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the family portrait

by Susan Henderson

Order Susan's devotional book, And a Little Child Shall Lead Them, available from Randall House Publications.


WITH COORDINATING SHIRTS and matching blonde hair, five excited Sunday School kids whose families do not attend our church followed me into the portrait studio. Preparing to pose for a “family” picture for our soon-to-be-published church directory, we made a mismatched group. While they are tow-headed, I am a brunette. The photographer’s husband happened to walk across the room as his wife prepared to snap the picture. With a puzzled expression, he quickly backtracked and wondered aloud, “Are all of them your kids?”

While the kids in my Sunday school class looked like family, I didn’t fit the picture. To be blunt, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Have you taken a glance recently at the family portrait of God? Perhaps you noticed a few “sore thumbs” in the group? Some children of God just don’t seem to fit the picture. My eyes encounter a mother and daughter recently baptized at my church. They are beautiful yet battered. A family tormented by abuse of every sort, the details of their sordid past would make your stomach turn, yet they chose to receive the true love of their Heavenly Father. The little girl is physically scarred for life; the mother will struggle to forgive herself for the rest of her days. They bring a lot of baggage into the picture. Should we try to hid it?

I look into the eyes of a Meth user, a gambling addict, and a welfare junkie—all in the process of learning to lean on God rather than their vices. Tattoos, piercings, and sunken eyes and faces testify to lives hard lived, yet surrendered to a loving Father. They don’t really look the part, do they?

And there in the background—do you see him? He’s the one hiding behind everyone else, so unsure, rejected and lost. He looks longingly toward the middle of the picture. Could God the Father really love him after all he’s done? Drunken nights, hung-over mornings, illicit affairs—he’s been there and done it all…several times. He wants so desperately to believe, to receive love and to give it in return, yet he struggles. He’s been kicked in the teeth too many times in the past. If he has his way, he’ll scoot further into the background of the picture. Surely the portrait of faith has no room for doubt?

Sore thumbs? In the words of the gambling addict, “You bet.” They don’t belong in the picture. Just look at Jesus in the center, so holy, so perfect, so beautiful. Who are these people to think they have the right to stand next to Him and smile for the camera? They just don’t fit the picture.

But wait. I see another sore thumb sticking out of the family portrait. It’s me. I don’t belong in the picture either. No, I don’t struggle with gambling or drug addictions. I am neither a victim nor a perpetrator of abuse. I was raised in church. I believe Jesus and His Word. I even teach Sunday school, but I still don’t fit the picture. I’m flawed, stained, and impure. I lie, hold grudges, and gossip. I have no right to stand next to Jesus and smile for the camera.

I don’t have the right, but I do have the opportunity. We all do. The grace of God snaps on the wide-angle lens and welcomes everyone to crowd around Jesus and smile.

The picture of my blonde-headed kids and I will never change. In 25 years, I will not look like them. However, Jesus’ family photo is different. When we enter the family, we don’t look much like our Father. However, as we grow in faith, the picture changes. With prayer, hard work, and untold amounts of grace, someone will eventually gaze upon the family portrait of God and say, “You remind me so much of your Daddy.”

Susan Henderson is the secretary of Purdy Elementary School in Purdy, MO. She has written several books, including And a Little Child Shall Lead Them, a devotional book about children, and several books in the Destination Reality series of curriculum from Randall House Publications.






©2005 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists