Years ago on retreat, the director asked me what Jesus looked like to me. I thought about it a moment and then described the stereotypical Jesus—long hair, scruffy, sandals, robe. As I gave the description, the director seemed to deflate before my eyes, and I knew I had disappointed him. Perhaps my description led him to believe I couldn’t possibly have a personal connection with Jesus.
Later, the question resurfaced in the early stages of the Spiritual Exercises, when our director introduced prayer with colloquys. He explained that for us to have this sort of “chat” with Jesus, we needed to imagine him right there with us. He shared that for him, Jesus was a farmer, and he liked to talk to him outside in the fields. Our director was a Canadian Prairie boy, so this made sense for him. I listened as the other retreatants described Jesus as a gardener, a grandfather, or a son. I had learned from my earlier experience and kept “my Jesus” to myself. And still, as I prayed through the Exercises, Jesus remained the same long-haired man of popular description for me—though in time he began showing up in jeans and a t-shirt more often.
Recently I asked my teenage daughter what Jesus looks like to her, and I was blown away. She described Jesus as a store sales associate. She described how he helps her pick out the right clothes that help her to be whom she and Jesus want her to be. She told me how he dissuades her from some tempting garments and steers her toward putting on clothes of justice, kindness, and patience. In encouraging her good choices, he makes her feel good about herself.
My daughter’s description made me go back to “my Jesus.” I wondered why I still had what I perceived to be an immature picture of him. I remembered my experience as a child in Sunday school and in the Catholic school system, where every classroom had that classic picture of Jesus on the wall. Day after day our teachers would point to the picture and remind us that Jesus knows us each by name and that he loves us always, “no matter what.” The image of Jesus in that picture brings me back to my childhood and carries with it the sense of security and comfort I felt back then as I gazed upon it. It may not be an original image of Jesus, but it makes sense for me, and I am seeing now that I can embrace this image.
Christ meets us where we are in a personal way that works for each of us as individuals so that we can come to know and love him in our own unique way. It doesn’t matter if my image of Jesus is a common one, as long as I welcome Jesus in my life. What image helps you deepen your relationship with Jesus?