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Whenever I’m asked for my driver’s license, I go to some effort to point out that the state of Texas always makes me look like a hung-over felon. I am not known for taking a “good picture” under any circumstances, but the cameras used in those county offices are somehow programmed to bring out the worst in my poor mug. When my wife, Bobby, saw my latest picture, she was as kind as possible:“Oh, Don. I’m so sorry!”

We live in a Facebook age, aided and abetted by the ubiquitous smartphone camera. If we don’t like the first shot or the second or the eighteenth, it is no big deal. We just keep shooting until we find a shot that puts our “best face forward.” That is the idea, after all. We want all the world to see us at our best. And there is nothing wrong with that. As a child, my mother would always remind me as I stepped out the door, “Pretty is as pretty does.” She wanted me to both look and act my best.

All of this explains why the season of Lent is so countercultural. It is more like looking into a magnified shaving mirror than the lens of a camera. It is the opposite of trying to “look our best.” If the Facebook culture means projecting the best possible image out into the world, the spiritual discipline of Lent means seeing ourselves as we truly are.

There is profound irony, of course, in this comparison. If we are seeking the approval of friends and acquaintances, no number of “likes” will calm our anxiety. Like the Samarian woman drawing water from Jacob’s well in the gospel of John, we have to keep returning to the Facebook or Instagram post to keep the affirmation going. Scientists are now telling us that our brains are being programmed for the dopamine response of just one more “like.” On the other hand, if we, in our unadorned state, sit quietly with God long enough, we will eventually hear the uncompromised promise of love and acceptance that never goes away. That is why spiritual practice, especially during the season of Lent, is embraced by most people who stay with it. Rather than self-flagellation, it leads to the deepest kind of affirmation and the only kind that lasts forever.

Rev. Don Underwood