Scrolling through pictures on my phone, I smiled at one of my son Alex and my niece from Thanksgiving. They were discussing a video game when I snapped the candid shot to remember the sweet moment in time. Seeing that photo reminded me of another day this year after my daughter Riley’s dance recital. Riley has an eye for photography that she inherited from her grandmother and great-great grandmother, so she is quite particular about photos – lighting, placement, facial expressions, everything. The dancers had taken numerous photos in various groups when Riley said, “Let’s take some candid shots.” She then asked the other girls to join her and said they should all pretend like they were talking and laughing for the photos. I looked at another mom and said, “that’s the exact opposite of candid.” Instead, she’d staged the whole thing as though they were in a marketing ad.
Candid photos are meant to show reality, in a behind the scenes type of way. The photographer tries to blend into the background and take photos unbeknownst to the people in the shot in order to capture the essence of the situation. Some of my favorite wedding photos are of our guests in conversation or dancing – unposed, unplanned. Candid pictures portray the truth of what is happening just as candid conversations are supposed to be truthful.
Being candid sounds great in theory, but sometimes, we balk at the idea of living authentically. We would rather put on the masks, stage the scene, and pretend everything is fine. Especially during the holiday season, when stress is high, we just wish everyone would play along and fake it if necessary. We may desperately want a picture-perfect time with family without conflict. We crave the Hallmark movie ending. We dream that the kids will love every gift and not compare their haul with what their siblings or friends receive. We idealize what the holidays should be year after year even if our histories don’t support the fulfillment of such aspirations. We have the script written in our heads, and when our people don’t live up to our expectations, we are disappointed or downright mad. And instead of taking a step back to realize that it’s okay if everything doesn’t go as planned, we may throw up our hands and say, “whatever, I quit” and spend the rest of the season stewing in resentment.
But what if we could let go of the fantasies, which will ultimately let us down, and focus on forging real and lasting connections? We could abandon our efforts to fit everyone into pre-formed boxes with sparkling wrapping paper and let them be themselves. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, and we shouldn’t expect that from others or ourselves. When Jesus walked the earth, he hung out with and loved imperfect people from his devoted followers who often didn’t understand him to the outcasts who society considered sinful. They couldn’t create a pristine Christmas dinner, buy expensive gifts, or force everyone to take photos continually until they got the perfect shot. Life was messy for Jesus and his people. I imagine that for them to live and work together out on the road pursuing Jesus’ ministry, they had to be pretty candid with one another. I don’t think Jesus would’ve wanted it any other way. He wanted genuine relationships rooted in understanding and truth. The only way to get those types of real relationships is to drop the façades and really, truly communicate with and listen to one another so that we might forge deeper and lasting ties.
Let us take candid photos this season – the real ones, not the manicured ones – and see what we learn about our people. I venture to guess that we will find happiness and maybe even sadness on the faces of those around us. But no matter what we view through the camera’s lens, we can rest in the belief that being real is the only way to create the candid life we all want.