There’s a story that is told about a sculptor—sometimes it is claimed that it was Michelangelo, but it probably wasn’t. Oftentimes in the course of telling and retelling general stories are attributed to famous people to bring them to life. But in the story there was a famous sculptor who worked hard with hammer and chisel on a large block of marble. A little boy who was watching him saw nothing more than large and small pieces of stone falling away left and right. He had never seen a sculptor at work, and he had no idea what was happening. But when the boy returned to the studio a few weeks later he saw, to his great surprise, a large and powerful lion sitting in the place where the marble had stood. With great excitement the boy ran to the sculptor and said, “Sir, tell me, how did you know there was a lion in the marble?” The sculptor said, “I knew there was a lion in the marble because before I saw the lion in the marble, I saw him in my heart. The secret is that it was the lion in my heart that recognized the lion in the marble.”
I don’t know a thing about sculpting or how most sculptors work. I know something about writing. Usually when I sit down to write I have an idea of where I’m going and it’s just a matter of getting there. But sometimes I have no idea where I’m going. I’ll start heading in a direction but I end up someplace else, somewhere unexpected, and I’ll wonder, where did that come from? It didn’t start out as a voyage of discovery, but it became one. Every once in a while I’ll do an exercise where I take a pen, a blank sheet of paper, and set a timer for fifteen minutes, and just write without pausing for fifteen minutes, not self-editing, not worrying about spelling or grammar or even legibility. The goal is to get out in the open what’s inside—it is truly an exercise of discovery.
The Master Sculptor already knows what’s in the marble, because he has seen it in His heart. The art of sculpture is the art of seeing, and only then is it the art of chipping away everything that is not a lion. But here’s where the metaphor breaks down. Whereas a chunk of marble is inanimate and has no choice but to submit to the hammer and chisel of the sculptor, that is not true for us. We have a choice. You and I have to choose to submit to the Master sculptor and His vision for our lives. In order to do that, we have to give up our vision of our lives. And in order to do that, we have to see what God sees.
In Romans 8:15-17, Paul warns us not to fall back into a spirit of slavery, but to pay attention to the Spirit of God who tells us that God is our Father and we are his children. And that is what God sees when he looks at us, and if we see anything else, we are seeing an image that leads to slavery. The work of the spiritual life is the work of coming to terms with the fact of our adoption into God’s family so that we no longer feel the need to strive with God (and, often, against others) to gain his forgiveness and acceptance, things that are already given.
He sees what we really are; we have to learn to see it as well.