On Monday, our whole family went to the local mall and sat for a family portrait. My wife, Jeanine, had wanted us all to take a new picture for some time, but with college schedules and work schedules, there never seemed to be the time. But thanks to Groupon© and the wonderful people at Portrait Simple©, we were able to capture the spirit of the family on film (well, whatever digital images are captured upon). In hindsight, I am so glad we had it done, since it had been six years since our last family portrait was taken and we all have changed so much.
As we were preparing for the appointment, there was a great deal of pushback from at least one of the children. There were questions asked about the necessity of picture-taking and the costs attributable to said picture-taking. Why do we take pictures? Why do we, in ever increasing measure in this age of the smart phone, seek to capture every memory and moment with pictures? What is it that we hope to keep? What is it that we long to preserve? These are the things that I think about as I watch a stranger style my daughter’s hair through his fingers and adjust my son’s head to frame the perfect image.
We take pictures because we want to remember who we were. One of the secondary joys of this photo-taking process is, as I place the new photos in their frames, that I get to take a look at all the photos of the past sandwiched in the frames. I get the chance to see when we had one, then two, then three and now four cherubs. I get to recall snapshots of our beautiful family. It is pictures that enable us to think back to who we once were
We take pictures because we want to remember where we have been. I have hundreds of digital files of vacations, holidays and birthdays, all to capture those moments. Some are fuzzy, others are messy, but all of them reflect our life together. It is pictures that ring back the sounds, smells and sight of special times.
We take pictures because we want to remember what we have overcome. Our family pictures have children with broken bones and missing teeth. We have candids taken in cruddy apartments while children are crying. But it is what is contained in these pictures that enables us to see how far we’ve come – from awkward and gangly to radiant and strong.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. Colossians 1:15
Pictures – photographic images – enable us to capture a moment in time, albeit a retouched and carefully selected moment in time, which serve as reference points to earlier, simpler or happier times. They represent the ideal, not real but not false either. They are intended to elicit emotions and trigger memories. For this reason, we will continue to take family portraits: some years there may be more in the frame and some years there may be less, but every time they will represent who we are (or who we could be).
I was clicking through pictures on our home computer the other day. The memories of the milestones of the last eight years came flooding back as I scrolled from picture to picture. The images contained in these files include Josh’s first days, David’s Cub Scout flag ceremony, Bekah’s theatrical debut, and Jonny’s twentieth birthday. There were pictures of the children playing in the snow and gathering around the tree at Christmas. There were vacation photos and candid moments that have been digitized and cataloged. Whether it is a box of old photographs, files on a laptop or an app on a smartphone, viewing pictures of loved ones enjoying life is a wonderful blessing.
As I looked at these pictures, I could, at the same time, see the little faces of my children and recognize the people they have become. In those digital images I could see the same expressions made eight years ago that I see today; sure, the faces were a bit rounder and the features were quite a bit smaller. It is remarkable to see, literally and figuratively, how much my children have matured. The kids have grown so much, and I have all the pictures to prove it!
“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Luke 2:52
As a pastor, it would be great to have the ability to photograph someone’s spiritual development like we can physical development. Imagine if we could capture the milestones of character with the intention of looking back, at a later date, at our progress. We could remember when we took our first steps toward honor or honesty, or received a gift of compassion or calmness. What a blessing it would be to scroll through a few files on a computer and recognize how much we’ve grown in spiritual maturity and biblical wisdom.
Until some group of geniuses at some biotech startup can develop an instrument that can scan the soul, we need the church. The church is the place where we allow a chosen few to know us deep enough to notice the subtle and substantial changes in our temperament and offer solicited advice on how to keep up the good work of character development. The church is the place where we allow our lives to be measured by the objective standard of biblical truth surrounded by sympathetic strugglers who are also working on their scriptural integrity. The church is the place where we can take all of our first steps in a safe place.
Despite the fact that there was snow in the air last weekend around here, this is the season for growth. It is a good time to get out and get active. It is also a good time to invest in inner growth. It would be a good time to pick up a good book, write down your thoughts, sit in the sunshine in silence and go to church. Don’t let the flowers and the grass be the only thing that shows evidence of new life – cultivate the garden of your soul.