Ask my wife. I hate having family pictures made. They always make one of us mad or frustrated at the kids. The smiles and laughter and beauty of the kids captured is only part of the story of those moments. Behind the scenes there is bribery, threats, and more threats of punishment.
Last night I was looking at some pictures my wife took on a short family vacation with some friends. In most of the pictures we are smiling in front of monuments and have our arms around each other.
There were a few times smiles were hard to come by. My daughter got sick because of some medicine she is taking that aggravated anxiety. The boys fought. Tempers flared. Mine especially. We were all tired. Sometimes , I couldn’t tell the difference between being upset because my kids were being disobedient and being just embarrassed of their behavior in front of friends and strangers in public.
You’ve probably seen all the posts on Facebook of awkward family photos. Some are disturbing. Some are just plain disgusting. All of them make us laugh. Sometimes I’ve laughed to the point of tears.
Why do I laugh at them? Why do I keep going back to these familial train wrecks? They make me feel a little better about my own family and the issues we have. It’s the parental version of the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. “We may have out moments, but at least we aren’t like THEM.” It’s a self-righteous moment in which I feel a little better in comparison to those I can laugh at.
There is another kind of family photo that ends up on Facebook and Christmas cards. It’s the photo we try to take ourselves and many pay really *good* money for. It’s the picture perfect family photo. Everyone looks happy and tan and clean on the beach. You cannot see a blemish. Those photos look like joy.
I hate those photos.
Honestly, jealousy tends to raise its head. They are at the beach. Too expensive. Professional photos. Too expensive. Matching white outfits. Too expensive. They are probably about to go out to eat a nice seafood dinner when done. Too expensive.
But really it’s just me condemning myself with laws I’ve either borrowed from the world around me or I’ve made up myself. The law of looking good. The law of good vacations. The law of wealth. Laws we all look at and then despair of keeping. It is hard for me to look at these photos and not compare and feel like we aren’t measuring up.
Both self-righteousness and self-condemnation will eat away at the soul. We all know it. So we then look for some good news. Facebook will certainly unveil the cruelty of self-righteousness and the despair of self-condemnation. But one good thing it has done is show us we are not the only ones. Sure some people use it to show off and brag and get as many likes as they can for being a good parent (I do too). But there are those refreshing moments when parents are honest about their struggles. Some are funny. Some are raw and painful. But they all help us feel better. Knowing you are not alone is good news. And it feels like a kind of justification.
But it’s not. Misery loves company. True. It’s true. We all know it is. But that self-justification, while more respectable, is not really any better that self-righteousness or self-condemnation. All of them are reflections of a false gospel – good news that is false.
The good news of you’re family not being as awkward as other families.
The good news that holds out the hope of a better looking family.
The good news of others having the same parenting problems as you.
What we need is good news that humbles us so we will not be self-righteous when confronted with other peoples parenting issues. We need a gospel that gives us a real and lasting hope when we fail as parents. And we need good news that encourages us when the suffering.will.not.stop.
The good news of what Christ has done for us in his life, death, and resurrection is the gospel our souls are looking for. His righteousness has been credited to us, we do not need another righteousness. And “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” – even though we don’t always feel that to be the case. We have been “justified by his grace as a gift, through his redemption in Christ Jesus.”
When I don’t believe these things as a parent, I loss my temper, grow impatient, and parent as one who wants to stand justified before God and all those I imagine are watching, justified because of my abilities…my kid’s abilities. But when in those rare moments I parent as a “justified sinner” (simul iustus et paccator), I can love them as they are and not in comparison to other kids. And I can then parent them without comparing myself to other parents.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with all the other “pictures” of family we will see on social media. But my heart is shot through with the desire to take them as the gospel truth and then live accordingly.
But really, the truth of the gospel is so much more for us.
And our kids.