I am currently a few weeks into a thirteen week sabbatical. The purpose of this sabbatical is to rest, recharge, and also learn. I need rest and recharge and I am finding that the time of learning during this sabbatical is different than the normal mode of learning that I experience in other times in my life. While I am constantly seeking to learn and better myself throughout the other seasons of my life, this sabbatical forces me to look at myself without the other distractions (good or bad) in my life.
True reflection should feel intimate and personal. It shouldn’t necessarily be comfortable as you’re getting a glimpse into things that you may not have seen before. In the past, I’ve compared it to those magnifying mirrors that women sometimes use while putting on makeup; they magnify your face to the point that you can see every blemish and imperfection, like it or not. True reflection should give us a glimpse of who we really are, without dressings and distractions.
I am finding that stripping away the things that normally crowd out self-reflection causes me to simply stand in front of the mirror with nothing left to hide behind. I am stripped of all pretenses and coverings and I stand there exposed. There is nowhere to hide, nowhere to run, I see what truly exists.
The challenge may be whether to continue to look in that mirror. If I don’t like what I see, it could be very easy for me to run away, to hide, to cover myself up. In some ways, it seems like a throwback to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ran and hid themselves once they were aware of their nakedness. They knew that they were exposed and they were afraid. So they ran.
When faced with our true reflection, our tendency may be to run and hide, but if we really want to grow and learn, we must face the sometimes gruesome reality of who we really are, warts and all. We need to take a long, hard look at the reflection that we see in that mirror and decide what we are going to do when faced with that reality. Will we soak it all in and then simply walk away, forgetting what we saw? Or will we drink it in and seek to make changes in the reflection that we see before us?
This isn’t a new dilemma, there are others who have seen the same thing. James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, made similar observation in his letter when he wrote in James 1:23-24, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” So, it’s a challenge that humanity has faced for centuries, millennia even.
When all is stripped away and we are faced with who we really are, do we like what we see? If we don’t like what we see, where do we run to in order to cover up our discomfort and dissatisfaction with the reflection that we see?
Looking in the mirror of self-reflection shouldn’t be a discouraging process, yet it always seems to feel that way for me. I rarely ever glimpse the parts of me that are being reformed and reshaped. My focus always seems to be what needs improvement and I’m trying to figure out whether that’s a nature or nurture thing.
Regardless of where it came from, I know that things can change. Standing in front of that mirror and faced with the reflection, how will I respond? Will I be honest about the reflection, or will I run? Will I simply see what needs changing or will I see the places that have been transformed since the last time?
To be encouraged by my reflection, I can’t simply look once a year or once every five years, I need to constantly look back at my reflection, not in an obsessive way but in a way that truly seeks to be transformed and changed into the image in which I was originally created, the imago dei. If I am looking at that reflection often, I will see those parts that are different than the last time I looked, I will see those changes that might be subtle but are changes nonetheless.
So, how about you? What do you do when you see your reflection? Do you like what you see? What are you doing to change what’s there staring back at you?