I just saw a YouTube video produced by the makers of Dove soap. It was an experiment conducted with several women which focused on self-image versus the way others image us. This video was one of the most breathtaking things I’ve seen in a while.
In case you didn’t watch the video, here’s how it worked… A woman was asked to come into a large, empty studio apartment and sit down. Seated on the other side of a curtain was a forensic artist. Neither the woman or the artist could see each other. The artist asked the woman to describe her facial features in some detail, and based on what she described, the artist drew up a portrait. Once the interview and portrait were completed, the woman was asked to leave, curtained from seeing the artist or the portrait. Then she met with another person, and they interacted for a while. This person then went to that same studio apartment and described this woman to the forensic artist who was still hidden behind a curtain. A while later, the woman would go back to that apartment to view both portraits.
The results were astounding. For every woman, her self-described portrait was shockingly unattractive, scarred, often older, and disfigured– an utterly unlovely picture of herself. But the portrait described by the stranger was altogether lovely, beautiful, and awe-inspiring. You could see the woman begin to melt with affection, gazing at the second portrait. Meanwhile, when ruefully glancing up at her own self-described portrait, she affirmed her need to work on her own self-image– that she is indeed, beautiful.
The simple message: you are more beautiful than you think.
As a pastor, I am all too familiar with the kind of poor self-esteem and outright self-loathing that plagues most all of us, myself included, to varying degrees. We’re brought up in a hyper-critical world bent on success, strength, and beauty and reminded regularly of the ways we don’t measure up. The harsh judgments and descriptions others make of us unconsciously become the labels with which we image ourselves.
What’s the net result? It’s a severely deflated understanding of ourselves that cannot be strong, courageous, or loving enough to become all that God shaped us to be. Or, we fashion a hyper-inflated persona of ourselves to woo and wow the people around us, craving their approval and whatever else we can get from them. In either case, we mask the wounds and painful scars we so desperately try to hide.
It’s no wonder then that we cannot see and love ourselves for who we are. And, even more egregious, we cannot understand, fathom, or receive the ways that our God sees and holds us. We think we are ugly, small (or too big!), hopelessly flawed, unlovable (if they really knew me!), and hopelessly limited. What would God want with this mess of a human being?
So we go through life hyper-critical of ourselves, naturally assuming that others around us and God are just as critical and judgmental. We find subtle, yet harrowing ways of forging others and God into ugly, critical versions of ourselves. This reality alone may very well be the primary source of all the depression, anxiety, boredom, addiction, violent and stupid acts of desperation, and relational brokenness and infidelities we see all around us.
So what if we began a journey of self-definition beginning with how God, our Creator sees us? I looked at the biblical word “beloved” and was surprised to see how often this word was used to describe us. We are indeed God’s beloved (1 Thess. 1:4), uniquely created in God’s uniquely divine image (Gen. 1:26, 27). When we’re lost, God desperately, relentlessly pursues as that one lost sheep, then tenderly, joyfully carries us home on his shoulders (Luke 15:4-6). Even when we purposefully reject God, he patiently, longingly stands there as our Father who cannot wait until we come home, runs to embrace us, and brings us in to a warm, grand feast waiting for us in our honor (Luke 15:20-24).
This is just a snapshot of the biblical images that describe God’s tender love for us. I believe that not even all the words of Scripture can fathom the way God cherishes, adores, and longs for us. God knows our beauty and worth, no matter the ways in which we and world attempt to trash what God has made. God rejects the hyper-critical ways we see ourselves and others.
In short: we need to see the portrait God has made of us. It is strikingly more beautiful, handsome, and captivating than the ugly, scarred self-portrait of ourselves. Seeing God’s portrait indeed melts us and keeps us forever within the passionate embrace of our God and Father.