by Beth Murschell
When coma patients become conscious after, say, 20 years, I imagine them catching up on the world, shocked at all the advances in technology, at who has become President, or at wars or historical events that they’ve missed. But nothing will convince them more of the reality of passing time than a look in the mirror.
Mirrors should serve as a form of self-confrontation—oh, I need to fix my hair or fix a crooked collar or stand up straight or put on lipstick. We can, however, look without seeing and walk away unchanged. As James 1 says,
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (ESV).
We can ignore what mirrors tell us for months or years at a time. Denial sets in, and our brains filter out the odd bulges, droops, and flaws until someone shows us photographs from a family birthday party. “Oh, what an awful picture!” we cry. We delete photos of ourselves from the digital camera, wincing if its version of the truth differs from our own. After all, cameras don’t practice “speaking the truth in love,” as Ephesians 4:15 enjoins us to do.
However, we are exceptionally gifted at spotting the weaknesses of others. One of my children, for example, will complain bitterly about the behavior of another child, but soon I observe him or her performing the same action he or she just condemned in another. One of the most irascible men I know cannot bear to watch a certain TV show because of its hostile main character. He can change the channel, but I cannot change him. And that which I find annoying in him is very present in my own character.
Socrates is quoted as saying, “Know thyself.” The leader of a large ministry told me, “I’m too old to change.” It’s one thing to glance into the mirror; it’s quite another to believe what it tells us. We don’t enjoy pain. When someone else cares enough to hold the mirror up to our rotting visage, we lash out, preferring to remain ignorant.
Leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, provides a vivid picture of the damage resulting from ignoring problems in our flesh:
Insensitivity in the limbs [sic] extremities was the reason why unfelt wounds or lesions, however minute, lead [sic] to undetected deterioration of the tissues, the lack of pain not triggering an immediate response as in a fully functioning body (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leprosy).
Paul did not flatter the Cretans: “One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12, NASB). And Galatians 4:16 asks, “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (KJV).
If I’ve been confronted whether intentionally in love or unintentionally in a burst of truthful anger, I’ve been given a gift, a chance to change. I can dress the gaping wound that everyone else saw and pitied or from which he recoiled. My ignoring the problem did not erase it from everyone else’s view.
Ideally, I should be in God’s Word often enough that I see the problems in myself and address them with His help. I also should be willing to ask others this question: What do you see in my life that should not be there? And then I should be willing to accept the answer and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to “work out [my] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).
Addressing the problem does not involve excessive navel-gazing, wearing of hair shirts, or resorting to self-flagellation. I can cage myself in guilt, focusing not on forgiveness and sanctification but on myself and my awfulness. It’s what I do to manipulate others into saying, “No, you’re not that bad, really. You’re fine. I mean, look at so-and-so … You’d never do that.”
I can’t remember a time when someone else’s apology lowered him in my esteem. But still I flinch from this final admission, as if it becomes real only when I say it. Those I respect most are humble people; and those for whom I have the most contempt are like me: often too proud to look in the mirror and far too lofty for a mea culpa.
It’s not too late. And when we do come down from our personal Mount Olympus and into the valley of self-loathing and repentance, may we be treated as Paul instructs in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11.
But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow [emphasis added]. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.
|Beth Murschell is married to Mick, a computer programmer, and they live in Bradenton, Florida. Her master’s degree is in music education, but her past work experience includes industrial cleaning, childcare, bumper factory, fast food, camp work (three different camps), music team, telemarketer, media center, music educator, sixth-grade teacher, maid, retail, writer, and now mother of four. She has lived in Panama City, Louisville, Greenville, Miami, Brevard, Quakertown, and Bradenton.|