One of the most embarrassing moments of my life happened several years ago when I was supposed to be meeting a friend at a local night spot. (Okay, it was a club. There are you satisfied? I used to go dancing at night clubs. Sue me.). This was at a time in my life when I was extremely conscious of my appearance and looking “cool.” I found that at least one cure for this self-consciousness is giving birth to four kids as well as going out of the house on a daily basis with vomit, snot, or poop smeared somewhere on my clothing. Anyhoo, back to the pre-vomit-stained version of myself. I was sitting at a table waiting for my friend, when I saw him walk by. I attempted to get his attention but failed to raise my voice to the decibel level required to exceed that of the music giving me permanent hearing loss. I hopped up and bopped after him. (The pre-vomit-stained version of me often bopped along, here and there. Sadly this too is no more. Sigh.) I followed him up a ramp and encountered a back room to the club that I hadn’t realized existed. As I was heading into the room, a girl was blocking my way. I stepped to one side, as did she. I stepped to the other side and she did as well. I looked up and laughed, feeling like I was in an episode of I Love Lucy, when I noticed this girl was rather cute. Then to my horror, she stopped being cute and became my own reflection. I was standing in front of a mirror and had been attempting to side-step myself.
In a lot of ways, this experience sums up my life. I spend most of my time thinking about myself, trying to make myself happy, admiring my brilliance, etc. When I am not thus occupied, I am wallowing in disgust at my self-centered hedonism. It isn’t as though I wake up every morning in love with myself, longing to see what great deeds I will perform today. Despite appearances to the contrary, I have a fairly realistic picture of my many faults and limitations. (Dare I say I pride myself on it?) Yet thoughts of self-interest and self-congratulations pop, seemingly unbidden, into my head continually throughout the day. It is as if I am trapped in front of that mirror, desperately trying to get out of my own way so I can move on.
It is an astonishing paradox to me that I find myself to be the most obnoxious and morally repulsive person I know, yet throughout the day I constantly think how to gratify and admire myself. When trapped in the corner of my own self-loathing and faced with the bleak landscape of my inner thought life, I become like a crazed beast, desperately seeking escape. (It’s like being trapped in a Gap fitting room wearing pants that are at least one size too small.) Cheeks burning with shame, I cast around wildly in a vain attempt to prop up my quickly wilting self-esteem. Sometimes I begin sizing up others (literally and figuratively) in some sort of warped moral version of a beauty contest: “Okay, Miss Down-the-Street is a better cook and kicks my butt in the ‘Consistent Quiet Time’ segment of the evening but I could definitely take her on in bread-making and bedtime reading. If I work out three times this week and dust of the old Bible, I think I could make it to second runner-up for sure.” Unfortunately, I know a lot of really good people and too often looking outward doesn’t do that much for building up my self-image. So then I turn inward and go for old reliable—my good intentions. Sure, I just lost it with the kids on the way out the door today, but my intention was to be on time and I did apologize and smooth it over with a slushy, so there. Or maybe not.
This is where that other old reliable comes in—the Gospel. It is in its reflection that I see with great clarity those dusty corners no one else knows. But it is also in its reflection that I see the grace and mercy that has been purchased for me—at great cost and effort but providentially, not my own. So the next time you find yourself trapped in the mirror of your discontent, look that image straight in the eye and say “Hey you’re kind of cute—in a saved but still-in-progress kind of way.”