We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words; we're visual learners, us human beings, and we like images. We like color and detail and brightness and contrast.
Last week, I had a two-hour photo shoot for a book I've written. This was a completely new experience for me; never have I "played" for hours in front of an assembly of photographic equipment and smiled for over 400 photos. (That's a lot of "say cheese!") Once I got over my insecurity, it was pretty fun, really. I felt like a magazine model, and I may or may not have created a little fantasy in my head about having to hurry up and get this cover shoot done before hopping the next plane to Milan for Fashion Week.
My photographer, Peter, made it easy enough to smile for the camera, as he is also a Broadway actor who can do an uncanny impression of Christopher Walken, which made me laugh until I spit and snorted. (We didn't use those shots.)
We were several frames into the shoot before he turned his camera around to show me an image on the LCD screen. "I mean, look at that," he said, kissing the tips of his fingers. "Is that gorgeous, or what?" I took a step forward, leaned over, and looked at the little screen. And silently gasped.
For lack of a gentler term, I looked. . . old. I couldn't understand it; I had just had my photo taken the day before, with my friend's digital camera, and I hadn't looked old. What had happened to me in twenty-four hours?
Peter later explained to me that when a professional photographer takes a picture of his subject, the camera takes in every aspect of the person -- every bit of visual information -- and presents the image completely unprocessed, in "RAW" format. The image is then processed and retouched later; shadows are adjusted, color and skin tone are corrected, etc. Evidently, our modern-day digital cameras do this automatically, which is why the images we see of ourselves on them are kinder and gentler than the one I was seeing on Peter's camera screen.
I thought about this throughout the evening, each time Peter showed me a proof and kissed his fingertips and said "Stunning!" or "Lovely!" or "Gorge!" I wondered how he could say such things, with my undereye circles and crow's feet and laugh lines so naked and exposed on his LCD screen. I figured either he was being extremely kind or he was rather full-of-it.
And then it hit me: he was already "seeing" the finished product in his mind's eye. He wasn't seeing the flaws on the screen; after hundreds of photo sessions, he had learned to see the images not for what they were, but for what they would be when he was finished with them.
The allegory wasn't lost on me. I realized then that this is how God sees us. He looks at us and sees all -- the flaws, the imperfections, the problem areas -- and yet He is able to look beyond what is to what will be. He peers into our hearts, and nothing is hidden from Him. Almighty God is always able to see us in "RAW" format -- like it or not. But His vision isn't limited to that. Just as Peter saw beauty in my raw photos, envisioning what they would be once he was done working on them, God sees beauty in us, despite our weaknesses and blemishes. He sees what we will be when He is done working on us.
I imagine that Peter's work is endlessly easier than God's, since photos don't fight the process like people do. Peter's work on my raw photos probably took a couple of hours. God's work on my raw heart is taking considerably longer to complete. I am grateful that God doesn't charge by the hour.
All in all, it was a humbling experience, even after my little Milan fantasy. If you have an opportunity to see yourself in the "RAW", I encourage you to be a visionary and cut yourself some slack. . .
God isn't finished with you, either.