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Imago Dei

April 8, 2021

by Liz Flaherty

Imago dei: the idea that each human being is made in the image and likeness of God. Now, more than ever, I believe we as dental professionals should be embodying this idea in our everyday lives—not only remembering who we are in the Father’s eyes, but also remembering that each of our patients was intentionally, uniquely and wonderfully made by a loving Father.

Recently, my husband and I were babysitting a few of our nieces and nephews, and when bedtime rolled around, we built a pillow fort and read the story You are Special by Max Lucado. You are Special is the story of Punchinello, the wooden Wemmick who believes he isn’t good enough because of what others say about him. In their village of Wemmicksville, each Wemmick is carved by a man named Eli, and he makes them all looking different and possessing varying traits. However, each day, the Wemmicks run around doing the same thing: giving each other stickers that are based on their performance—golden stars for when someone does something good, and grey dots for when they fail. No matter how hard he tries, Punchinello just can’t seem to win the approval of the other Wemmicks and has only ever gotten grey dots.

One day, Punchinello meets a girl named Lucia, who, to his surprise, has no stickers at all. When he asks her how this is possible, she tells him that each day, she goes to visit Eli and spends time in his woodshop. Still unsure of what difference this would make, Punchinello decides to take her advice and pay Eli a visit. As he steps into Eli’s woodshop, Punchinello is embarrassed about all the gray dots covering his wooden body. Eventually, he works up the courage to ask Eli how he could ever think that he is special. His paint is peeling, he has no talents and he can’t walk fast or jump high. As I was reading, I felt tears start to well up in my eyes and heard myself choke out Eli’s words: “Because you are mine. That’s why you matter to me…The stickers only stick if they matter to you. The more you trust my love, the less you care about the stickers.”

I realized how badly I wanted these little ones to understand this and to know in the depth of their hearts that they are fearfully, beautifully and wonderfully made. They are the work of a Maker who meticulously designed each part of them with a plan and a purpose. They are the prize of a Good Shepherd who will leave the 99 sheep to go after the one that is lost. They are the joy of a Good Father who will run toward His prodigal son even after he has spoiled his entire inheritance.

I am currently going through my pediatric rotation in my third year of dental school, and the other day, I went out to the waiting room to meet my 4-year-old patient. I had on a bright pink scrub hat, and I was smiling as big as I could under my mask so she could hopefully see in my eyes that I was friendly. But as soon as I called her name, this sweet little girl buried her face in her chair and tried to hide from me. Could she not tell that I wanted to do a good thing for her? Did she not know that I just wanted to show her love and teach her a few things about her teeth? But in that moment of trying to coax her out of her chair and encourage her that we were going to have fun together, I thought, “How many times have I been this little girl?” How many times have I let my own fears or feelings of unworthiness keep me from spending time with my Father who only wants to love me? How quickly do I forget that I am special in His eyes and there is nothing I could ever do to take that away?

Could this idea of Imago Dei be a banner over us as we are interacting with God’s children each and every day? Could we not only walk in the inherent worthiness we have as sons and daughters of a King, but could we also treat each person we meet as the royalty we know they are? I can’t help but wonder what this world would look like if we all walked in this posture of humble confidence, compelled to love others by God’s perfect love for us.

Elizabeth Flaherty

About Elizabeth Flaherty

Elizabeth (Liz) Flaherty, DDS, received her undergraduate degree in Biology from Baylor University in Waco, TX, then returned to her home state of MN to attend dental school at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry where she graduated in May of 2022. She now serves soldiers and their families as a dental officer in the United States Air Force. In August 2020, she married the love of her life, Kevin, who will be alongside her in the Air Force adventure! Jesus changed her life and continues to mold and shape her into the person that he planned for her to be. She is living each day on a mission to share the hope that she has found in Him.

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