Some of the most enjoyable experiences of my days spent working in landscape design were those times when I met with landscape clients to show them their “After” pictures. Through the use of my computer software I could take a photo of their existing landscape and transform it into a representation of how their finished landscape would look after the plan I created for them had been completed. The “ooh’s” and “aah’s” those “After” pictures elicited were priceless. But, I never started the revelation process with the “After” picture. I always began with their “Before” pictures.
Did my clients really want to take a good look at their “Before” pictures? Of course not. They weren’t paying me to show them what they already had. They had asked for my design services to give them something better: something new and improved. They knew what they had, or so they thought.
When looking at a picture of something we’re familiar with, we are sometimes brought face-to-face with some uncomfortable realizations. We sometimes see some fairly ugly sights that we choose otherwise to overlook. When looking at their “Before” pictures, I heard more than one client comment on something unattractive in their current landscape that they had never noticed. A fresh set of eyes or the lens of a camera often points out ugliness that we’ve become accustomed to (like an ugly piece of irrigation tubing exposed to a pretty bunch of hyacinth).
Clients often would ask me if they could keep their “After” pictures as something to hold on to and to look to in anticipation of their soon to be completed landscape transformation. I never had a single client ask me for their “Before” pictures.
Why would they? Who wants to look over and over at something that needs work – something that just doesn’t quite measure up to what it should be?
I’ve had many of my own “Before” pictures, especially of my back yard. It has seen more changes than you can imagine. Where are those pictures? They’re buried somewhere. I can’t quite recall where. I know I came across a few of them recently while I was looking for some other old photos. I certainly didn’t want to save them as jpeg files in my computer so I could always have easy access to them. Nobody enjoys looking back at their “Before” pictures. But here’s the thing about our “Before” pictures; they make our “After” pictures look even more astonishing.
For a better example, let me shift gears a little and move from the horticultural world to the world of physical appearance. A few years back I was blessed to meet a charming young lady with a captivating smile and a sparkling personality. Her name is Abby Rike. You may know her story, especially if you have ever been a fan of the television show “The Biggest Loser”. She was a contestant on that show. As a result, she lost 100 pounds. When I first met her I was taken with her enthusiasm, her love for life and her eternally optimistic outlook. And although she had a cute figure in an average sort of way, I can’t honestly say I was blown away by her small size. Nice? Yes. Impressive? No. At least not until I saw her “Before” picture.
Let’s consider something about our “Before” pictures. As much as we’d like to hide them, or even try to destroy them completely, it would probably behoove us to hang on to them for future reference. You see, here’s the thing about our “Before” pictures: at some point in our lives, someone else may need to see them.
Everyone’s “Before” pictures look different. Some may include things like divorce. Some may show addiction of one type or another. Some may indicate a temporary turning away from our faith in God. Whatever they look like, they are not unique to us. Someone else has that same picture. The difference may be that their picture isn’t only a “Before” picture that has been transformed into something beautiful and useful. It may be their “Now” picture.
Many times we, as believers, would like to appear as if we have it all together. Speaking only for myself, I can say that I’d often like to appear as if I always have had it all together. I’d like to forget about all my past failures, and I certainly would prefer that others not be aware of them. But those unbelievers who know their lives are anything but “all together” need to know that we were once just like them. In almost every single aspect, we are still just like them. The main difference is that our “Before” pictures have been transformed, and every single time we have something ugly pop back up in our lives, the Father transforms it and redeems it all over again for us. Those unbelievers who see us as “together” need to know the hope we found. They need to know that hope is available for them, too.
As much as we’d like to hide our “Before” pictures, let’s be honest with the world as the Holy Spirit leads us to be. Someone needs to know there is hope for them. Someone, someday, is going to need to see your “Before” picture. Share your transformation with them. Your “After” is always much more astonishingly beautiful when you begin with the “Before”.
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV)