I've been thinking about this today and reflecting on the fact that it is not just that we don't see our inner or outer beauty the way other people do. These sketches show us women really upset with the fact that they could not see their own beauty, the beauty that others saw. But I wonder how those negative images developed in the first place. We all carry scars - all of us. We all carry pain from messages past. We all have voices inside us, perhaps mostly from our childhoods, telling us that we are not enough, not pretty, not acceptable, not okay. But the thing that I've been contemplating is that we are also given great affirmations throughout our lives. We are told by loved ones and by people we don't even know (in different ways) that we are good, that we are beautiful, that we are acceptable, that we are gifted and that we are loved. But those messages don't seem to stick as easily. The messages that stick are the ones that say we aren't okay. They stick, they define us, they make us into people who are too easily immobilized by our sense of not "being enough."
I'm reminded of a book by Max Lucado called "you are special" in which these little wooden people called "Wemmicks" walk around and give each other either bad stickers (dots) or good stickers (stars). These stickers all stick, but some Wemmicks get a lot more stars while others are given a whole lot more dots. Those with dots tend to get more dots, those with stars tend to be given even more stars. But there is one point that Lucado misses. And that is that I think that for many of us, no matter how many star stickers we are given, only the dots stick. We can remember every insult, correction or criticism ever given, each word spoken that was hurtful, every time we were overlooked, or dismissed or frowned upon. But we can't remember the positives. Some of us cling tightly to our accomplishments as a result - stating for ourselves and the world that we are worthy through the diplomas and certificates and awards we put on our walls, for example. But others of us just get buried (and as I said, immobilized at times) in the negative words and experiences that come our way rather than the positives, the affirmations, the life-giving words. In the last 24 hours I have had both given to me - both positives and the negatives (that is the life of a pastor!). The positives far outweigh the negatives. I've had one good friend call just to say she loves me. I had another good friend text that I am a valuable and lovable friend. I've had 3 different parishioners stop by the office to just check in, all of whom told me that I'm valued. I visited one woman at the hospital this morning who, after holding hands and praying, said to me, "I can feel God through your hands." I was stunned and touched. I'm not sure I've ever received a higher compliment. But the truth is that I disregard and discount the kind words and only retain the negative to such an extent that I have dwelt today on the painful words that have come my way and completely forgot about her kind words, or the other words of kindness that I received within this day until this moment. The thing is that the negatives are gifts, too, if they can help us to change, to grow, to repent, to move forward. But with both types of feedback, we have the challenge of taking it in and using it to help us grow in our connection with God, grow in our connection with each other, grow towards wholeness. When we take those dots and stars and decide that they have the power to determine who we are, to determine how we interact with the others, determine if we have the energy to do God's work in the world, or if we hide under the covers immobilized, then we have not accepted deep into ourselves the grace God offers. The point of Max Lucado's book is that we need to let neither the stars nor the dots stick, that our meaning, our worth comes from the Maker and not from others' opinions of us. The point is that the one who made us doesn't make junk, and loves us completely. That should give us a strong sense of value. That is a grace we must strive to accept. Not easy. Not easy at all. But it is a worthy goal!