. It’s been amazing to learn that Jesus took care of the perfection part so I can learn to play like a child.

Have you hung out with any kids and made art recently? Drawing with children is one of my favorite activities, and it’s not just because my artistic talents are on par with a 6 year old’s skills.

I love the way kids draw. They draw bugs and houses and intricate comic strips and Star Wars ships and the people around them with this amazing boldness and vision. See that line? That’s a worm. Those squiggles on top of a trapezoid? That’s a girl with curly hair!

Several of my close friends are parents

And I’ve learned that Parenting makes you the recipient of hundreds of pictures, including some on unexpected canvases like the living room wall. My friends are good parents. Even when they are handed pages of crayon stick figures with crazy proportions, extra limbs, unrealistic colors, and over-sized features, they don’t reject them or spend time pointing out these mistakes. Instead, I see them offer praise, love, and then hang the drawing on their fridge. They ask their child to explain the drawing. They tweet the news and instagram a photo so more people can share in the joy of a small creation.

Why did I used to assume that God is less than good when we are capable of recognizing good human parents? Surely he is better!

Sometimes it helps me to close my eyes and actually picture myself as a child before God. It seems easier some days to just say “here, I drew a picture of you and me eating tacos together,” than to pray any grand prayers. As I talk to God about my picture of us and my day, I’m spending the time with him that will help me realize that I drew his eyes a little funny and his hands out of proportion. But I realize that through the love and relationship we have, not because he tells me I’m a screw up artist.

We come to God as children because that is how we find him.

We come to him as children because that is what we really are. That is how he says he will show up for us: as a mother hen comforting her chicks, as a servant washing our feet, as a perfect parent inviting all children to come to him. God is an excellent father, whether we’re being good or smearing paint on the walls of our lives, or biting each other, or throwing tantrums, or we don’t think we can find him, or crawling close to him because we dreamed of monsters.

We come to God as artists because this is how he made us. We create our daily lives, we design relationships, we scribble truth on our arms, we sing of grand adventures, we manifest boldness in drawing him, even if it’s out of proportion. We reflect him as we draw his love.

I’m challenging you to exercise your faith in a simple way. Draw a picture of God and show it to him. If you don’t even know where to start, start there. You can learn about him in scripture or by asking other people who love Jesus how they learned to draw God, but know that God isn’t upset if you draw him poorly. The point isn’t that you figured it out. The point isn’t to draw him just right so he’ll like you more than the other kids. It’s to show him your drawings and feel his delight in all of them.

The point is, above all, to know his love.

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Speak Up! Where do you think you got your primary pictures of God? Have you ever drawn a picture for God’s fridge? Does your church have any weird stained glass?

[photo: kirstyhall, Creative Commons]

  • Jeanne Befano

    Nice article.
    Jesus called God “Abba”- father. He lived in a patriarchal world, where women were considered not much more valuable than slaves or other property.
    Today, I’m more inclined to believe God does not have a sex; is not a “he”. Yet our limited language calls for either a “he” or even a “she”.
    Could God be a Mother in your view – like Dame Julian of Norwich? I’m new to Prodigal Magazine and like it. But I have to say that I am surprised by the exclusive male language used by the authors I’ve read so far.
    As a ELCA Lutheran pastor, I use “God” as much as possible. When I do use a pronoun, I try and balance the “he’s” and the “she’s”.
    Our words are important. They too paint pictures of how we see God, which in turn informs us of how we see ourselves.
    Just sayin’!
    Please don’t see this as picking on you at all — it’s just a trend I’ve noticed so far with PM and it’s got me wondering!

  • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

    Emily! I LOVE the parallel you draw between children’s drawings and our perceptions of God. So good for my heart today. <3

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thanks, Bethany! Your heart is awesome. I’m glad you found rest here. It was pure rest to write this post and just be a child who doesn’t have to have all the answers! <3

  • http://www.facebook.com/aprilcalton April Yeazell Calton

    So articulate as always! Great post!

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thanks, my birthday friend! I was thinking of your sweet and talented artist sons as some of my favorite drawing buddies! The “intricate comic strips” are all theirs. :)

  • Rebecka

    This was so beautiful. I can’t even begin to describe how this spoke to me. Thank you for sharing, Emily!

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thank you so much for letting me know, Rebecka. I’m so glad you’re here!

  • Emily_Maynard

    Hi Jeanne, I love your perspective and value it greatly! Thank you for reading and commenting in a way that made me really think.

    While I’ve discovered much about God that moves me beyond human gendered language, I still find myself using the male pronoun for much of my writing since we are asked to pray to “Our Father,” Jesus was a human male and when I refer to God I’m also referring to him, western tradition, etc. I understand that the historical tradition I write from is patriarchal, yet somehow Jesus, even in the midst of patriarchy, offers the exact same love and freedom to all humans, regardless of gender. I’m guessing some of the others you’ve come across in this space use male pronouns for the same habitual reasons, not out of malice or an intent to perpetuate patriarchy.

    I can’t speak for the rest of the authors about this, but I have grown to love the revelations of God that flow so well with the human feminine as well as masculine: the image of God as a mother hen gathering Israel under her wing, images of God “birthing” and “nursing” the Israel people, etc. This is a complicated and profound theological discussion I’m still at the very beginning stages of engaging, but I’m excited to gain richer and bigger pictures of God’s vast love. But one thing I’m sure of is that all humans reflect God’s image and I support cooperation, equality, and partnership in the way we engage with each other and make God’s kingdom present.

    I think people with many levels of relationship with God will find a good space to tell their story here at Prodigal, which is why I’m here! I’d love to hear more about the words and images God has given you that reveal a glory outside of human or gendered experience. I’m absolutely delighted you enjoyed this post and I hope you’ll stay for more conversations!

  • Louise

    Reading this brought tears to my eyes…I’ve been thinking about this post and that I should comment to let you know how wonderful it was to read and know that I’m not the only one who’s felt like this! Still feeling like this actually. People talk about God as loving Father and I wonder how, yet want that so much. I am still trapped in this lie and it’s only this summer that I’ve begun to realise the enormous amount of stuff I believe about God is completely warped. Apart from praying for a supernatural miracle for my mind to change is there anything you could recommend to help change the way I see God?

    • Emily_Maynard

      Louise,

      Thank you for being brave enough to share how you’re feeling. I wish I could just say this a million times: you are not alone. You are not alone. You are not alone. You are not alone! There is amazing comfort in community and I would encourage you to find safe people to discuss this with in person.

      My new view of God hasn’t come from following any specific formula so I can’t offer you much, but I hope you know that even this desire to see God as your loving father means that he is active in your heart! Lean into that steady pull and trust that it is from him. Any relationship requires honesty and talking, so I’d start there. Be honest and talk to God about how you see him now. Get counseling about the things in your past that have shaped your image of God, positive or negative. Read stories of other people’s spiritual journeys, not looking for a formula, but to refresh your hope that God works in direct, individual, and faithful ways and he will do the same with you! (A few I’ve enjoyed include books like Blue Like Jazz, Angry Conversations with God, and blogs like Prodigal, A Deeper Story, etc)

      Sometimes miracles happen instantly, but I find that often they come incrementally through steady steps, many falterings, and much grace.

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing. I hope you know you are loved.

      • Louise

        I’ve moved home for summer so no church for 2 months which hasn’t helped- but I move to a new city in a different country next week so I’m looking forward to finding a church to go to, and people to be honest with.

        One of the reasons I love to read Prodigal is the honesty with which people share…I don’t feel like I’ve come across a lot of that from Christians! I love reading what you write Emily as it feels like it’s not just me this situation.

  • http://twitter.com/kristin_devries Kristin DeVries

    Had to laugh at your opening; that was the church I grew up in before we switched buildings. Gotta love the 70s, huh? Never appealed to me either, although since I saw it my whole life, it does tug at a nostalgic string in my heart. Fuchsia pews and all…