June 11, 2017

Selfie, pt. 1

 

Ephesians 2:3-10

At tne time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.

4-5 However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace! And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus. God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

1 Thessalonians 5:5

All of you are children of light and children of the day. We don’t belong to night or darkness.

 

Matthew 5:14-16

You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.

 

**Prior to reading, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jg-O7f_1Ngc

 

I have struggled with feeling wanted all of my life. As a kid, my parents did everything they could to show me I am loved. They both instilled in me the familial concept of love that I knew meant I could always come home. But it was everyone else that I questioned. I was a high achiever in school and was well liked by adults, but I struggled with feeling liked by my peers.

I still struggle with feeling liked and accepted by my peers. I don’t know where I fit in with most groups. If I were to be really honest with you, I would tell you that my personality gravitates towards helping others because that’s where I feel most valuable. I like parties because it gives me the option to be out with people or to go back to the kitchen and help out when I’m feeling self-conscious.

I like myself, but I’m not sure how much others like me. No matter how many times someone tells me I am wanted and worthwhile, I tend to question it, as if my own reflection is somehow more honest than what I receive from others.

As an experiment to see what kinds of impressions I make and whether my assumptions about my self-worth are correct, I asked some friends to tell me stories about how I solidified who they felt I am:

  • One reminded me that, even when I was nervous and anxious in a new place, I presented to him the image of a comfortable person who seemed to know everybody.
  • Others reminded me that my sense of hospitality is second nature to the point that wanting others to feel welcomed and appreciated is central to how I interact with them, even when I’m not aware I’m doing it.
  • I was told that, even when I am embarrassed, hurt, or bitter, I hold myself together well.
  • I was encouraged to trust my heart and smile, because they are the most authentic parts of me.

Maybe how I look at myself could use some grace.

Figuring out where our impressions about ourselves come from is tricky business. Through counseling, I have learned that people tend to develop self-impressions from a very early age through both consistent and one-off interactions. What causes certain ones to stick and others be forgotten is a mystery. I imagine it comes from the emotional response we have when we have those interactions.

I think that is why it is really hard for us to remember the message that God made us good and likes us just as we are.  We don’t often experience our belonging to God in our daily lives. It requires effort to build and maintain a relationship with God, and our memories are choosy. Some of us are blessed with unshakeable self-esteem, but most of us, I would guess, are pretty good at showing our best selves while thinking we are somehow broken. Even those who have lived for decades past me, I am learning, struggle with being better than whatever names they were called in grade school.

Which is why today’s passage is more than the reminder that we should DO good, but that we are, in our being, MADE good. God made us good. From Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, we are told not to sin, because it is against our being made good.

With the advent of portable cameras and smartphones, our self-image has changed with the selfie. A selfie, for the not-so-trendy, is when you use a camera to take a picture of yourself. If ever you see someone with their camera held way out in front of them smiling, that’s a selfie. Selfies take a lot of flak because people assume it is further proof that we are all doomed narcissists that can’t get over ourselves, which is ironic, considering the video I showed you and the general conclusion that most people have something about themselves they would change physically. Some selfies are for the self-obsessed, but many times, they are reminders to ourselves of belonging or feeling wanted.

We don’t just struggle with physical concerns. We struggle with mental, emotional, and spiritual concerns. “Not good enough” is a constant critique uttered by people wishing they had a better laugh or a more likeable personality just as often as wanting a flatter tummy. We would rather focus on what we are not than realizing how great what we are is.

When you take a selfie, two things are important: light and color. In modern cameras and phones, light and color are changed using special software called filters. Filters change the “feeling’ of a photograph. Emily and I have a photo from our wedding that, in color, looks awkward and silly, but in black and white, looks like we are releasing an album, like a bridal version of the famous painting American Gothic.

 

Filters are akin to making changes to our bodies or our personalities so that we are understood in a different way. We do it all the time by changing our wardrobe or bragging on ourselves or trying to act differently so we are more likeable. We even place our own filters so we can cope with how we feel.

Like the original in a camera, God sees through our filters. At our most basic, underneath all the changes we make God sees who we are, and God likes it. God likes your messy hair, rough skin, no makeup, regular clothes self, the Saturday morning version of you before you start your day. That is the you that God created “good.”

I’m not saying everything you think or do is perfect. In our attempts to act a certain way, we create false images that get away from the original we were created to be, but underneath it all, we are made good.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he tells them that salvation is a gift to them because they were already good. In the CEB, the phrase is “we are God’s accomplishment.” Another way is to say we are God’s handiwork. Have you ever thought of how good it is to be made in God’s image, to be God’s handiwork? God worked on you – made you in the womb, carried you along as you grew up, was with you through all the joys and sorrows. You are living proof that God is constantly in a state of creating and molding who we are.

This isn’t the first time Paul has had to remind a church of their inherent goodness. In 1 Thessalonians 5:5, even as he is correcting the church in Thessalonica’s poor behavior, he ends with “all of you are children of light and day.” That’s not an earned role; it is a given role. Jesus says the same thing in Matthew 5 when he tells the crowd they the light of the world.

Light is a beautiful thing. Imagine if we all lived as children of light and day. If our light is bright, it doesn’t matter what the selfie shows of our limitations and imperfections because we are too bright to even notice those. So often, people want to turn down the light to mute themselves, because light shows blemishes. Light can be unmasking of all the filters and changes we put up for ourselves. That is why so many people run from the love of God – it makes known all that they are trying to cover up. But being pure light, bathed in the light of God, it doesn’t matter what flaws you think you have because God has covered them all up in pure love.

I see a lot of light from where I stand. I believe that God wants to see your selfie, your true self. It isn’t bad to think we are worthy of being seen. It is good to know that we are created in God’s image and are beautiful and lovely.

I am glad I took the risk of asking others how they see me. Reading through the kind words of those who love me reminded me of the even greater love God has for me. God likes me and wants me to be a child of the light and day.

Go ahead, like your selfie. It’s good.

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