The Parable of the Photograph
One of the keys to freedom and joy in life is knowing the truth of who we are. It can be so easy to trust only what we see outside ourselves rather than looking within and to God. Often we identify ourselves solely by what we do and the evidence around us. When I became a mother, it was particularly challenging because suddenly all the positive feedback I had received from others in settings such as my college classes (grades and encouragement), work (wages and gratitude), and even just from having regular adult conversations dwindled to very little. My husband is very loving but not one to offer verbal praise very often. I spent all day with a fussy,colicky baby and trying to figure out how to clean and cook (burning something daily!) and feeling like I wasn’t really half the woman I had originally thought. All evidence pointed to failure. Yet I was where I needed to be, caring for those who needed me, trying my best and learning, and through it all, my Heavenly Father loved and treasured me. I just didn’t love and treasure myself or see the worth that God saw in me.
The greatest gift of freedom that has been given to me was when I finally understood that who I am is not what I do, it is much more eternal than that, and much more extraordinary than any grand accomplishments. I am a child of God, and God sees beauty in me! Just like we look with awe and adoration at our newborn children, who can’t do anything by themselves, God looks at us in our weakness and still sees priceless treasures! We are so much more than meets the eye, and God can help us see who we are.
The Parable of the Photograph
by Alysia Humphries
Once upon a time, a woman had her picture taken with an old fashioned camera. She had never seen her face in a mirror and didn’t know what she looked like. She was very excited to see the picture developed because then, she thought, she would be able to see who she was. She was sure that when she opened up the camera she would find a lovely, colorful picture of herself and finally know what she looked like. She had been told by the photographer that she was beautiful and valuable and she hoped to see what he saw. But when she went home and opened up the canister the photographer gave her, all she saw were the negatives. They were dark and distorted and not very beautiful. She sighed and thought, ‘I guess I am not really all that beautiful after all – look at all the darkness that is in me! Maybe if I keep working then I will be better and then when I see the photographer and get my picture taken again I will have proof that there is some light in me and beauty.’ So she hung her ‘picture’ on the wall and believed it was her, but a part of her still wondered if there might be some light and beauty inside, and she looked desperately for proof of her goodness all around her. She thought, maybe if my house looks beautiful, or my children act beautifully, or everyone likes me, then I will know that I am better than the picture on my wall. And sometimes those things happened, but sometimes they didn’t, and when they did not she felt once again that she must be darkness and not light. She began to be very anxious to be perfect in every area so that she could finally feel rid of the darkness she saw in her picture.
One day, she invited the photographer to visit her in her home and he saw the negatives hanging on her wall. He asked, ‘Good woman, why have you hung these on the wall? Don’t you want to see the beautiful picture I took of you? You need to develop these negatives.’ The woman was surprised. ‘You mean this isn’t really my picture? This isn’t really me? But what will happen to my picture if it is developed?’ She was excited about the possibility that her picture could be something more than she had thought, but a little nervous about taking down the picture she had grown accustomed to, not knowing what it would come back looking like. She was a little afraid to hope she might actually be something more beautiful than the picture. She wondered, “What if the true picture is even worse than the one on the wall?” But she wanted to know who she was, so she went with the photographer to the developer’s studio, negatives in hand.
She felt apprehensive as the developer took them in to the dark room. She didn’t like it in there – why did they need to go into such a dark place in order to get a true picture? She worried that with all that darkness around them, it might mean her picture would turn out very dark too. Then the developer put her negatives into a bath of harsh chemicals, which she was sure would destroy them! She thought, “why did the photographer bring me here? My picture is going to be destroyed and I will be left with nothing! How can it survive all those harsh elements?” She worried in her mind, but she decided to stay and trust the photographer, after all, he was a master and knew better than she did about developing pictures. He had promised her that she was valuable and beautiful and she decided she was willing to go through some discomfort to discover whether what he said was true.
The processing in the dark room took some time, longer than she liked, and the very last step in the process was a wringer of sorts, where her prints went through a press to get all the impurities out and smooth out the wrinkles and bubbles on the surface. Finally, she could start to see the new picture emerging, and her heart leapt with excitement as she spied the beautiful colors. At last the final prints were dry and ready in the photographer’s hands. She asked him if she could see them, and he lovingly showed her the beautiful picture of herself, pointing out each lovely detail and feature of her portrait. She was filled with awe and humble gratitude to him for showing her that she was not darkness, but light! She had never imagined she could feel so good. The photographer told her to hang the new picture on her wall, and to remember the truth of who she was. He also reminded her that he would always have the masters and the original film that her picture was developed from, so if she ever lost her picture, or it was destroyed, she could come to him and ask, and he would show it to her and take her through processing to help her to develop a true picture again.
Over the years, things did happen to that picture on her wall. A few times it was broken, lost, and even burned badly once in a house fire. Sometimes when those experiences happened, she took a while before she went to the photographer again. The longer she waited the more she forgot what the beautiful picture had looked like. She looked around her at the broken pieces or ashes and thought, this is what I am, I might as well accept it. That old picture I had of myself must have been an illusion. She started to believe the broken, singed and blackened picture was really her. Sometimes she even hung old negatives on her wall again. But after a while the pain became too much and she took down the pictures and begged the photographer once again to visit her and take her to the developers so that she might receive her true picture again. And each time he was invited, he lovingly came and took her through the processing needed, and gave her a picture of her brilliant, light filled, colorful, beautiful and true self.
She grew to love and trust the photographer and asked him to come to her often, every day, in fact. She knew her time with him was well spent as he could show her the true picture of herself and how he saw others as well! He made her feel so happy and want to be everything he saw in her. She wanted him to be with her always and show her the truth and beauty in everything. There were some things in life that she could not imagine could be good and beautiful, things in dark places. But as he took photos of those people and things, and developed them, he pointed out all the beautiful details and colors that had been hidden to her eyes, and she began to appreciate even the parts that seemed dark or difficult to understand, as he taught her to look with a photographer’s eye. She began to learn to see as he did, and to love with his love, and her heart became one like his. And it all started by asking him to give her a picture of herself.