So I’ve been writing the past few weeks about the need that we have for Christians to be able to speak the hard words into each other’s lives. Next week will be my last post about this, but I’ve been thinking about this because I have a hunch that we’ve reacted so much to the idea of not judging each other, that we’ve used it as an excuse to really living in community with one another. We live in social circles and call it church.
So there’s a time in the book of James where he talks about how anyone who knows the truth and doesn’t act on it is like someone who looks in a mirror and sees what’s there and immediately forgets it. I like that idea.
Because just about everybody I know looks in the mirror everyday. And for some of us it’s more painful than others, but we do it, and we stand in front of that mirror as long as we have to before we go out into the world. And we do that, no matter how disturbing what we see in the reflection is, because what we are looking at is reality.
And reality, whether we like it or not, is our friend.
A few years ago, a young woman came into my office who I had known in passing. We talked for a few minutes, and then she just kind of blurted out that she had an eating disorder. She was anorexic, and was paranoid about gaining weight, to the point where she was slowly starving herself. And I was shocked. On the outside, this young woman seemed to be emotionally healthy and happy, she was very thin and pretty, had a great job and a healthy dating life. And so I asked her why this was such a concern for her. And she told me that she had always struggled with her weight.
I don’t know what led me to ask this question, but the next thing I found myself saying was, “What do you see when you look in the mirror?” And without a second of hesitation she replied, “I see a very fat person.” She couldn’t have weighed over 120 pounds soaking wet.
Sometimes mirrors lie.
And so I spent the next few minutes just talking to her about the lie that her mirror was telling her. I talked about having an identity in Jesus versus identifying with our appearances. And then I asked her about her friendships. I wanted to know if she had anybody in her life who she was very close enough with to share what she was struggling with, and who could speak some truth into her life. She couldn’t imagine that, and then she went on to tell me that she didn’t plan on radically changing her behavior, or even the way she viewed herself, she just wanted to get it off her chest with her minister. And I think most of us know why she didn’t want to take this further.
Because some mirrors are more painful than others.
The book of James is probably the most practical book in the New Testament. James is trying to create a certain kind of church. And so James talks about judging each other with mercy, he talks about the power of the tongue, and how we should not use our mouth to put people down or gossip, he talks about how faith is something that leads to action, and how we shouldn’t treat people better or worst based on things like how much money is in their bank account. And then here’s how James’ ends his letter:
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
That’s it. That’s how he ends it. He says that and then drops the mic and walks away.
Some people think that James’ letter ends too abruptly. But I think it makes perfect sense for James, because this is what he’s been doing the entire book. James is trying to create communities of faith that function a bit like a mirror. He wants churches to be the kinds of places who reflect the reality that each of us are blind to in our own lives.
The problem with life is not that we look into mirrors, but that we look into the wrong kinds of mirrors.
So if you are rich and you come to James’ church you may be surprised that people don’t treat you better because of your status. If you are going through a time of suffering you might be surprised that at James’ church they don’t pity you, at James’ church they think that you might be a season where God is particularly active in your life. James is working to help the church be a mirror that reflects a better reality.
I’ve heard some psychological theories that talk about each of us have a blind self, it is the part of ourself that the people around us can see, but we are blind to. Wouldn’t it be nice to have people in your life who you could trust to tell you about what that looks like?
When Dr. Charles Siburt from ACU passed away one of the things people said over and over again was that he was one of the only people who cared enough about them to be honest with them. They knew he loved them, and that he wanted the best for him, and sometimes it was painful, but it was always what they needed to hear. And the only way he was able to do that, was because he didn’t need you to like him for him to be able to love you.
I think James would ask us why are Churches don’t function like that?
The problem I have in confronting other people is that I want them to like me, the real reason I am tempted to shy away from hard conversations is that I want to be known as a loving person more than I want to be a loving person.
I think about my old boss Rick Atchley, or my wife or a host of other people in my life, who have cared enough to say hard things to me about life or ministry, because they cared more about me as a person than they did my immediate emotional state. And they weren’t doing that to be a jerk, they weren’t trying to hurt my feelings, they were trying to help me see myself better.
They cared enough to tell me the truth about myself.
So I think back to that young woman with the eating disorder. The truth is there is constantly a gap between the reality that exists and the one that we see, and the only way to close that gap is to have people in our lives brave enough to say what they see. We hide a lot behind the idea of grace, but grace doesn’t mean looking the other way, it means knowing that we are forgiven and loved by God in spite of what the truth about ourselves really is, grace never ignores the truth, it is only by grace that we can stand to hear it, and say it.
We need to be communities of Gospel mirrors.
Because the truth of grace, is the grace of truth.