Creative process

It was Saturday afternoon and Cyndi was in Alpine, so I was on solo childcare-duty for the weekend.  I was doing some computer work in my library at home, paying bills, and all that, when my seven-year-old nephew Kevin, being a social creature, unlike me, decided to join me at the big table. He brought his partially-built Lego Jedi Starfighter, as flown by the Lego version of Anakin Skywalker. He was hoping I would help him finish the starship, which means he was hoping to watch me put it together for him.

He was disappointed in the outcome because I wouldn’t help him as much as he wanted me to. I helped him line up his pieces when he was trying to build a mirror-image of the drawing in the book – for example, when he was working on the left wing but the drawing was of the right wing. Working with mirror images is a bit much to expect from a kid.

But I wouldn’t help him look for missing pieces. I didn’t refuse to help; I was just really slow at actually getting around to helping. I wasn’t trying to be mean to him, but finding the correct Lego piece is a skill that can only be learned by repetition. Each time he eventually found the piece anyway without my help.

Once Kevin got so mad at my stall tactics he stomped out of the room, pouting and fuming. I let him go; he’d earned the right to be angry at me and my lack of cooperation, but a few moments later I heard him digging through his big box of extra Lego pieces in his bedroom. Then, he came back into the library with the exact piece he had been looking for.

“See, Uncle Berry,” he bragged, “here it is,” defiantly showing me who was boss.

“Good for you, Kevin. I knew you could find it. You are smarter than you think you are.”

He eventually finished his Jedi Starfighter on his own and went on to save the galaxy. It was a proud afternoon.

It wasn’t that I was too busy to help him more, but I’ve been down this road before with my own kids. They tended to be more interested in completing the final product, the airplane or fire truck or starship shown on the box. They didn’t really care who did the actual construction, they just wanted it to be done.

Me, I wasn’t that interested in the final product at all. I wanted them to learn how to read the diagram and understand the drawings, find their own pieces, and learn how to make substitutes when they couldn’t find the exact piece they wanted. I was more interested in the process than in the final product.

And to be honest, I am actually happier after the box-cover model has been completed, and played with, and finally dismantled. That’s when creativity and imagination replace plan-following routine. That is when improvisation begins.

Maybe that’s why I like that sound of young hands digging in a Lego box so much; it sounds like creativity to me.

Later, I thought more about the Lego scenario, and I realized once again how our simple everyday life mirrors the nature of God. I don’t believe God is as interested in the final result of our life as much as he’s interested in the process of getting us there. He cares more about our character than our destination.

I wondered if God ever holds back from helping us because he wants us to try harder. Does he know there are some things we can learn only through repetition? I wonder if it makes him happy when we take the misfit pieces of our life and begin to improvise a new solution. I wonder if he smiles when he hears us digging through our box of spare parts.

For the past few months I have been working around with my list of 100 Life Goals. In fact our Iron Men group that meets on Thursday mornings has been working on this same project together. Several of the guys sent their lists to me so I could make a group compilation, and today at lunch I read those lists for the first time. I was stunned how personal and honest and specific the goals were. Not all the goals were what might be considered actual responsible adult behavior, some were wild moon shots. Some were dug from the bottom corner of the Lego box in hopes they would fit in with the rest of life. They were improvisational, hopeful, and creative. I don’t know if any of us will be successful with our entire list. In fact, I suspect none of us will achieve them all. But I think the process of dreaming big makes God happy. I believe he likes to hear us digging through the box for the cool pieces.



“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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