"Is It Okay?"

A few days ago my 9-year-old brought a paint-by-number set to the kitchen table. I watched her take out the little plastic paint pots and motley numbered picture, and meticulously line up the colorful set of brushes she’d requested as a Christmas gift. Then I went back to doing my best impersonation of my mother, puttering around the kitchen. For the most part I tuned out the running string of comments and complaints that began emanating from the vicinity of my little artist. That is, until she did to me what I used to do to my own puttering mother: she nailed me with a good question. With great exasperation she said, “Mom! Is it okay if I do this paint-by-number my own way?”

Creativity is celebrated around here. Our degree of accomplishment might be up for debate, but we have a great time trying. For me, seeing my child itching to exercise the creative nature given to her by her Creator is one of the most richly satisfying experiences of being a mother. Of course, I thought it was okay for her to do the painting her own way!

Soon, however, while my soul was still doing giddy acrobatics over her creativity, a more sobering thought occurred to me. She hadn’t just gone rogue and painted the painting the way she wanted; she’d stopped to ask if it was okay. This, I thought, was a beautiful picture of what William Cowper called “Love Constraining to Obedience.” It was a picture of being mercifully surrounded by an abundance of good things to enjoy, but knowing that the freedom to ask about delighting in the steak and Cabernet should also be followed by asking about when the wine “sparkles in the cup.” (Prov. 23:31) As Cowper put it:

“What shall I do, was then the word
That I may worthier grow?
What shall I render to the Lord?
Is my enquiry now.
To see the Law by Christ fulfill’d,
And hear his pard’ning voice;
Changes a slave into a child,
And duty into choice.”

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