Do you remember pre-school? Many of my childhood memories are lost to the ravages of time. I can recall very few moments or events from when I was little, but one that remains for me is finger painting day. You all remember finger painting day, right? The teacher would call you over and put a little smock on you as a futile attempt to protect your clothes from the inevitable mess you would make. She’d set you down at the table in front of what seemed like the biggest sheet of paper you’ve ever seen. She’d then squeeze out little piles of paint, one for each primary color and told you to let your imagination run wild!
“What do I paint?” You’d say out loud to yourself as if praying for inspiration. Then you’d dive into the brown and schmeer an amorphous blob of brown paint. To the casual adult observer that schmeer of brown might look a lot like a pile of something found in your diaper, but to you, in your mind’s eye, it’s a tree trunk! “Look! It’s a trunk!” you’d again say out loud to no one in particular, as the teacher runs down the kid trying to eat a glob of paste from the jar. “I made a trunk” you’d say. “Leaves! Tree needs leaves!” the future arborist in you screams, and you reach for the green. Your fingers, loaded with green paint, glide effortlessly and clumsily across the paper. Viola! A stalk of broccoli! You see a beautiful tree with magnificent green branches and leaves, and the serious art critic sees a stalk of broccoli growing out of a pile of poo. By objective, aesthetic analysis, your creation could be the greatest failure the art world has ever seen, but to you, it’s the greatest thing you’ve ever created. (And truth be told… you’re probably right!)
Your teacher takes your fine creation, writes your name on the corner, and hangs it up among the other works by future Picassos, and there it waits for the next day when it’s dry and you can take it home. Your mother comes to pick you up, and you can’t wait to tell her all about the masterpiece you just created literally with your own two hands. You’re excited! And your mother can see it. She smiles.
The next day, your mother comes to pick you up, and in your hands is your greatest accomplishment. You raise it above your head and proclaim, “It’s a tree, mommy!” And your mother takes a moment, squints, turns her head to the side, and says, “It sure is! Good job!” And you beam, and your mother smiles, and all is well with the world. And to top off the entire experience, your mother takes that picture and places it in the one place in the house where everyone can see. That’s right, the refrigerator! Your new creation has a place of honor in your home. She loves it! She doesn’t care what it actually looks like to other people. To her, it’s a masterpiece.
I had an experience in pre-school similar to the one I described above. Only my picture was made with a paintbrush and the subject was a firetruck. This morning, my mom found that picture (now 30+ years old) and put it back on the fridge for you to see. Refrigerators have a certain cultural significance, don’t they? In every household in America and in other places around the world, our refrigerators are used to display pictures and mementos of people and events that mean the most to us. This is certainly true of my parent’s refrigerator. It’s covered with photos of friends and family members, reminders of events and people we care deeply about. When my wife found out we were expecting our first child, she left me a surprise displayed in the most prominent place in our home.Where? Obviously, on our refrigerator! That tradition has carried on in our own family. If your picture or your card or your photo or your gift makes it to someone’s refrigerator, that says something. It means you are valued. That you are remembered. That you’re loved.
Think back to how you felt when making your finger painting. Imagine the emotions going on inside your mother when she saw your masterpiece. The joy you shared in your accomplishment. The connection you shared with your parent. Our Church teaches that God feels the same way about you that you felt about your painting. God feels the same way about you that your mother felt in seeing your joy and your accomplishment. Because He made you. Because He is your Father. He delights in you. And in that delight, lies the essence of our dignity. We all have value. We are all loved by God. And no one can take that away. I’d like to think that heaven has a refrigerator, and on it, God places pictures of all of us, all of his creation. He places momentos of the good memories He has of us. Our biggest accomplishments. Our “finger paintings” for Him. When we look at our own refrigerator, I hope we remember that, too.
Sam Mauck is the Director of Campus & Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Memphis. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org