“Just like Uncle Frank,” lisped our three-year-old daughter.
As her father dug the shreds out of her mouth, Carrie Anne couldn’t believe we were so alarmed at her choice of tobacco products. Apparently she’d been closely watching Bill’s elderly relative as he periodically would shove another bunch of brown into the pocket of his cheek. She also saw him spit into the coffee can, but thankfully that wasn’t the source of her supply. She had followed each bit of tobacco that floated to the floor from the pouch, leaving a trail of treasure. Within a day or two she had saved up enough for her experiment.
Children are great imitators. Our son Jacob used a little plastic lawnmower to mimic his dad, and then moved into the house to clean the carpet with his toy vacuum. Years later I had to stifle a giggle when I watched little children in my choir mirror my directing.
But when I heard the wail, “Mom! Make him stop. He’s copying me!” I knew a little brother was once again being an aggravation.
On a visit to Graceland, that mecca for all true Elvis fans, we saw several impersonators of the King of Rock and Roll. Sometimes they just wanted to look like him. But others went so far as to pattern their voice style after the legend. I think Elvis, if he were still alive, would take it in stride and actually enjoy it. After all, as we have so often heard, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Some imitations are so good that it’s hard to tell them from the real thing. I often touch flower arrangements to see if they are silk or live. I enjoy imitation crab in my salads at home, and I don’t mind not spending money on real leather or furs, as long as the “knock off” looks really, really good. Of course if someone is trying to pass off a forgery or copy as the real thing, that creates serious problems.
Imitation grass and even man made diamonds have their place. Watering real grass is prohibitive in drought-stricken climates. Mining diamonds has all sorts of negative consequences in some areas of the world. Besides, I’m hardly a jewel expert, so even a rhinestone sparkles enough for me!
There are some imitations that just don’t work, however. When we were traveling in Israel, one hotel was passing off some concoction as ice cream. One small bite proved it wasn’t. It really didn’t taste like ice cream at all. The remaining portions we left in our dishes never even melted! We couldn’t imagine what was in the ingredients. Avoiding the huge bowls of the creation on the buffet, we chose to leave it for less discerning palates.
We are all imitators, even when we think we are “one of a kind” in everything we do and say. As I get older I notice I’m expressing myself and even gesturing more like my mother. We seem to acquire habits and tendencies that resemble those of loved ones we grew up with or spend a lot of time with.
I guess that’s why Scripture warns about choosing wisely whom we wish to imitate. The Lord wasn’t happy when the Israelites imitated the pagan nations they were living among. The apostle John tells us to imitate what is good, not what is evil (3 John 1:11 NIV). We also are told to imitate those who have persevered, who remain strong in their faith (I Thes. 2:14 NIV).
Whenever I heard one of my young children say they wanted to grow up to be just like me, I smiled... but inwardly I cringed. Certainly I hoped they were only seeing and hearing the positive influences I had on them. I prayed they would set aside those less-than-wonderful traits of mine. I also knew what they didn’t know… my thoughts and feelings that were not models of love. Yet I did my best to be a “little Christ” to them.
I can hear the apostle Paul’s frustration with those early Christians who were making poor choices for role models. He said to imitate him because he imitates Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). But then he ends up telling the church in Ephesus to imitate God, follow His example! (Eph. 5:1) That really is a tall order.
Yet Jesus is the perfect role model for us to follow. If someone had said to Him, “You’re just like your Father!” it would never have been a criticism. No. It would be the highest compliment. Because it’s true!
He isn’t an imitation, a forgery, something man made or created. Jesus is begotten. As He so emphatically stated, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 NIV).
So now I’m back to the task at hand, the one I never will get quite right: Being an imitator of Christ. Oh, how I wish it were that simple! Always saying and doing the good that I want to do instead of the things I should avoid or even run from.
Because I do want to be that example that draws others to my Lord. Not so they will imitate my poor attempts at His perfection. But so they will come to know the real presence of Christ in their life… that presence that assures me I’m still His no matter how poor my imitation… that presence that I crave each morning as I ask Him to walk with me and help me.
Make me like You, Lord… please… and make me willing to be made in Your image… whatever it takes.