I always remember a conversation I had with a dear friend a few years ago, when he asked me if he was really a perpetual f-up. It wasn’t a flippant question, but came from a really sincere place of wondering if that was how he was perceived. That message has been a distinguishing part of his ongoing story and even though he’s doing some great healing work, he often still comes back to this core message in himself.
I didn’t have to hesitate or wonder what to say; my response came easily and was true, “Yes, of course, you still F things up, but at the same time, you are also such a beautiful, kind, gentle, and amazing person, created in the image of God, bringing such lovely gifts to others in the midst of the mess.”
In that moment all the lights didn’t go on for him and magically erase this core message, but I do hope at least for a few minutes he was gently reminded that he was much more than his mistakes or misperceptions of himself.
I always say that I think faith community—whatever form it takes—should be a place to practice loving and being loved by God, others, and ourselves. These things don’t come naturally for many of us and so we need a training ground, a place to learn and experiment, so we can continue to form into more loving people, a deeper and brighter reflection of Christ in this world.
The image of God is deeply embedded in all human beings; it’s in our core DNA. What happens, though, is life, brokenness, pain, and all kinds of other experiences can bury and attempt to extinguish this reflection. Part of loving, redemptive community is to uncover God’s image in each other, to call it out, to begin to notice what we sometimes can’t see, and to keep reminding each other, “This is the real you. I see it.”
So many of us think who we are in our worst moments, is who we really are.
We are often blinded to our good.
And even if now and then we get some glimpses of it, we get amnesia and easily forget.
Our Wednesday night House of Refuge is one of my favorite gatherings each week in our community. It’s a wild mix of young and old, married and single, kids and no kids, Democrat and Republican, rich and poor, liberal theologies and conservative ones, and everything in between. People take turns facilitating what I call “spiritual show and tell” and it’s always interesting. What I love about it is the diversity and challenge it always stirs up. I also love seeing how through each unique person, God’s image emerges. It’s really pretty.
For Christmas several years ago, I gave everyone a mirror with their name on it. We each had a sharpie and did a crazy passing game where we wrote down what we see in each other on the mirrors. When it was all over we each ended up with our own mirror and a Christmas present, too.
I did this exercise because it’s so easy to forget who we really are. We need reminders. We need some good medicine for our soul. We need to look at our own reflection and see the good instead of only the bad. We need to be buoyed when we start to sink.
We need the image of God that’s in us to be reflected back to us.
Here’s the ones my friends made for me, and I’ll admit, it’s hard for me to let these words sink in:
If I’ve learned anything over the past chunk of years journeying in the trenches with people, it’s that most of us are really, really bad at loving and accepting ourselves. There’s a great resistance to it. We may know certain biblical passages in our heads but it doesn’t necessarily translate into our hearts and the place we live from. When I was in seminary, one of my spiritual direction professors always reminded us “the 18 inch journey from our head to our heart is one of the longest treks we’ll ever make.”
Now, we do this same exercise every Christmas, not just with mirrors but with ornaments and crosses and boxes, anything that will help us “remember again” who we really are.
Because sometimes we forget.
My hope is always that over time more and more of God’s image in us is uncovered and we can learn to integrate these little nuggets of truth about who we are into the fabric of our hearts and lives in really tangible ways. That we can believe more deeply what our friends say about us and embrace these as God’s heart for us as well.
And at the same time, I hope we can be dignity restorers and help others to uncover what’s buried under the rubble and continue to call out God’s image in those around us, reminding others of the beauty we see.
Jean Vanier is one of my favorite writers on Christian community, and says this,
“Mission is revealing to others their fundamental beauty, value and importance in the universe, their capacity to love, to grow and to do beautiful things and to meet God. Mission is transmitting to people a new inner freedom and hope; it is unlocking the doors of their being so that new energies can flow; it is taking away from their shoulders the terrible yoke of fear and guilt. To give life to people is to reveal to them that they are loved just as they are by God, with the mixture of good and evil, light and darkness that is in them: that the stone in front of their tomb in which all the dirt of their lives has been hidden, can be rolled away.”
Oh, that is so beautiful and he nails it on the head.
I hope we can play our part in helping others remember the image of God they bring to this world.
But also, I hope we can be women and men who soak in the good we’re being reminded of, so that it makes it harder to forget.