Have you seen the “Real Beauty” video? It shows women viewing two sketches of themselves by the same forensic artist, side by side. One is drawn from their own description of themselves and one from the description of someone they’d just met. Pictures drawn from the testimony of strangers, in each case, are far more complimentary. This exercise is eye-opening and heart-rending.
My question: THEN WHAT? How do people mend the images of themselves they hold onto? The answer may be different from what you’d expect.
William Young, author of The Shack, said his image of himself today is far different from the legalism of his up-bringing. Back then he regarded his life as only a battle between light and dark until he had this ah-ha moment: “You’re a new creation and you don’t know it.” This thought has been the seed of a far more hopeful vision of life on the mend. How can we live into it as well?
Stop justifying yourself
Real peace with God also means peace with ourselves. I often encounter people who accept God’s forgiveness but cling to the guilt of their past as if it were a virtue to do so. Consider: if God has forgiven you but you haven’t forgiven yourself, where did you get your higher standard of judgment? This use of guilt attempts to sooth or compensate for failure. However, “There-there Dear” or “Just try harder” won’t fix the broken images which can haunt us when we fall.
There’s a more excellent way, totally contrary to the norm. It’s a kind of leap into the abyss. What if you owned up to the fact that it’s far worse (the human condition) than you can imagine? Could this admission be freeing somehow? It was for a friend of mine….
Start trusting grace
Whenever I ask, “How are you?” he says, “Better than I deserve.” He’s not thinking less of himself. He’s thinking of himself less. He’s embraced reality and found freedom. T.S. Elliot said, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” Why can this friend bear so much? Or, consider George Washington’s famous line. Sitting for a portrait, he said, “Paint me warts and all.” What’s their secret? Why can some people face reality about themselves without losing hope?
Answer: They are fully known and fully loved, and a new image has begun to emerge.
Discounting those old, haunting portraits becomes possible once you to go all the way down, giving up on any false hope about self-improvement. Once we abandon this path, we find ourselves at the foot of the cross with different expectations and new vision. When you see the true depth of your need exceeded by the reach of grace at that singular intersection of history, this new picture emerges: you are unworthy but not worthless.