by Rev. Peter Friedrichs
The other day I gave myself quite a shock. I was in the Philadelphia airport, waiting for a flight. I looked up from the sink in the restroom into the large mirror on the wall. There, staring back at me was someone I didn’t recognize at all! He was a middle-aged man with gray hair and prominent crow’s feet. The person in the mirror looked respectable and even conservative. Like all those middle-aged white guys you see in an airport, pulling their carry-ons, headed off to a conference.
I can’t quite figure out why I was shocked. I look in the mirror every morning. I see this face every day, sometimes several times a day. Maybe it was the fact that this wasn’t just my face. The mirror was large enough that I could take in more of myself than I’m used to. It might have been the button-down blue shirt and blazer that increased the “middle-aged white guy” appearance. I was getting more of the “full picture” than I usually see. Or maybe it was the lighting in the bathroom that enhanced the silver (let’s call them) “highlights” in my hair and the creases around my eyes.
Those of you who see me every Sunday, or more often, are probably saying to yourselves, “Peter, that’s how you look to us.” But the point is that this isn’t how I see myself. The image in the mirror didn’t reflect the “real” me. Come to find out, this is factually correct. Mirrors don’t reflect how you present yourself to the world. If you look at yourself in a mirror, you don’t see yourself as others see you. If you don’t believe me, you can look at two images of Abraham Lincoln, one as he saw himself in a mirror and the other as if you were looking at him. Here’s a link: http://vimeo.com/22141675
Looking in the mirror, we of course only see what’s on the surface. Mirrors don’t reflect our true selves. They don’t reveal what makes us who we are. And that’s perhaps the reason that glimpse into the airport mirror caused such a disconnect for me. Although physically I am a middle-aged white guy with gray hair and deeply etched lines around my eyes, inside I’m not that man at all. And I know I’m not unique in experiencing this dissonance between my aging, physical self and my inner immaturity. Visiting with my parents this week, I see them struggling to come to terms with the reality of their aging.
All this has gotten me thinking about how we present ourselves to the world and how often our outward actions and appearance don’t reveal our true natures. We face pressures to conform to cultural norms every day and leave our “real” selves at home, tucked in a drawer like an old favorite pair of jeans we pull out only when no one is looking. The world can be a dangerous place to reveal ourselves, especially if we don’t fit within the range of what society calls “normal.” And even if we do.
What parts of yourself do you hold close? What would it be like to reveal just a little more of yourself to others? To bring a little more consonance to the person we see and the person you are? That can be a scary thought, like seeing yourself in the mirror for the very first time. One of the things that makes our church community different from the “outside” world is that we’re a place where you’re invited to take that risk. To take off your mask. To reveal your true self or discover it if you’ve lost it. Here you don’t have to pose. You don’t have to worry about what the mirror reflects. We want you to be wholly and truly who you are. And we will love you for it, warts and all. And what a blessing that is.
From March 2014 Focus