Originally published on September 23, 2016.
Everyone wants to “think outside the box” these days. And I do agree with the idea of innovation, creativity and exploration. My husband, for instance, ardently objected to wearing blue jeans until he was in his mid-50’s. His box told him that jeans were for farmers. But one day, our neighbor gave him three pairs of jeans. After I coaxed him to try on a pair, he decided jeans were comfortable! For a few years afterwards he only wore his Dockers to church!
So, I’m not opposed to broadening one’s horizons or trying new things. Having said that, however, I believe the box can be too quickly discarded. I believe, very firmly, that the box, more often than not, provides the framework for innovation, creativity and exploration.
Let me explain my position by taking you back to my verse writing class in college. My professor insisted that, before we could successfully write free verse, we needed to learn to write sonnets. Sonnets are very restrictive in their form. They must be exactly 14 lines of iambic pentameter, following one of two specific rhyme schemes. The first quatrain presents the main idea, generally in terms of a metaphor. The next quatrain adds to the metaphor, giving it a bit more complexity and texture. And then, the all-important third quatrain adds a twist (or, as my professor put it, “creates a problem”). The final couplet (not a quatrain this time) both resolves the conflict and gives the reader a new image.
To defend sonnet-writing to that 1977 class of young adults still enamored with the free-spirited ideals of Woodstock, Betty Freidan’s bra-burning and the questioning of authority , my professor kept reminding us that “Freedom is in the form.” To my surprise, he was right! As I practiced taming my thoughts into iambic pentameter, using the strict rhyme scheme to select vibrant words, and using the quadrants to unfold my metaphors, I enjoyed watching my sonnets come alive. The form, rather than oppressing my creativity, generated it. I saw my writing soar with a freshness that I’d never seen in the trendy free verse I’d been producing since high school.
I often carry my professor’s dictum, “Freedom is in the form,” into my relationship with Christ. In contrast to people who live life as “free spirits” who have no concrete direction, I find solid guidance through the teachings of Scripture. Admittedly I do so very imperfectly (just as I still write sonnets very imperfectly) but I’m so thankful that God gives me a framework for my decisions, my relationships and my morals. The Lord, through His written Word, provides the structure that enables me to soar into worship.
King David, in Psalm 119, demonstrated that God’s Law provides wonderful liberty for those who abide in its principles.
25 My soul clings to the dust;
give me life according to your word!
26 When I told of my ways, you answered me;
teach me your statutes!
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
28 My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word!
29 Put false ways far from me
and graciously teach me your law!
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your rules before me.
31 I cling to your testimonies, O Lord;
let me not be put to shame!
32 I will run in the way of your commandments
when you enlarge my heart! ~~Psalm 119:25-32 (ESV)
That image of running in the way of His commandments reminds me of the walker I had in childhood that allowed me to run! I needed to be in leg braces, and to be strapped into the structure (pictured above), but once in it, I enjoyed running all over the playground. To this day, I remember the exhilarating feeling of freedom that running gave me. When I ran, I appreciated the walker. Rather than regarding it as an encumbrance, I took tremendous joy in my emancipation.
Obedience to God’s Word emancipates Christians from sin, setting us free to serve the Lord with abandon! The structure, which the world so often characterizes as restrictive, actually allows us to run like children. When I reject the supposed freedom to rebel against God’s commands, I enjoy the same exhilaration that so thrilled me when I ran in that walker.
It sounds so cool to “think outside the box,” but perhaps we can’t really think clearly outside the box of Scripture. As I see life, the proverbial box gives me the framework so essential to innovation, creativity and exploration. Whether I’m writing, remembering my walker or working out my Christian faith, I’m grateful for the structure. Sometimes, I’ll “think outside the box,” but I’m so delighted to actually have that beautiful box!