On the nature of scribbles

There are a great many logical and noble reasons for having children, just as there are a great many “logical” and “noble” reasons for not having them. One reason that often goes unspoken, at the risk of sounding like some kind of cruel and selfish lunatic, is that children are the purest and best form of entertainment around. A child is a lifelong movie filled with comedy, drama, violence, tears, romance, and bravery that puts our great epics to shame. I’d recommend having or adopting at least one child for the entertainment value alone. I’m sure some of the dozen or so people that actually read this may be horrified by that statement, imagining that I view children as some kind of puppet meant to perform and exist purely for my amusement – this would only be true if that puppet were incapable of bopping me on the head, making up its own wonderful nonsensical songs, and telling me of its own free will that it loved me.

The other day my two-year-old daughter came to me at my desk and asked “Colors please,” which is her way of saying she wishes to madly scribble and deface something. I handed her a small notebook from the dollar store and a fat pencil. She said “Thank youuu,” opened up the notebook, stared intently into the blank pages, put her mouth up to them, and said, “Hellooo in there!” She smirked at me, laid down on the floor, and began scribbling furiously while singing gibberish to herself. I watched her with the same kind of fascination as you would a bird hopping down the sidewalk with a slice of pizza in its beak: there are things happening here that you can understand, but what is happening internally is the real mystery. After a few minutes, she put the pencil down and held up the notebook proudly. “Daddy ook!” she said. What stood before me was a page of utter nonsense – nothing but scribbles and zigs and zags and crude spirals – yet it was beautiful because she made it.

I often find myself wondering about what goes through her head as she plays or looks at a book. I know what stage of brain development she’s in right now (thanks to all these years of teaching psychology!) and what she is starting to do well right now (sorting by shape and color, deeper levels of object permanence and awareness, expanding vocabulary, and the ability to play basic make-believe games), but that isn’t the complete picture. There is a deeper divine spark inside that manifests itself in ways you cannot adequately explain, and if you try t, something mystical and magical about children is lost. To try to scientifically explain away the behavior of a child reduces them to a mere organism, much like an elephant, barn owl, or marlin.

For her to open up a blank notebook and greet it with an enthusiastic “Hello in there!” shows she intuitively understands there are unseen things waiting to be revealed, and she can be the one to help reveal them. In her mind, possibly, that notebook is the house in which the big drama of her family of scribbles lives in, she’s just going to bring them out. When she proudly showed me her work, she wasn’t saying “Look father, my physical dexterity and coordination with using simple tools is progressing nicely,” she was saying “I made this, and I want you to like it as much as I do.” What looked like scribbles and nonsense to me may in her mind be an entire world and drama that puts Tolkien to shame. We may never know.

Those scribbles remind me that God designed us with a desire to design, and as nonsensical as those designs may seem at times, they all ultimately point to the first Designer. The creative spark is one of the main things that separates us from the rest of creation. As G.K. Chesterton said in The Everlasting Man, “… it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man. Something of division and disproportion has appeared, and it is unique. Art is the signature of man.” All of us are creating something every single day, whether it be art, writing, other creative arts, what we do in our jobs, how we treat other people, or how we conduct our lives. What we are creating depends a lot on our perspective on it. For my daughter, those “scribbles” were a masterpiece and she was proud to show them to me.

Many of us feel that the things we do or make are insignificant scribbles, but they are of ultimate importance to the God of the universe. People think they have to do big things to be significant, but small things done with the heart and character of God in mind are always significant. Even the clumsiest and most awkward attempts at friendship or providing comfort can create lasting friendships or deep comfort. Mark 9:41 says that “I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded.” A cup of water feels insignificant until you’re dying of thirst.

So keep on scribbling – your Father in heaven finds it beautiful.

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