You’ve probably seen the Dove Real Beauty Sketches Youtube video. Last week, it generated a lot of responses, from the informative to the satirical, both pro and con. Surprisingly, no one I read mentioned the feature of the video toward which I gravitated most strongly.
While everyone else watched the women, I watched the strangers. I watched the people who had just met a woman and were being asked to describe her features. If you watch them, they simply beam when they give examples of her beauty. The chance to say something good about another person draws joy into their hearts. They enjoy finding and identifying loveliness in the features of others’ faces. It delights them.
That generosity, that impulse to respond to the good in others, intrigued me.
This video shows a subtle surprise: strangers eager to build up, not to tear down. Ours is an individualistic culture. Because of this, we tend to view the unproven people around us as competitors, not helpers. An immoderate sense of independence can make us see someone’s proffered help as a declaration that they perceive us as weak.
However, this assumption creates community disconnections: an immoderate sense of independence can inhibit other people’s ability to be Christ to us. It presumes that the dance of the Christian life is a solo act, instead of recognizing that there are moments when another dancer must support us as we dip. Back around Christmas, I heard many exhortations that giving is better than receiving. It’s true, and I don’t want to contradict it. But, perhaps Easter provides a chance to reflect that I can’t always be the giver. Receiving is its own art: it is an act of humility and moderation that comes too easily to some and only with great struggle to others.
There is a natural give and take to generosity. To act as though I’ll always be the giver is to pretend to be God, just as much as to act as though I’ll always be the receiver is to give up on the restoration of the image of God in me.
Accepting gifts blesses the giver, by letting them be like Christ to us. A few weeks ago, I walked by one of Nashville’s homeless newspaper vendors. I didn’t have any money on me, so I smiled and wished him a good day as I passed, wishing inwardly I had some something for him. He returned the greeting as I went. Then, he called after me, “Ma’am! Ma’am!” I turned around to see him holding out one of his papers toward me. Sadly, I stuttered that I didn’t have any cash on me. He smiled a toothy, beautiful smile and said, “Take it. I want you to have it. On me.”
I almost didn’t. But, the joy on his face—exactly like the joy on the faces of the strangers in the Dove Real Beauty Sketches—made it evident that I would be selfish to keep him from the opportunity. Who was I to pretend that this man didn’t have anything worth giving me? I thanked him and took the paper.
He had the chance to give to someone totally undeserving. It was my role at that moment to be the undeserving one. It was his role to be Christ to someone.