In mid-week, when I put on a necktie and jacket, Bev jokes with me about ‘putting on my armor!’ But she’s on the mark. It’s amazing what a little strip of silk around his neck and a dress shirt can do for a man’s image. If I put on my blue jeans, sneakers, a sweatshirt and a baseball cap, I find people responding to me entirely differently than when I put on a suit and tie. Why? Because each outfit ‘says’ something about ‘who I am’ in that moment. Those who really know me, relate to me the same way regardless of my clothing. But, the larger world takes their relational cue from my ‘image.’ That’s a rather harmless illustration of the power of external appearances.
The sad truth is that many of us are all about the external image. We live as though life is one big movie set where we take on one role after another and act it out. The tragedy of this is that in the middle of all the pretending and posing, we often lose touch with ourselves and reality. It takes some real effort and a lot of growing up to stop posing for life’s camera! Image building, once the fascination of actors and politicians, is now the obsession of many Americans. “How do I look?” is the key question asked by posers and pretenders. The reality of their life matters little as long as they ‘look good’ to the world. The superficiality that is rampant in America feeds whole industries that are designed to help us project whatever image we’ve chosen as our ideal.
So, what’s wrong with that? Much, in every way!
First of all there is the issue of integrity. If we choose to appear to be somebody that we are not, we lie! Lying offends God and is terribly destructive. Perpetuating even a little bit of fraud requires increasing effort and more fraud, creating dishonesty that grows with a snowball effect.
Second, projecting an image is all about pride. Image is about the big “I.” When we are treating others as a mirror in which we see our own reflection, we will not concern ourselves about their needs. We will not be able to listen well. We will not be capable of being present and attentive. Instead we will be posing and preening like a little girl playing dress up in front of Mommy’s mirror! Every watch that tableau? A four year old will try on all kinds of faces, adopt different voices amusing herself with her own reflection. It’s funny when it happens with a four year old and a full length mirror. It’s pitiful when it happens with a forty year old trying on different ‘images’ for the world.
Third, who we really are eventually emerges. Better to have been real all along, don’t you think? Supposedly President Abraham Lincoln, renowned as “Honest Abe” said, “You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.” To which I respond, then why not choose to live honestly, openly, and authentically from the start?
God’s word calls you and me to humility. “…serve each other in humility, for “God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, NLT) Jesus illustrated the quality of humility He desires from us on the night before His crucifixion. His disciples were pretending and posing, puffing and primping, as they fought over their relative importance in their little group. Full of themselves and in love with their images of self-importance, none of them would serve, so Jesus got up from the Passover meal and took up the servant’s towel and basin. He made His way from man to man, washing their filthy feet, in the custom of the hospitable household at that time. His choice to take the place of the lowest, though He was the Greatest, shocked and offended those men. Peter protested, “You will never wash my feet!” But Jesus did. “After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because it is true. And since I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” (John 13:12-15, NLT) I don’t think he meant we should have foot washing rituals! He spoke to much larger issues of serving each other without considering whether such service was in keeping with our image!
Friend, are you trapped in pretense and image-building?
Are you trying to be someone other than who you really are, trying to escape some past shame by covering it up, trying to compensate for some hole in your resume by claiming titles you have not earned? Know this – God loves you. Yes, it’s true. He knows exactly who you are, what you’ve done, how you think – and loves the real you. He can use you: not the pretender, not the poser- but the real you. He can forgive your sins, heal your hurts, and give you spiritual gifts that overcome your innate weaknesses. He will maximize your strengths. But the baseline requirement for being used by Him in the most effective way is to become ‘honest to God’ real.
Ponder this word from the Word today. — “Obey God’s message! Don’t fool yourselves by just listening to it. If you hear the message and don’t obey it, you are like people who stare at themselves in a mirror and forget what they look like as soon as they leave. But you must never stop looking at the perfect law that sets you free. God will bless you in everything you do, if you listen and obey, and don’t just hear and forget.” (James 1:21-25, CEV)