“You look snazzy,” I said to a young boy as he arrived to church. He was often dressed in a costume and came in this day looking sharply dressed in a suit. “I’m a Man in Black,” he said. The briefcase and sun glasses should have been an easy clue. Pretending and role-play is a form of learning for children, they say. Children, acting a part are trying out a different identity to see how it fits. In some sense we are all role-playing, as Shakespeare says, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women mere players.”
What do we make of this yearning to imitate? Is it all child’s play, or is something more meaningful going on? Does authenticity mean never aspiring to be like someone else? In reality, don’t we learn more about our true selves when we look at the life of another?
The stories and examples of the best life models help us discover who we can become and to see ourselves anew. Imitation is a form of admiration that can bring out the best in us.
The finest example of imitation is found in the person of Jesus who said, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (John 8:29) Jesus’ life was lived out in intimate connection with the Father who sent him. So deep was this connection that he said, “And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” (John 12:45)
Jesus, has invited us into the same kind of imitation that he experienced with his heavenly Father. He said to his disciples, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21) In these verses he is saying in effect, “the way you see me live in relationship with my Father, live that way in relationship with me and you will be my ambassador.”
Not only are we invited to openly accept the forgiving grace of Jesus, we are called to become like Him in every way.
Here is where the challenge of being a follower of Jesus leaves many behind. This is where I have stumbled so many times. We can only honestly be like Jesus when our desire for God brings about a radical inner change of heart. Too often I have attempted to put on the spiritual life as one puts on a costume only to find I have no inner ability to live the life without God’s grace.
Imitation that results inner freedom requires that we put off our old false self in order to put on the true self found in Jesus. (Rom.13:14) This loss of ourselves in God is the path of genuine self discovery, but loss can be painful. At times we may feel adrift, empty, or disoriented. I find solitude and reflection gives me perspective and anchors me in the reality of God.
Kempis beautifully states,
“Indeed, by loving myself badly I lost myself; by seeking only You and by truly loving You I have found both myself and You, and by that love I have reduced myself more profoundly to nothing.” (Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis.)
For whoever would save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt. 16:25)