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See yourself as you really are

From the January 2018 issue of The Christian Science Journal

In the church of Christ, Scientist, I attend, and in these churches around the world, a particular Bible passage is read to the congregation each week, just before the benediction that closes the Sunday service. It’s from the book of First John: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (3:1–3).

This is the perfect send-off! It reminds each of us that we are God’s children, that He loves each of us dearly, and that—whatever we are going through—as we awake to the true nature of God, we will see ourselves “like him,” reflecting God and expressing Christly qualities.

For years I mostly just listened very mechanically to this passage. It was almost time to leave church, so my thoughts would wander off.… “What will I have for lunch?” “I have to make sure the kids do their homework,” or “I have to talk to so-and-so after church!” 

Then a friend pointed out to me the meaning of the word behold. It is “Take a look” or “Pay attention!” She continued that this word behold precedes some of the most important passages in the Bible, as this was a way for the writers to let us know that we needed to “pay attention.” I have since looked up this passage in many modern Bible translations, and indeed, it often begins with see or look or consider. In other words, don’t overlook these important words about each of us as the child of God.

From that point on, I found that this passage always stood out. It began to mean more and more to me, and I took the time to study it a little more closely.

Through this study, I came to better know myself and others as God sees us. This Scripture so directly and firmly establishes that each one of us is God’s loved child and that we are and always will be godly. This is quite an inheritance. I saw how this understanding enabled me to rule out troubling character traits or conditions that seemed to come from my parents or other family members. I was entirely free to be the child that God, my divine and eternal Parent, created in His image and likeness.

And as the passage reminds us, even if it’s not always clear in our thought what we will “become” when we awaken to what we truly always are, we can look to the example of the Christ for clarity on our true nature. Mary Baker Eddy, a theologian and spiritual thinker who discovered the Science of the Christ, defines Christ as “the divine manifestation of God, which comes to the flesh to destroy incarnate error” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 583). Christ shows us what we are as God’s children. As His image and likeness, we aren’t flawed or saddled with mortal heredity, but we are each the manifestation, or reflection, of the Divine. That doesn’t mean that we are all identical—we each reflect God’s divinity in unique and beautiful ways—but we all equally evidence the magnitude and majesty and perfection of God’s creation.

I have turned to First John 3:1–3 to remind myself just what I am.

As the spiritual sense of this passage has become clearer to me, I have often found myself turning to it for inspiration or help as I pray. Whenever I’ve felt confused about my path in life, worried about the future, or physically ill, I have turned to First John 3:1–3 to remind myself just what I am. For me, this whole passage is a prayer, a way to reconnect with and more clearly see how God sees me every day. 

It has also been very helpful to me in praying for my children, to see their goodness, their perfection, their likeness to God. As a parent, it is tempting to notice character flaws in our children—again, perhaps traits that remind us of a family member’s issues—or to listen to what others see or notice about them. But we don’t ever want to limit their rich inheritance by assuming that it is burdened by what we have done or by what we are tempted to think we can see in them. 

Rather, we can know that God is the Parent of all, and in His infinite wisdom and love He cares for His children in every possible way. Father-Mother God expresses in everyone, including each of our children, an infinite range of Godlike qualities; He has made them and sees them as healthy, good, and complete. This foundation of health and wholeness and these infinite possibilities are what we want to see for our kids! Recognizing their true, spiritual nature in this way, we become better advocates for their perfection, goodness, and health, better able to help and heal them in challenging times.

When my son was a toddler, we were part of a really nice playgroup of moms and other toddlers. The moms would sit together and socialize, exchanging helpful parenting tips while keeping watch over what the kids were doing, and the kids would run around the backyard. One Friday when we got together, one young boy had an irritated and inflamed eye, which one of the mothers quickly described as pinkeye. She explained to us how contagious this condition could be. 

Well, you never saw a playgroup clear out so fast as moms hurried to leave out of concern for their children. On the way home, I noticed that my son’s eye appeared very red and that he was rubbing it a lot. And when I put him to bed, I could tell the eye was not right. I felt really concerned for my son and was also worried because we had friends coming to stay with us the next day, and I didn’t want anyone to be fearful of contagion. 

Later, in the middle of the night, my son woke up crying, and I went to check on him. Now both eyes were inflamed. I cleaned them up with a warm washcloth and comforted him, singing some familiar hymns to get him back to sleep. 

After he was asleep, I picked up my Bible, turning to the comforting and familiar passage I’ve been talking about, First John 3:1–3. Each word stood out to me, as if demanding to be clearly seen and understood. I knew that this passage was describing my son as he truly was, God’s beloved child, with a good and perfect heritage. But as I finished reading it and went to put my Bible down, the fears started creeping into my thought again. What if his eyes were still red when he woke up? How would I handle it and help him? And what would I do about our friends? 

Then it occurred to me that if I really knew this passage was true about my son, then I wouldn’t be afraid about what I would see in the morning; I would expect to see him as made in God’s image. And I recognized that if I had this hope and understanding in me, my son would appear to me as pure and good, just as God made him and knows him. So, I determined that I would sit there with this definition of my son and study it until I no longer had any doubt about what I would see in the morning. 

I’m not sure how long I stayed up, but when I turned out the light and went back to bed, I was completely at peace and looking forward to the next day. 

In the morning, I woke up and began to get breakfast ready for the kids. When I went to say good morning to my son, I reminded myself that I would see a child who was God’s likeness. And that is what I saw. There was not even a little bit of inflammation or redness in his eyes—they were clear and completely normal. I was not surprised and made a point of quietly acknowledging that it was perfectly natural that he would be well and normal this morning and every morning! We had a wonderful visit with our friends, too. 

No matter what the condition we see in ourselves or how others might see or diagnose us or someone we love, this passage in First John 3 is one we can always turn to for a refresher course on what we are as children of God. First John is one of the very last books of the Bible, and I like to think of it as the last word on the nature of man. In fact, this last word perfectly corresponds with the “first word” about man as found in the very first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (verse 27).

Throughout the Bible, we read one account after another of how individuals overcame an incorrect view of themselves as sick, or sinning, or dying as they were shown the correct view of themselves as God’s loved son or daughter, cared for and watched over—and good! As we continue to learn to see man spiritually and correctly in this way, we don’t need to turn to any source but God to find our true nature and condition.

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