Earlier this summer I had my portrait made. I’m told I need a civilian head shot for my LinkedIn profile when I retire from the Army next year. When I looked at the photograph, though, I wasn’t very happy. I wondered, “How did this picture of my father get in here? Who is that old guy? Do I really look like that?” I didn’t want people to see me that way, so I ran the photo through my portrait retouching software. Presto chango, there was a younger me. The eyes were lifted. The bags and wrinkles disappeared. The skin was smoothed and toned. The face was slimmed. The features were reshaped. Even the unruly hair disappeared. Now that’s what I think I look like! Unfortunately, those who know me are stuck with looking at the unretouched version of me.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an app that fixed what people saw when they looked at us? And now I’m not just talking about wrinkles and bags under the eyes. I’m talking about character, virtue and a spiritual beauty that transcends the standards of People, Vogue or GQ. All of us, I think, have an image of ourselves that we want others to see. Unfortunately, our real lives don’t always measure up to our idealized self-image. Some might call that “hypocrisy” and find it discouraging, but I don’t. I call it aspiration. The 19th century American writer Amos Bronson Alcott said it best: “Our ideals are our better selves.”
When I used to speak to groups of young soldiers, I often asked them to think about what kind of people they wanted to be and to imagine themselves at their very best. And then I asked them to take one baby step in the direction of becoming that person. Ask yourself, “What would that person do?” and then do it!
When an 18th century English preacher named John Wesley complained that his own faith didn’t measure up to his beliefs, a wise counselor named Peter Bohler advised him to “preach faith until you have it.” Similarly, the ancient philosopher Socrates said, “Be as you wish to seem.”
To “be as you wish to seem” is the first step toward developing new habits and a new way of interacting with the world. Outwardly, the natural changes that take place in our appearance all move in one direction. Inwardly, however, it’s a different story. A soul can grow more beautiful over time, or it can grow more bitter, cynical and self-centered.
Change does not take place overnight, and there will still be times that the world sees the wrinkles in your character. Don’t let that stop you. When you fall down, stand back up. Surround yourself with friends who accept you for who you are and encourage you to be the person you want to be. Never underestimate the transforming power of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
It is Christ’s likeness that I want people to see in me. It is his grace that receives me, “just as I am” – wrinkles and all. And it is the power of the Holy Spirit at work within me that is changing me, reshaping my life so that I look more like him. Thanks be to God.