An artist attempting to create an image on his or her chosen canvas has two options: define the object itself, or define the negative space around it. Both scenarios allow the intended image to be seen although two distinct methods are used to bring it to life. Let’s say, for example, you wanted to create an image of a single leaf in the center of a white canvas. You could take the more direct route and detail out the leaf using a few green colored pencils and be finished. This would require you to have a very clear idea of what you wanted the leaf to look like. On the other hand, you could start with a large green canvas. This time you would use white to cover the space surrounding the outlined leaf in the middle. Although there is more negative space to cover and it’s a bit more time-consuming, the end result is still a single green leaf in the center.
I’ve observed that sometime during our teenage years an interesting phenomenon happens. People begin to ask us who we are and what we want to do with our lives. In essence, we are asked very early to draw a green leaf that represents exactly who we are in the center of a big white canvas called life. The problem is that very few of us actually know how to draw when we are first asked to. Even if you are fortunate enough to have a few drawing skills, chances are you won’t know where to place the image on the canvas! All this to say that I believe we are asked entirely too young to have much of our lives figured out. Who am I, and what is my purpose, are perhaps the two biggest questions that can be asked, and experience has showed me that the answers still elude people well into their adult lives.
Much of my life is committed to helping people answer these questions. In fact, Mended began as a platform to help answer them for our community. As we move forward in 2016, we believe it starts with each person individually, so that’s where we are starting: first with ourselves, then moving out into our Mended groups and beyond. No matter what area of the world you live in, when the people are resolute in who they are and what they are doing, that confidence naturally flows out and affects the direction of the community as a whole.
Sometimes I think the sheer magnitude and thought of having our life figured out scares us; there’s a fear that somehow if we get it wrong there are no second chances. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! God used some incredibly normal people that had made a decent mess of their lives to do some amazing things! Some didn’t even get started with their God given destinies until they were old men and women. That tells me that there were many years where they didn’t have it dialed in. In other words, a lot of “negative space” was being defined.
I have found that it’s extremely valuable to continue moving forward in life, even when you’re uncertain of the next step. This can very quickly help you recognize what you are not suppose to do as a means to get you closer to what you are suppose to do. Or perhaps it’s easier right now for you to understand who you aren’t while on your way to discovering who you really are. Defining some of the big white space to get you to the leaf in the middle is progress in the right direction.
Please don’t mistake the words “negative space” as something bad. It can be very healthy to face the reality that there are some things that you just aren’t meant to do. This valuable method in helping us understand who we are was actually modeled by John the Baptist. It’s easy to miss, but I want you to look closely at his response when asked who he was.
“Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Christ.’ They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of the one calling in the desert, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”’” John 1:19-23
He goes on to say, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” John 3:27
What fascinates me about John’s response is that he immediately answered the Jews’ question by stating who he wasn’t. I realize that John’s life purpose was prophesied to his parents before he was born. There is a high likelihood that they instilled this purpose in him – to be a forerunner telling of the coming Christ. However, John found it much more beneficial to explain to people who he was by exclaiming that he wasn’t the Messiah. As flattering as some of the guesses were about his identity – the Christ, Elijah, the Prophet – John was confident that he was none of these, and he “confessed freely” that truth.
The other thing I find intriguing that John said later in chapter 3 is, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.” I wonder how many of us are pursuing a specific purpose, all-the-while sensing it’s not the right fit. I believe part of the journey towards receiving the God given purpose for your life, the one John refers to as receiving from heaven, is being adamant about the things you’re not meant to do. Far too many people fill their days trying to draw the wrong picture of who they are. Somewhere along the way, pressure came to make a decision about what that picture should look like. Someone suggested that because you have a green tint, rough edges, and you like to hang around with branches you must be a leaf. Deep down inside you know you’re not, but you continue to try because it seems like the most direct path to your destiny.
I need to make a distinction here that a career or occupation do not necessarily make up your purpose. A person may be a grocery clerk by trade, but their purpose may be to dance! Many of us earn a living one way but fuel our passions another. Getting to that place where your passions come alive is what God intends for your life. If you feel you haven’t hit that mark, try something different. Perhaps you’ve allowed past mistakes to define who you are and what your purpose is. Labels can be hard to remove, but declare you’re not that person! If you do that enough, you may just realize one day that enough of the negative space has been worked on to bring things into focus. The picture you initially thought was just going to be a little leaf could turn out to be the whole tree.