Recently we signed up for a photo session at our church for the upcoming, new photo directory. My fears were on high alert as I worried about how the experience would play out. The reminders encouraged us to wear coordinating outfits and maybe even to bring along something that was meaningful for our family—instruments, pets, etc. I giggled a bit over this suggestion as I wasn’t sure what we would use to symbolize our family unit. My husband and I holding a glass of wine? The boys banging on pots and pans with ripped holes in the knees of their jeans? Our dog, Sally, gracing the center of our photograph drooling with anxiety?
Well, the fated day arrived and we got there on time. My youngest was in tears as I restrained him during his attempts to make a break for the outside play area. The session eventually began and we were positioned into various family shapes and facial contortions—-chin up, head tilted, eyes up here! Using the photographer’s dog toy, he was able to get a few shots of the boys which actually looked cute. As we finally corralled them, away from the lighting umbrellas, backdrops and camera instruments, we entered the viewing area to choose our favorite shots—time for the infamous “sales pitch”! While attempting to keep my youngest away from the easels of framed portrait examples and the photographer’s computer, we found out that there had been a technical difficulty and we had to retake the photos.
I think I let out an audible, animalistic cry of death. Of course the small window of “behaving” had passed and even promises of ice cream and bribery of treats didn’t work. Our youngest was DONE. The challenges continued with the memory card and we were ushered back and forth a few times. Finally, we managed to get one shot—awkward as it was, that could work.
I left that experience in need of a stiff drink and some alone time. It was painful. Mere days later, we were back at church and grabbed a quick shot on Easter of our family. It is a picture that I love. We aren’t perfect, but it’s US! We are outside; our clothes are a little disheveled, despite it being Easter, but we are all in it and smiling and it seems natural.
As an amateur photographer, I love capturing life in still frames. The moments I succumb to canned phrases—“BOYS! LOOK AT MOMMY!!!! CHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESE!!!! Eyes up HERE! Would you just SMILE!??!?!”—I find that the boys get annoyed quickly and just run off, not putting up with my attempts to capture them “naturally”. When I just click away, amidst the messiness of daily life and living, I seem to catch the best shots. Moments that tell a story. Pictures that share rawer emotions and real life.
In parenting and in our faith, it is common to cling to these same rules. We so deeply desire to give off the image of perfection. Of unity of vision, interests and happiness. It becomes about staging our lives to give off the sense that our quaffed, polished and coordinated selves and families are the “REAL” us. It is no wonder, though, that this approach isn’t long lasting. Our faith and the lessons we so desire our children to internalize should be built on the strong foundation of authenticity. When they are not, our children see through the smoke and mirrors. The hair gel can’t keep the “unruly hairs” in place forever.
Do we model and seek to live a faith that is real, living & breathing, moving & forming in the day-to-day moments? Or is it a stronger pull to hold up a perfect façade, only giving off the image of perfection and having it all together?
While reading Shauna Niequist’s new book, Bread & Wine, I was moved when she discussed the table & hospitality in this way, “It’s about showing up in person, a whole and present person, instead of a fragmented, frantic person …The table is where time stops. It’s where we look people in the eye, where we tell the truth about how hard it is, where we make space to listen to the whole story….” This truth is relevant to how we present ourselves, the model we give to our children. Do we require them to be dressed in perfect coordination, hair pressed into submission, clothes matching? Or do we move to authenticity? Allowing moments to be captured on film or in person that are real and true, messy and untidy, double chins, questions & insecurities accessible?
I am realizing that to model this for my children, to encourage them in “photojournalistic faith,” I must let go of my need for “staged” belief. It is time to welcome their questions & stand in unsure places ourselves. Time to put down our tightly gripped understandings and encourage our children to value the same. It’s time to tell the truth about who we are….and who we aren’t. To remind our kids that they are able to do the same and that no matter what “real life moments” are captured, they are deeply loved by God.