I'm a photographer. Of children and families. Which means I have to be really good at convincing tiny people that even though I am a complete and total stranger with a giant, scary contraption shoved in their face, they are free to act natural and be their silly little selves so that I can capture beautiful portraits of them. I wish I had a dollar for every time a parent expressed their amazement at my ability to win over their very shy child in a such a short amount of time, eliciting true smiles and genuine ease. Seriously, I could retire. There's really no magic to it...I just recognize that before I can ask anything from a small child, I need to show them that I am trustworthy. I do this by getting down onto their level, showing a sincere interest in them, and showing them absolute love and joy...never admonishing them for their natural apprehensiveness or behaviors that are normal for their age. A few minutes of this, and I can almost always get them to do anything that I ask without any hesitation or fear.
Over the past two days, I hosted a Valentine's Day mini-session in my home. Forty-eight kiddos, from newborn up to tweens, came into my living room for their portraits. I was in love-overdrive, cuddling and tickling and joking non-stop. I got beautiful smiles and loads of laughs. At the end of day two, I was plumb worn through...carpet burns on my knees and the tops of my feet from crawling around, and a backache to end all backaches. When the last of my clients wrapped up and went home, my precious boy meekly came to me and asked if he could have his pictures taken, too. "Of course you can!" was my response, and I was eager to get some photos of my little Valentine.
So we ran to fix his hair, which was standing on end like a rooster's comb all day, and wiped the chocolate from Mema's cookies off of his face. Still in pro-togger mode, I grabbed a few props and positioned him. He wanted to be silly and make faces (the curse of a photographer is that your child gets so used to the camera that they either over- or under-emote for the camera...mine always acts insane). He didn't want to cooperate with anything I was asking him to do.
So how do I respond...? By rolling my eyes, getting a temper, acting huffy, telling him I won't take his picture if he doesn't act right. Basically, the complete and total opposite of how he saw I had been with every other child over the past two days. With no love or silliness. And while he did began to comply, the sparkle in his eyes vanished.
|Yes, he's smiling, but I might as well have been the yearbook photographer for all anyone could tell by looking at this. There is no joy behind this smile. Just doing as he was told.|
|Again. God, my heart breaks when I see this. My baby is so eager to please me, yet I am breaking his spirit.|
And that my friends, overwhelmed me in an instant and broke my heart. I stopped what I was doing, calmed down, and gave him a big hug and kiss, and I apologized. Then, I played with him. I let him be silly. I gave him permission to be a seven-year-old boy, and I stopped scolding him for it. And I captured the real Wyatt.
|There he is. Oh, I love him.|
|I set him free, and he came out of his shell.|
|My favorite. I cannot look at this without grinning ear to ear.|
For the rest of the day, I looked at every interaction with him with a new mindset. He is a child. He craves love and attention and silliness and security. All he wants is reassurance that I love him no matter what. And I do. But I haven't been showing him that. I can say, "I love you," until I'm blue in the face, but if my actions don't back up my words, it's all for naught. How much more effective would my parenting be if I just lived out the love I profess?! He deserves it. He didn't ask to be here; I pleaded with God for him. And now, because it's ridiculously harder than I could've imagined, I am throwing fits and acting ungrateful. No more. NO MORE! I know I'm only twelve hours into what seems like the most common-sense change of heart, but when I've approached him with love first, his response is immediate and complicit. No arguing. No defiance. Just love returned, in abundance. Praise you, O Lord, for opening my eyes, and for protecting Wyatt's sweet little heart while I have been broken.
What does the bible say about all of this...? Here is but a tiny glimpse:
In John 13:34-35, Christ commands us to "love one another as I have loved you...by this all men will know that you are my disciples." This is not a suggestion. It is a command. From God Himself. So that we, as His followers, are set apart and discernible from the world. And how did He show His love for us..? Through sacrifice. 1 John 3:16 says, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us." Jesus literally died on a cross to cover our sins so that we may have eternal life with Him and the Father in heaven. While the reality of martyrdom exists, the majority of us aren't going to die for our faith, but each of us can die to our selves to demonstrate our love for others. Giving up the selfish desires of our flesh to bless others is how we do that. True love is action, not words. Reading further in 1 John 3:18, this is confirmed: "Let us not love with words or tongue but with action and in truth." Anything we do without love, up to and including moving mountains, is pointless and without merit. It's so simple that it hurts, but our sinful nature and the whisperings of the enemy are at war with our good intentions. We must be deliberate in our choice and attitude daily...sometimes hourly. Just because it's hard most of the time doesn't excuse anything. We are accountable for ourselves. The great news...? Jesus has already overcome this world and all of the evil in it! If you're struggling (who isn't?), lay yourself at His feet and hand over to Him the burdens you can no longer carry. He will never forsake you or leave you. And praise God, His mercies are new every single morning.