I lived in Manhattan from 1994 to 1996 – the two years just after college graduation. It was a paycheck to paycheck existence, and I was fairly creative with ramen noodles. But that’s not the point of this post.
One day, I was crossing Fifth Avenue at the foot of Central Park, near the Plaza Hotel, when I noticed a high fashion model doing a photo shoot on the island at the middle of the street. It was late summer, and she was dressed in a brown wool coat and coordinating hat, tights, and stiletto boots. Every glossy hair was in place, she stood in a way no average person ever would, and she held her chin up, as if she disdained the city while also trying to blend into it. Nothing about her ‘look’ said, “I’m comfortable.”
I have no idea, of course, but I’m guessing she was feeling a bit self-conscious. She had made herself the target of the camera’s eye, and she was doing everything she had been told was necessary to be worthy of its attention.
I thought about her when I came across these photos the other night.
Taken more than 7 years ago with the tiny camera staring down at me from the top of our now-ancient Mac, they are “I can’t-believe we still have these” photos. Compared to most of our others, they are terrible. The lighting is awful, there is no composition to speak of, they are grainy, and the quality is poor. And those special effects the kids love? EEk. But, they also capture the essence of something the more “perfect” photos do not.
Me and my two oldest kids when they were really little.
This is us.
Unfiltered. Uncombed. Untidy. Silly. Happy.
But as I look at these pictures, I also know there is only one person who was feeling like that fashion model. Only one who was self-conscious because she was self-critical. Me.
How often, as I approach God in prayer, trying to understand how He could love me unconditionally as His child, do I only see myself with a reductive gaze? I pick myself apart. I hold back on talking to Him about certain things. I convince myself I have some kind of power in this way.
But God is like the camera. He sees what’s there. All of it. And He wants me to come to Him like children do.
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:1-4
Children are naturally trusting, tender-hearted, curious, humble, and free of skepticism and cynicism. Look at how my kids threw themselves at the camera with abandon. There’s not a trace of self-hatred in them.
“That’s all well and good,” I might say, “but they haven’t suffered…haven’t had to make the hard choices that I have… yet.”
Is this a reasonable response?
The following verse adds:
“And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” – Matthew 18:5
Can I look at myself – in a mirror, or in a camera – and see His image? Can I receive Him, in me?
The criticism we heap on ourselves can only be useful if we hold it up to the Light of the Lord’s love. If we allow Him to enter into the places we try to hide from Him, He will grant us the wisdom see what we can change with His help, and what is beautiful just as it is.
It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:12