read Acts 3. How can you not love a novel that begins with the words: “I emerge from my depression the moment I learn of Beverly Hastings’s death. She’s not just dead. She’s been murdered. Someone, apparently, liked her even less than I did.” Perfect Is Overrated, by Karen Bergreen.
The author is a stand-up comic. She’s appeared on Comedy Central. But like all good artists, her powers of observation are moving, even in what seems like on its surface a light humorous murder mystery. Here’s how the narrator describes the effect of her father’s abandonment of her at age 3:
“I realized something was missing. It wasn’t obvious that it was my father. But my mother was acting sad – no, not sad. Odd. It was as if we had moved to a different house. Except we hadn’t… I just remember that I had a general but strong sense of loss.”
The paragraph resonated for me because my father died this summer. I realized I, too, have had the feeling that something is missing. I’ve had a general but strong sense of loss. My parents’ house does look different. It’s been almost a nameless, placeless sense of loss – until the author gave words to my feelings. She gave me a hatstand – and until that moment, I’d been wandering around hatless. Paradoxically, in the very moment of discovering my sense of loss, I felt found. I looked at her novel, and in turn, I felt looked at.
That’s what good art does. That’s what creativity does. It’s what creativity is. And if God is the Creator, then that’s what God, too, does constantly for us. He puts words to our feelings. He makes us feel known in the very same breath that He helps us realize we feel unknown. His kind of art makes us feel looked at. And because He is the perfect Artist, He doesn’t just name our feelings, He heals us of their true origins. Because God goes deeper than our surfaces losses, to the deepest loss of all, the loss that all our other losses point to and stem from – the longing for Eden; the loss that rewinds and yet propels us forward; the loss which is our hope for heaven.
The good news is even better that that we have a future hope. It’s that God can give us heaven here on earth. He can give us joy amidst strife, life amidst death, the feeling of being looked at even when we’re alone. How? We think we’ll find that kind of life and joy and fulfillment by achieving our goals – by finding a great job, spouse, child, beauty, book contract or health. But we’re made for more than that, and so everything temporal can satisfy only the temporal part of us. Our spiritual part, our deepest selves, will always crave more. We will always crave perfection. The good news is, God wants to give us His perfection. We’re not wrong to long for the perfect. We’re made for it. God gave us our desires, after all. But we can relax, and not worry that the perfect isn’t in us or anyone else – it’s in God. Here’s the kind of dance I’m talking about, the kind of dance between the crippled and the strong, the dance of looking and being looked at.
A man lame since birth has been carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, begging from everyone who goes by. He’s been doing this every day for 40 years. We’re all like that man, looking expectantly at everyone who goes by. We wonder if the people we see, or at least one of them, can give us what we long for. We wonder if somebody can fulfill our nameless, placeless, restless and relentless desires – the longings that contain and yet drive us.
“Look at me,” Peter tells the man. The man looks at Peter expectantly. Right here is exactly the moment that occurs for every one of us when we look at God. Right here is exactly the moment where heaven meets earth. It’s when our humanity meets His perfection. We look up, expecting money, that sexy spouse, that seven figure bonus, that oceanfront mansion, the Nobel prize, that Ford modeling contract, or even just an A+ for our child on his physics exam. And we hear, instead, the echo of Peter’s words to this lame man:
“I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have.”
What DOES God have? What does God give any of us if we look at Him?
God is love. So if we look to God, He will give us the thing He’s full of: Love. Maybe if we look at God, we discover He is looking at us – in the way we’ve always wanted to be looked at.
Perhaps that’s because God’s love – the kind of love that became crippled, that gave up His perfection to make us perfect; the kind of Love who became pinned to a cross to enable us to run – is the thing our souls crave. Maybe that’s the very thing we most want, the thing we spend our days quietly, unconsciously begging for. Maybe the sense of loss, an unknown loss, that permeates our days – the sense of abandonment, of our homes missing something, of being ignored by we’re not even sure who – can be satisfied now, here, this minute, when we look at God, no matter how lame we feel. There, in that moment of looking, God will give us what we most long for.
Because He’ll give us Himself. He’ll give us His strength. He will, as Peter did here to the lame man, take us by the hand and lift us up. We, too, will be “instantly” healed and strengthened. We, too, can walk, leap and praise God. We, too, can astound the people who see us, because they KNOW how lame we are – especially if they’ve known us a long time. They’ll know we couldn’t have healed ourselves. They’ll know this kind of joy is a miracle.
After all, if God is the “author of Life” as Peter says here, why wouldn’t He want to author our lives over and over, writing and rewriting, editing, rhyming, paragraphing, chaptering, once upon a timing and happily ever aftering us? As Peter puts it, when we look to the true Author, “times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord.”
It’s so refreshing to do something creative. Perhaps that’s because every time we engage in the act of creativity – whether in art, relationships or work – we’re entering the presence of the Creator. Even if we’re feeling as lame as Daniel Day Lewis in the movie My Left Foot – even if all we think we can move is our tiniest toe – and even that can only happen on a good day – times of refreshment will come. It comes not from what we can do, but because we’ve entered into the presence of the truest, kindest, most observant Artist of all – the Artist who gives us all that He is and has – if we only look at him.
“Look at me.” God says it to us all. We’ve heard the echo of that request our whole lives. It’s the first thing any of us say, the moment we can string three words together. Look at me. We say it as a child. We say it when our parents are reading newspapers, talking on the phone or yelling at our siblings. We say it out loud when we’re three. We say it silently in our hearts when we’re older. Look at me. We all want to be looked at – except when we don’t. We’re made that way. It’s why we love social media like Facebook. It’s not because we’re vain, bad or selfish. God gave us the desire to be looked at.
Here’s the secret, the thing we miss, the key to the kind of life we really want. The way to be looked at, is by looking at God. Look at Him, and we find ourself reflected in His eyes in love. Jesus is the gate, the way to God, and by entering through His arms, He carries us to the place we’ve always longed for. He takes us to the home that is missing nothing – because He is always there. If we look at Him and invite Him in, He swoops in with Love, in Love, and gives us Love. He stays with us. He never leaves us. He refreshes us with His presence, and looks at us with love struck eyes until the day He comes back.
And the more valued we feel, the more loved we know we are, the more we can grow into the people God made us to be. We can enjoy life. We can be more creative. We can stop trying to get our needs met by other people, because our needs are met, on the deepest level, by the loving attention of a God who is always looking at us with love. We need never hide from Him, no matter what we’ve done, because the cross covers our every flaw. And the more we see what God is like – how forgiving and kind He is – the more we become like Him. If we look at Him, we see Him looking at us, and that enables us to look, really look, at other people. So it’s okay that when we look to God, we expect the “wrong” things. It’s okay we’re not perfect. Perfect IS over-rated. Because God is perfect. He will give us more, far more, than we can ask or imagine. All we have to do is look.
posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on August 28, 2012