Life is funny. Just when you think you’ve understood something, it slips through your grasp, and you’ve lost the essence of the thing. You think you’ve come to understand the reason for your anxiety, your sadness, your compulsion to perform…but then you realize it’s even deeper than what you thought, and you still have so much to learn. There remains so much of God to know, so much he wants to reveal in you, so much to explore about others and how to love them well.
It’s like walking through a hall lined with mirrors when all you can see is the mirrors themselves, never the reality outside. The farther you get along the hallway, the more of the picture you can see. But it’s always a reflection, never quite real enough to touch, never the full picture.
I think that’s how this life was designed to be. We see life reflected “as through a mirror dimly.” As Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then [in Heaven] we will see everything with perfect clarity” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NLT).
Doesn’t that sound nice? In Heaven, we will know everything completely, just as God knows us completely. If we had that knowledge now, it would be terrifying; it would be too much for us to comprehend and would totally overwhelm us. So, God, in His infinite grace and kindness, allows us to look at Him as through a mirror instead of straight on. And, in looking at Him, we see more of ourselves and the things He wants to change in us.
It’s like hanging a new mirror in a room that you spend a lot of time in. I experienced this recently when my parents mounted a beautiful mirror above the fireplace in their living room. All of a sudden, we became incredibly aware of the magnets and pictures and magazine clippings on the fridge. And we didn’t like it. We said to each other, “The fridge looks so cluttered. I want to clean it. Now!”
Thankfully, that’s what happens with us, too. When we allow God to hang mirrors in the rooms and halls of our figurative houses, we can see the things we’ve grown accustomed to – the sins and proclivities and smudges that we’ve gotten used to living with but just aren’t very pretty. And God is very kind and very gentle in knocking on the door of those rooms and asking to come in. He doesn’t barge in and throw things away – although we know he could…hello, Jesus turning over the money changers’ tables in the Temple. With us believers, though, He just wants to come in and “share a meal together as friends” (Revelation 3:20, NLT).
And while we sit with Jesus at the table, talk and commune together in intimacy, He gently reveals to us the ways He wants to clean house in our lives, minds and hearts. He does this in a number of ways:
- Through his living Word, which he promises will accomplish its purposes: This is where we have to start. If we only look for God in life’s circumstances, we often end up making Him smaller than He is. We’re tempted to only label the things we can’t explain as “God things,” rather than properly seeing that He governs all things through His wisdom and Fatherly care.
- Through communion with Him – prayer, stillness and supernatural encounters: This is why grounding our understanding of God in Scripture is so important. We have to know what the Word says about God so that don’t end up crafting our own images of Him. That’s basically the definition of an idol…more on that another time. And, we have to be able to check what we think we’re hearing from God with Scriptural truth. One day, though, we won’t need spiritual gifts, spiritual disciplines or even Bibles because we will see Jesus face-to-face!
- Through community with other believers: Because we are image bearers of Christ, fellow Christians serve as pictures of who we are supposed to be. Ideally, we should be reflecting God back to each other, so that we can see images of God in each other and model that Christ-like behavior. In doing so, we can “live properly among [our] unbelieving neighbors” so that they will one day give honor to God (1 Peter 2:12, NLT).
Community is so vital because it reveals the cracks and stains and rough spots that still need smoothing out – the ways in which we’re undermining our witness. In thriving, loving community, we help reveal the truth about ourselves to each other in gentleness and kindness.
Sometimes this means showing each other the truth of our beauty – the loveliness God has placed in us as His image bearers. When you’re a type-A perfectionist like me, you may need a gentle reminder of who God has created you to be: a beautiful, holy individual being transformed into His likeness!
But that means we only get to be ourselves. As my mom and sister gently reminded me recently, if I’m getting down on myself for things I can’t change – like the way my body has been made or certain aspects of my personality – then I’m coveting someone else’s identity, and I need to repent. Their words were exactly what I needed to hear in that moment and helped me settle into my skin and soul a bit more, to be “easy in myself,” as John Wesley would say.
Put in other words, “We don’t find an identity, we receive one from God, our Creator.” That’s something I’ve heard my pastor Dave Lomas at Reality San Francisco say many times and one of the core truths he notes in his book The Truest Thing about You. It’s not our job to craft our identity through perfectionist tendencies or flawless Instagrams and Facebook posts. We have to live into who God has already declared us to be: His. “Become who you are,” as Dave would say.
All too often, I can be a navel-gazing narcissist, trying to figure out how to fix all the things that I consider to be wrong with me. And, in truth, there are things that should change! But the cure for my narcissism – and the way to lean in to that transformation – as Francis and Lisa Chan note in their new book You and Me Forever, is not to keep looking at myself. Instead, it’s to gaze intently at God. And this gets back to how we encounter God: through his Word, through time alone with Him and through community with other believers.
C.S. Lewis expresses a similar truth in Mere Christianity when he says, “Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.”
Thankfully, when we look at God and see how much needs to change in us, we’re not left with a feeling of helplessness. Instead, God has given us an incredibly powerful change agent through the Holy Spirit. We have a Helper who lives in us; the same Helper that raised Christ from the dead. And when we get to know God more, when we pursue Him just as He pursues us, we get a clearer picture of who He has designed us to be.
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV).
When we contemplate the Lord’s glory, when we look to Him, we are healed. We give up our need to be original or to be like someone else. We give up our pride and the desire to have everything figured out or to understand why things are the way they are. We look for God, interpreting life’s circumstances and the entirety of our beings through the lens of Scripture and Christ’s example of how to live a good life. As Lewis promises, “Look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
This is the good and beautiful life – living in close communion with God and fellow believers, reflecting God’s image back to each other, showing Christ’s love to the world. And while I still long for the day when we’ll see everything clearly, I’m confident that I’ll continue to grow under my Father’s care. And through that process, the mirror of my life will become clearer, reflecting a truer, purer and more vibrant picture of Christ’s heart to the world.