The Faces We Used to Have

The first time I saw my daughter’s face, she was still in the womb. We were so eager to catch even a glimpse of our little girl that we paid for the 3D ultrasound—a purchase that, only a year earlier, I would have considered absolutely ridiculous. Why pay extra for fuzzy, imperfect, sometimes terrifying renderings of a face you’d see with your own eyes in just a matter of months? The answer, I eventually learned, was simple: Because we wanted to. That was our baby in Mary’s belly—the baby we’d been talking to, reading to, singing to—and we had a chance to get a sneak peek ahead of schedule? Yeah, of course we were going to do that.

I remember the day I finally did get to see Primrose’s face with my own eyes. The ultrasound wasn’t perfect, and she’d grown a lot since then, but we immediately recognized the similarities between the face on the monitor and the face that was beginning to glance around its brand new world. They weren’t the same face, but it was easy to see how they were connected.

And that’s more or less been the theme of the past two years. Every time my phone shows me a picture of Prim from a year ago, I see a different kid with a different face—and yet at the same time, there’s no doubt that it’s my Primmy’s face. Her face has grown with the rest of her, but never so much that I can’t look at an old photo of her and say, “Of course. Of course you used to look like this.” In those old photos, I can see the obvious beginnings of what her face looks like today.

It’s funny, though—it never works the opposite way. I can’t look at her face now and imagine what she’ll look like in another five, ten, or twenty years. It only works in reverse. It’s only obvious in retrospect. The future is still very much a mystery—at least to me. And I guess as a byproduct of that, the face I’m looking at in the present always feels like the end of the journey. Sure, Prim’s face has been changing throughout her life, but the face she has now, that’s her face. How could it ever become anything different?

But it will. It already is. The change happens so gradually, I forget that it’s happening before my very eyes. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for old photos, I’m not sure how aware I’d be of how drastically my daughter’s face has changed. I’d know it was changing, sure, but there’s a part of my brain that keeps insisting, “No, she’s always looked like this.” Without photos, I’d be more inclined to believe that.

Of course, this isn’t just true for Prim. This is how it works for everyone. The face you have now—it’s not the same face you had five or ten years ago. It’s not even the same exact face you had yesterday, if we’re being technical. It’s been changing—slowly and imperceptibly, but changing all the same. That’s why it can be such a shock to catch up with an old friend you haven’t seen in ten years—but if you’d had lunch with that friend every week for the past ten years, those same changes would have flown right under your radar.

And that, I guess, is growth in a nutshell. Really hard to see when you’re looking at it consistently. Hardest to see when it’s happening in the mirror. Easy to look back and see how who you are today had roots in who you were decades ago. Impossible to see how who you are today will be reflected in who you’ll be decades from now.

We just have a hint: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

We’ll look like our Father. All the faces my daughter will ever have from the genes Mary and I gave her. And our spiritual faces, slowly but surely, are changing to look more like the face of the God who calls us His children:

“His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire … His voice as the sound of many waters … and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength” (Revelation 1:14-16).

That was John’s attempt at putting into words the majesty he saw in a vision. It’s a glimpse; a preview; an idea. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Spiritually and physically, the face you have now isn’t the face you had ten years ago—and it’s not the face you’ll have ten years from now. You’ll change. Slowly and often imperceptibly, but you will. And as you let God lead you, you’re moving closer to a face that shines like the sun in its strength.

It’s easy for me to look in the mirror and feel frustrated—to feel like I’m not changing fast enough, well enough, or in the right ways. To feel stuck and stagnant and adrift. I take comfort in knowing that change is happening even when I’m convinced it’s not—that the process continues no matter how inadequate I’m feeling.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

(James 1:22-25)

As Christians, we spend a lot of time looking into that spiritual mirror. We’re continually measuring ourselves against the perfect law of liberty—and the more we watch, the harder it is to recognize the slow growth we’re hoping to see. But it is happening. We have to trust that, as long as we stay focused on living the life God wants for us, then that change will proceed the way He designed it to.

I don’t know what Primmy’s face will look like next year. Or the year after. Or twenty years from now. But I know that when I see it, it will make perfect sense. I’ll see clearly how every face she used to have was a stepping stone culminating in that moment.

And us? There will come a day when we look upon the face of God Himself—and by extension, our own faces—and say, “Of course. Of course this is what I was always supposed to look like.”

Until next time,
Jeremy

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