Why Formulas Don’t Work

Back in October life hit an unexpected bump which changed the trajectory of my plans for the fall. After a week in Kenya and then 10 days later speaking at the Hutto Bible Ladies Retreat, I was hoping for some peace and quiet and old fashion R-E-S-T. The kind where you zone out with a couple seasons of a Netflix show.

But apparently God had other plans.

The day I unpacked my suitcase from the retreat, Adam packed his. For the next two months, he had to work away from home for three to four days a week.

Not exactly snuggling on the couch watching Netflix together.

Since I couldn’t control the circumstances around me, this need for something to go as I planned bubbled up inside me. All of a sudden, I needed to sew something, paint something or rearrange something in my house to funnel the energy bouncing around within me and not take it out on the people around me.

So I bought some fabric.

I was excited, because with Adam gone, I could work as long into the night as I wanted without disturbing him in the next room, or hearing him utter words of wisdom about me needing silly things like sleep in order to properly function the next day.

I decided to make a shirt I’d made twice before. The first one had been successful. The second one not so successful. This time I vowed to pay very close attention to the directions to avoid messing up again. Because you know, paying close attention averts all disasters.

Things rocked along quite smoothly until I got to the confusing part of the pattern. The shirt is made up of two long panels which will be sewed together longways. The back panel is longer the front, so I have to make sure both front panels are in the front and both backs panels are in the back to keep the shirt even.

I read and studied, planned and pinned, but despite my careful attention, the instructions still didn’t make since. If I sewed the way I understood the directions, then I’d have the front and back backward, which I knew from experience made a lop-sided shirt.

I double checked everything again, and decided it must be the pattern. Confident now that I’d solved the problem, I made some notes on my pattern for next time and set about sewing everything together.  I was proud of myself for catching this error in the pattern.

Cutting the last string, I turned the material right side out, excited to see how it looked. Excited to have something go the way I planned. Excited at my victory.

Guess what I saw instead– yep, a lopsided shirt!

This therapy is not helping!

By this time Adam was home and in despair I showed him the directions, begging him to help me. He immediately saw what I did wrong. Since there are two panels, one side is a mirror image of the other. The way I pieced one side together I had to flip for the other side so that both fronts were in the front and both backs in the back.


I was trying to make them both the same. Which is why it didn’t work and why the instructions didn’t make since.  I didn’t understand the mirror image thing.

The next day while my kids read aloud, I ripped out seams. And ripped out seams. And ripped out more seams. Seams that I had so carefully planned and sewed.

As I did that, here’s the lesson I learned:

Sometimes life feels like a sewing project. We’ve been given a set of “instructions” (the Bible) and we’ve been given “materials” (life – marriage, job, kids, home to run, etc). We go from reading (or interpreting) the “instructions” to trying to put it all together like we think it says. And sometimes we get it “wrong” even when we thought we were doing it “right” and our piece doesn’t turn out how we planned. One side is lopsided because we didn’t understand what the directions were saying.

And we think it’s the Pattern’s fault – that the God who created the directions made a mistake. We think we’re so smart to notice the mistake. We even make a note to tell others about the mistake incase they try to make the same shirt we made. We keep going in our smartness, only to discover the Pattern was right all along. It was us who needed to ask for help to see a different perspective. The bigger picture.

In my attempt to follow the directions perfectly and avoid messing up, I stopped using common sense and just followed the formula. That’s what formulas do! They take our focus off the big picture and make us focus on following step 1, 2 & 3.

Formulas sound great. They sell a whole lota books. They get shares and likes on Facebook. But you can end up with a lot of tears in your fabric from ripping out seams because what works for one person, one couple, one mom doesn’t work for everyone.

When you’re learning how to do something like bake cupcakes I get that you need a formula. However, when we’re dealing with life things aren’t so clear cut.

God didn’t create you to parent or teach or decorate your house like your friend does. He created you to listen to Him and do life with the unique personality, skills and resources He gave you to raise your kids, teach your class or decorate your home.

Sometimes that takes zooming out and getting a change of perspective like I did on my shirt. Adam’s wisdom helped me focus more on the vision behind the instructions and not worry so much about following the formula.

And let me tell you…next time life hits an unexpected bump in the road, I think I’ll go shopping with a friend instead of sewing a shirt! But then again, probably not because then what will I write about?!




On one hand I wish I had life together and everything figured out. A clean house with a place for everything and everything in its place. But then I think, what fun would that be? It’s in life’s messes I watch my Creator make a masterpiece. He takes my spilled paint, torn fabric and frayed strings of life and weaves in His Redemption and Love and makes it something beautiful. His creativity inspires me to be creative. So watch your step! And thanks for joining me on this messy, creative adventure of life.

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