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Smartphones, Two-Year-Olds, and Seeing Myself in a Better Story

by Justin McRoberts

The practice of rest is the primary way I’m regularly learning to wrestle loose of the grip lesser stories have on me so I can see myself the way God sees me and maybe pass along some of that same vision to people I care about.

This reminds me of my daughter, who, by the time she was two years old, had already developed a somewhat remarkable talent for navigating my phone. She didn’t know the lock screen passcode (or at least I don’t think she did), but once I unlocked the phone for her, she deftly flipped through screens and recognized apps she liked. Trying to be a good dad, I downloaded a few learning games, and, on occasion, she’d play those. But more than anything else, she wanted to look through my photos to find herself.

In fact, when she wanted my phone, she wouldn’t say “phone” or “pictures” (and rarely even said “please”). Instead, she’d just point at the phone and say, “See Katelyn?” Then she’d swipe through images until she saw one of herself. At which point she’d stop, look at the picture for a moment or two, smile, and show it to me, saying, “See? Katelyn!” I noticed, though, that she almost always missed photos she was in with other people, including photos she was in with me. If she wasn’t prominently featured on the screen, she didn’t see herself at all. In other words, she struggled to see herself in context. Some of those pictures were of some of her favorite people too! Of course, I knew she was in those pictures, so I’d try to catch one with my finger before she swiped it away, saying something like “There you are, Bird! Can you see yourself?”

She didn’t like that.

Not. One. Bit.

It didn’t matter that it was my phone. It also didn’t matter that I was trying to help! But . . . it was my phone, and I did want to help. So eventually I’d engage in one of the greatest struggles of my adult life: taking my phone back from my own child.

The thing is, I didn’t want to take the phone away from Katelyn. I wanted her to hand control of the device over to me so I could help her see herself in context. I actually wanted what she wanted; I wanted her to see herself. I think my daughter is living in a big, beautiful Story, and, as her dad, I could help her do that if she would just let go, even a little bit. But she was so committed to the control she had over the device she was using and so satisfied with one way of seeing herself, she wasn’t easily willing to hand over control. Seeing yourself as part of God’s beautiful Story requires you to relinquish your control.

I love the way Jesus reframes Mary of Bethany’s story. In Luke’s version of this story, Mary was referred to at one point as “A woman in that town who lived a sinful life” (7:37). Yikes. Imagine that being your story. That the people around you primarily refer to you as someone with a sordid past or who had done some things they found distasteful.

Jesus was in the house of a man named Simon when Mary walked in with what the writer called “very expensive perfume” (Mark 14:3). She then poured the perfume over Jesus’ head and feet, and while she was doing that, she wept and wet Jesus’ feet with her tears. It was a striking and poetic scene. Which made it the perfect time to talk about how much everything cost, didn’t it? I’m joking, but that’s exactly what the men in the room started doing. The thing is, as valuable as the perfume might have been, its worth was rooted in and dictated by the same system of metrics and evaluations that devalued Mary’s life and experiences in the eyes of the men at the table. Which is why she’d come to Jesus. I’d be very willing to bet she didn’t need to be told how much the jar of perfume was worth. It was hers, after all, and she probably knew exactly what it cost. Which means she also knew what it cost to pour it out on Jesus instead of selling it.

I’ve begun to see my work a bit like Mary saw that jar of expensive perfume. The system of metrics around me educated me on the value of my time and talent and, in no uncertain terms, suggested that they are the most valuable thing available to me, that my strengths and abilities give my life a place in the story of the world around me. Which brings me back to the Bird (my daughter, Katelyn) and why it was important to me that she handed my phone back. Not only because I had calls coming in, but because I wanted her to see herself the way I did when I was taking her picture: precious and brilliant and funny and talented, but above all, entirely Beloved.

I’m not sure I can sufficiently describe to you how desperately I hope that, in time, she will still hand that device over to me and say, “I don’t see myself clearly right now. This thing has me confused. Can you help me?” I’m going to want to look at what she’s looking at and say, “There’s a lot going on here. I don’t know how much of it is real or true. What I do know is that what is most true of you is that you are amazing. You are Beloved through and through, Bird. How about we put down this thing for a while and go for a bike ride or a walk or play a game, just you and me?”

Taken from “Sacred Strides: The Journey to Belovedness in Work and Rest” by Justin McRoberts. Copyright 2023 by Justin McRoberts. Used with permission from Thomas Nelson.

Justin McRoberts creates to provide language for the process of faith and life, helping people to live generously as well as to faithfully produce good work in the world. For that reason, Justin really likes teaching, storytelling, and songwriting, which he has done for nearly twenty years. He's written books, recorded albums, and also curates and hosts The @Sea Podcast. Whether he's teaching, sharing songs and stories, leading a workshop on the creative process, or inviting folks to engage in the fight against global poverty, Justin values every opportunity to encourage, challenge, and inspire.


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