Remember “connect the dots” you used to do when you were little? Life is a lot like that, isn’t it?
Sanctification, the process by which we journey through this life on earth attempting to be more like Jesus, is really fascinating. Sometimes it seems like things are “falling into place,” while others there are bumpy times on the road. In all of it, though, there’s this thread of dot-connecting that goes on, whether we see it or not.
I remember a few key elements from when I used to do connect the dots as a youngster. When I started out, it was thrilling. I didn’t know what the object to be created was. The anticipation drove me to go from one dot to the other. In the very beginning, the big challenge was discovering what the next dot would be. Whether it be letters, numbers, or even another special way of connection, finding the dots to connect was thrilling! At times the puzzle was just too difficult so we may have been tempted to, or actually did, give up. But once you got started things seemed to get easier until, oftentimes, there was a tricky dot cluster where you really had to pay attention to get the direction exact. The satisfaction of seeing the completed figure brought great joy, relief, satisfaction and completion. But then you were assigned more dot-to-dots, and they just seemed “too easy.” So you stopped doing them altogether because they were beneath your intelligence somehow. Or were they?
Life really is like that. We have this giant connect-the-dot that is our life. When we first begin connecting the dots, it’s exciting. In fact, knowing that there’s even dots to connect is where a huge relief and joy comes from. But then we think it’s somehow too easy and beneath us so we stop connecting the dots altogether. Some kids are dot-to-dot “over-connectors,” while others are very methodical. So are some adults.
I think everyone is trying to connect dots. Most often we are trying to connect them into a shape we want. We may know the shape we have before us, the plan and vision God has given us for our lives, but only some choose to connect it as drawn. Some people have a “Care Bear” and are trying to make a “Transformer,” while others have a garden and are trying to make it into a sports team’s logo. But the hardest part is we can’t see all the dots. We may have an idea where they are located, but never are they all there right before us. Or at least it doesn’t seem like it. They appear slowly in God’s time and not necessarily even in the right order. And because of their challenge we sometime get sick of the silly dot connecting games and just give up connecting them.
Take, for example, a five point star. You have dots on the top, top right, top left, bottom right and bottom left. But let’s assume “Joe” doesn’t know what it is and he begins by seeing only the top right point. As time goes on, the bottom right appears. Because he sees that other point, he assumes that he is supposed to connect those dots together. But because we know it’s a five point star, we know he shouldn’t or he won’t have the right shape. As he starts drawing that line, the top left dot appears. Now what? Does Joe quick change directions like a kid with A.D.D. says “squirrel”? Does he go back to where he was and start over? Does he keep going in his stubborn ways and finish going down to the bottom right point? Joe is stubborn.
See . . . this is how it goes, isn’t it? We do this. In the sanctification dot-to-dot, so much goes into it. So much of our experiences, personality, thought, and even (especially, hopefully) Scripture & Spirit.
These appearing dots are one thing, but to me the exciting part is looking back after we are well into the connect the dot puzzle. While we look ahead to see where we are supposed to connect our line (life) to next, we simultaneously look at the big picture to see what we are becoming. And our brains, being so amazingly created, piece together all the dots remembering both the fun [times of life] and hard [dots]. We can see where we’re going, what we’ve been, where we’ve been and what big picture we might be becoming all in a matter of milliseconds. This is often followed by a concentrated meditation on either one particular dot or the big picture, but even those thoughts of dots become dots themselves.
Confused? Yes and no.
I think the point I’m realizing in all of this is that God reveals and uses what we could never expect. Going back to Joe, even though he made mistakes, sinned in his stubbornness and deterred from the perfect, neat design set up for him originally, God made something even better.
From top right to bottom right, Joe went to the top left. He figured he was done so he just went back to top right, completing the triangle. But of course, on his way, the top point appeared. He paused, thinking he might make the squirrel move this time, but instead went back to the top left point.
Thinking he had outsmarted [the system], he saw the bottom left appear and figured he had to go right after it (he probably should have stayed on course instead of go back, but we won’t tell Joe).
At this point, Joe stopped. He was frustrated. Was this some type of braille he should have been reading? Was he supposed to move to the northwest? His temptation to scribble his life away was legit. What looked like a “mess up” surely couldn’t be redeemed, so he thought.
So he just went on uninspired one point to the next, not even really thinking about what would come of it.
From bottom left to top right to top left back to top right, down to bottom right and sitting again just “stuck.” As if he was just outlining his life like one does while doodling on a piece of paper in the midst of a long phone call, Joe went every which way aimlessly through life.
He tried to be tricky by highlighting the top triangle he discovered something as his pen had run out of ink. His life had made a drastic change. Maybe it was divorce. Maybe a death of a loved one. An illness. Let go from his job. Kids fallen astray or leaving home. A huge payment that put him in over his head. He lost his house. We don’t know what Joe’s big moment was and we never know what the turning points are in our lives, but they happen to all of us. We look back at picture the dot to dot of our lives is making, and we see something either differently or more clearly. And it jumps out at us like it is being drawn with new ink.
What Joe saw clear as day was a letter. It was the back side of an envelope, ready to be opened. And he was curious to do so. Like he so desperately wanted to know what the connecting dots were making in his life, so he wanted to know what was inside. So at his middle age, he began seeking, not telling anyone he was doing so, of course, because that would lead them to believe he didn’t know what his dot-to-dot was (and everyone knows you don’t do that!)
Having left off in the middle of the envelope, he decided to look and travel upwards. Not seeing much clear from that perspective he journeyed way down past the letter to where no dot existed. Joe was searching for anything, and really felt led to search everywhere. He went up and down that continuum looking for what the letter might be saying.
He finally stopped a the top of the envelope he thought he ought to take his life left and right to discover what the Truth might be. Something he’d seen daily for all his life jumped out at him like a 3 year old sees a frog in their first dot-to-dot ever. A cross. The universal symbol for a particular religion. And one that he was somewhat jaded towards. But given the process of seeing a letter, opening the envelope and discovering a cross made him not question the direction but instead seek it out to discover what it might have to do with his dot-to-dot (life).
Finding himself at the top right dot where he actually began, he sought to dig deep, as deep as he could go, to discover what was inside the letter and behind the cross.
It was really only five dots he needed to connect. After the journey he’d been on, he was reminded of all the wrong ways he took as he saw behind the red mark. The language. Substances. Relationships. Opportunities. Hardness of heart. Pride. Greed. Self-righteousness. Lies. It hurt yet was like letting out that good cry when you need to or emptying your stomach of whatever poison was marinating in there. The impurities came to surface, those he knew of and didn’t even recall.
He saw this amazing sacrificial love that wasn’t so punishing and restricting as he understood it, but grace-giving, completely out of love and what was best for him & he was suddenly freed by it (John 8:32). It felt wonderful, yes, but more importantly was simultaneously pure and disgusting as scales fell off, and painful yet joyful as tears fell down.
He knew he caused the sacrifice, but was more overwhelmed by the love than guilty because of his sin.
And life wasn’t so much about him in this journey. It was actually a relief. As he journeyed to the center point of his life’s dot-to-dot, he finally began seeing the image of what life was about for him and through him. The things he cared so much about before seeing the envelope suddenly didn’t matter one iota. And for as much as he longed to see what was in that blue letter, he had completely let go, realizing the letter was blank. His life wasn’t about him.
His sins were stained white. His pain was made for the dots as they connected to this point. His errors were corrected and turned out for good both for his enemies, his frenemies and friends. And even though he didn’t have a 401k, his family was a mess and he didn’t know what the next steps were necessarily, he was thankful. He had life. He envisioned clarity of Truth he tried to picture for years, and found it was nothing like he was searching for. It was a beautiful letdown, a perfect disappointment. And he wouldn’t rather have been more wrong in his life than in these moments.
He journeyed on back to where the first dot began. He saw the heart. He felt the love. He knew he was led to keep following that path in which he just traveled. Over and over again. And he was excited to do so. He knew other dots might appear in attempt to make his picture more beautiful with fireworks, scenery and the like, but he knew his direction.
He found his picture & while one might say he couldn’t be happier, the reality was more like that of peace. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t all happy, in fact he found himself heart-broken quite a bit. His old relationships weren’t all restored. He grew older and had to deal with health issues. He kept on making some of the same wrong turns he did behind the cross when he was searching for the envelope. But he experienced the forgiveness Jesus. The presence of the Holy Spirit. And the love and comfort from the Father.
God changed everything for Joe. You might say that God really didn’t change much because he was somewhat directing the entire way, but through Joe’s eyes and faith, everything was changed by God. And Joe saw the big picture.
We call this God’s Sovereignty. His control. The fact that God knows where all the dots are, that if/when we go the wrong way, how He can redeem, buy back, the direction in which he wants us to go and to be. I started this parable by saying the image was a star. Joe’s stubbornness made it seemingly impossible to make a star by the directions he went. But I must say, I think what turned out was exponentially times better than “just a star.” Kinda reminds me of what another Joe said in the Bible: “You intended to harm me, but God intended for good to accomplish what is now being done: the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). Jacob’s son Joseph’s directions were anything but the way we would assume someone would rise to the top. Yet God did it. And it wasn’t about power but about God’s Sovereignty & salvation, the saving of many lives.
For Joe, all along it was a message to him, for him and from him. The message that Jesus loves. The message that Jesus loves Him and is guiding, directing the dots of life. The message was that he is to give that same message of Jesus and his love in a method of love to others. We are always trying to figure out what the dots are. Where they point us. Which one to go to. What the message is that is being communicated. The message is God. His love. His sacrifice. And in the midst of all the dots, the understanding that we are simply operating on His dot to dot page. A page that is infinitely more complex for any adult to understand and yet infinitely more simpler than any preschooler would ever imagine.
Dots don’t just appear. They are specifically placed. And their timing is intentional. Decisions as to which direction to go aren’t just acted upon. Spiritual forces battle for our time, attention, distraction and more. I imagine some “dots” aren’t even dots at all and are simply put up as smoke to lead us away from God’s path. They’re like fireworks that appear a color for a moment and turn into that puff of smoke as it rains down. And yet there’s this combination of submission, devotion, giving up, holding on and all sorts of other paradoxes that helps us know God’s “good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:1-2) for us individually and communally. We are led from dot to dot. And it need not stress us out like that type A three year old.
So where does this stem from? I saw some dots connecting this week. And I saw an new dot appear. I really want the new dot to be what I think the other dots are pointing to from an experience, passion, common sense and directed way. But I don’t want that to be just me. I’ve gone in the wrong direction before and don’t want to do it again. My original five point star but current asterisk is still in the making and I’m hoping I might be obedient to let God make it what He wants. But in the process of seeing a few dots and wanting to connect those, thinking of only those, I want to also be able to see the big picture. I know I’m not smart enough to see it completely, but I know that with God’s leading, I can know where to go and may even be given some insight as to what the picture is turning out to be.
Now I really hate trite (overused) Bible verses that pretend (lie) that everything is going to be just hunky dory. But I also realize that they didn’t become popular just because they are overused – there must be some truth in them. In fact, I used to love quotes before I became more embedded in my faith in Jesus and Scripture, so I simply shifted my memorization of quotes to Scripture verses. In doing so I found that many of the trite verses miss the full context of their placement (i.e. Jer. 19:11, Phil. 4:13, Mt. 18:20, 2 Pe. 3:9, Mal. 3:10, Prov 3:9-10, Ro. 8:29, etc.). One of my biggest pet peeves is Romans 8:28 saying that “all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (NIV). It’s probably the definition & timing of good that is my big holdup, but in terms of ultimately speaking, the dots, if we love God and are called, will make a good picture that God WILL use.
You may feel like your type A personality is one that brings clarity to people’s lives, but God might actually be wanting people to step back from your dot-to-dot and appreciate their own like a Monet impressionistic painting. Maybe the 28 tattoos, 48 piercings, edgy thrift-shop clothing look you carry around and desire that your dot-to-dot mirror, is actually more of a da Vinci realist God wants people to see. Or possibly the fact that your dot-to-dot is somewhat inconsequential, lightly drawn without much of a splash is really more to be perceived as a Salvador Dali that begs to be stared at to gain understanding of one’s own dot-to-dot.
Take a few minutes as plot out your life’s dot-to-dot. Meditate on it. Think of which Scripture passages highlight the good and bad decisions along your way and be blessed in doing so. Need to chat about your journey? Need a listening ear? Seek someone out, have them pray about it (James 5:16), but whatever you do, realize the intentionality in it all. Both yours. And God’s.