In My Own Image
I have three children, each one special to me in unique ways.
Gabrielle, the eldest, already has a leg-up on the other two by virtue of being the first-born and being the only girl (as of right now). She will always be daddy’s girl, and will always be the first breath of life that her mother and I brought into the world. She’s the first new life I’ve ever held and for which I felt responsible. I have a crystal clear memory of the nurses laying her wriggly, purple body in the little bed to clean and measure her right after birth. She was so beautiful and so terrifying, because she was my responsibility and I wasn’t sure I could handle that (I’m still not). She was crying, with her little face all squished and wrinkled. And then I spoke to her; called out her name, and she got quiet. Her little head turned back and forth trying to find my voice. That night, so long as I kept talking to her, she didn’t cry. Her little eyes snapped-open soon after and she never took them off my voice.
My youngest son, Clark, is the happy child. Not that my other two have not been happy kids, but this one is just predisposed to be content and smiling. He loves being with you, loves being held or kissed, or talked to. While the other two must always be doing, going, playing, Clark is the often happy just being wherever his Momma or Daddy happen to be. Which is very sweet…most of the time. For instance, he woke up in the night recently and so we brought him to our bed and he snuggled in with Kellye and myself for the rest of the night. Gabrielle would have turned, tossed, and stretched us out of the bed and the other boy would have kicked us to death, but Clark just settled in and was happy.
Speaking of “the other boy,” that would be Watson, the middle child. He was born about two years after his sister, and almost exactly one year before his little brother (And yes, before you ask, we know what “causes” that). If Clark is happy to be with you, Watson is happy to be away from you. His ideal day is have his trains on a flat, elevated surface and to be left undisturbed by parents and siblings alike. Just give him his trains and a cliff to push them over (to excessive shouts of “OH NOOOOOO….HE…CWASH!!!! HE CWASH!!!!”) and he is a happy camper. If he could fix his own sandwiches and milk, and turn on Thomas the Train and Shaw’ Shee’ (Shaun the Sheep) by himself, I think he could go a day or two without any human interaction and be just fine.
Kellye once asked me if I loved one of our children more than the other two and while I hope I don’t and don’t think that I do, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that my relationship with Watson is a little different than the ones with Gabrielle and Clark. Not because I love them less - I love those two little monsters more than I would have ever thought possible - but because Watson is different.
Watson is like me.
And I don’t just mean that he looks like me, and, gosh, does he ever. But his temperament is like mine, his facial expressions mimic me, and even at 2-1/2 years-old I can already hear little impediments and accents in his voice that I recognize from my childhood. It’s like watching myself grow-up (except with curlier hair).
On the one hand I have what I assume is the normal human reaction to this. I feel a swelling sense of pride and accomplishment. Here’s my little man, running around (half-naked these days because he’s being potty-trained), looking like me, talking like me, and even withdrawing from all human contact like me. It’s flattering, sure, in that “I’m so cool God made another one of me” self-aggrandizing kind-of-way. And although that’s not an attitude I try to foster or encourage in myself, I’m honest enough to admit that it exists and that seeing a son made so much in my image strokes it just a smidge. Sometimes.
After all, here's my son, who will carry my name, and my image, and my legacy. You know…if I were the legacy-leaving type. I’m not sure a library and ever-swelling collection of half-baked, half-written, and less than half-edited ideas and scribbling count as such a thing. So, yes, I feel some sense of pride and accomplishment seeing a miniaturized version of myself following in my footsteps.
But, in those moments I am quiet and still enough to notice it, I feel something else: an ever-present, ever-growing sense of dread.
Because if he’s as much like me as he looks and acts, I know what trouble lies ahead. I know the struggles he’ll encounter down the road, the questions he’ll ask, and the things he’ll do. I know he’ll want to talk, need to talk, but he won’t do it. He’ll shut himself off when he’s upset, or confused. I know he won’t understand things but will act like he does so he won’t be embarrassed. There will be times he’ll say something very off-topic because he wasn’t paying attention, but then he’ll try and laugh it off. He'll contend he said it on purpose to make you smile.
But the odds will be he didn’t.
His inclination will be to keep the best and worst parts of himself locked-away because he fears the one more than he appreciates the other. He won’t realize they’re one and the same; that his desire to question everything is the flip-side of his desire to hope and believe all things. He won't know, unless I tell him, that best kind of an optimist is the kind brave enough to admit their cynicism.
Maybe he’ll be better than me. Kinder than me. Wiser, and more tempered. Maybe he’ll outdo me and all my aspirations. Maybe so…but I hope not. I hope he never tries, and never cares. I hope he takes that image we share and makes something new of it, something unique.
And as I ponder the weight of being one who passes his image on to another, I also ponder what it means to bear it. What does it mean to bear the Image of God in this world? Does it mean freedom or responsibility? Autonomy or dependence? I never worried too much about it before. Not until I saw it from the perspective of the one passing on the image instead of receiving it. But I sure wonder about it now. Did God make us to be carbon-copy of Him? Or were we given His image so we might carry it to new places and do with it new things? Not "new" to God, of course. But new to the worlds we encounter, so that we might show people around us how rich and wide and deep is the One whose image we carry.
I’ve never wanted an image-bearer. I still don’t. But I’ve got one, and he’s fabulous. Not because he’s like me, but because he has so much potential to be someone else completely.