Hands up those who like the mirrors in change rooms – you know the ones that line the walls of a little cubical. You take your clothes off and wherever you look, there it is - your big, fat backside, wobbling about in ways you’d never seen before.
It’s scary! When we put clothes on we try to disguise our flaws, but stripped down to our underwear there is no escaping the reality of how we look. Some of us ignore the fact that our body is more similar to a Sumo wrestler than to a champion gymnast… and we insist on wearing tight leggings out in public just to prove how substantial our hamstrings really are. Nevertheless, each to his (or her) own.
Sometimes it doesn’t take a mirror, but a well-meaning friend to identify things about you. I remember being in high school while talking about different people’s looks. My friend Desiree told me I had a jutting chin. I had no idea, as I didn’t normally hold my head sideways as I looked in the mirror. What I saw was just the front, not the profile, and it took others to provide more information about what I really looked like.
As I have gotten older, I spend less time examining myself in the mirror. All I see there are more wrinkles, grey hair and sagging features, and it’s not a picture I like. I prefer to visualise myself as the 20-year-old with a smiling, clear face. I think most of us do keep a self-image of ourselves that is not how things are, but how we would like them to be.
But when we consider our character and our behaviour, the Bible advises against such types of deception. In the book of James we are admonished to control our tongue, to rein in our temper, and to listen respectfully to others, and avoid immorality. If we think this doesn’t apply to us, then we are “like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:23, 24)
It is easy to read the Bible and see the instructions, and yet not accept the words are for us. Often we blame others, and cast aspersions on other people who we think are not living up to God’s expectations. In reality we are ignoring our sinful state and attempting to draw attention away from ourselves by pointing the finger at someone else.
I have a problem with my temper, and with the words I say and even think about others. Yet when I recently read through James, my immediate reaction was that I knew someone else who fit that description! Yet I know from experience that whenever I read passages and condemn others, then I am passing the buck. I justify myself while ignoring what God is trying to tell me, and my guilty conscience creates a diversion to appease my own feelings of discomfort.
I’m remarkably good at pointing out other people’s faults. The Bible talks about different spiritual gifts - prophecy, healing, discernment, speaking in tongues etc (1 Cor 12:10). I reckon I have the gift of discernment.
“How does that work?” asks my husband.
“Well, I’m good at deciding when other people are wrong,” I explain.
“That’s the gift of judgementalism,” he corrects. “…and it’s not a gift.”
Okay, so perhaps I should take the plank out of my own eye before worrying about the speck in my sister’s eye (see Matt 7:4, 5). So I guess it comes back to seeing what God is telling me, not anyone else. Is God showing me something in the mirror of His Word? And if so, what is my response?
Now, while I’m figuring out how to deal with my character flaws, maybe I should go for a jog to tackle those flabby bits as well!