About a year ago I took up a self-portrait project in the mirror in an attempt to get a photo for my blog. I didn’t want a posed picture with a tight-lipped portrait smile. I wanted to capture some reality to offer my readers a glimpse of who I am.
My self-portrait session began dismally. I’m a photographer and not a naturally photogenic person. I can see the beauty in others and I love capturing it, but I don’t usually bother looking for beauty in myself.
But it was me behind the camera looking at me in front of the camera. And I didn’t like what I saw through my lens. I couldn’t manage a real smile to save my life. I had no trouble capturing my frustration with myself. The angry looks. The annoyance with my subject. The stuck-out tongue.
I had to laugh, though, when I realized that I was making faces at myself in the mirror. I aimed a chagrined look skyward, remembering that I wasn’t really alone in the room. As I was suddenly reminded of God’s affection for a silly girl, I discovered life in my reflection. I saw someone who was loved, and I could see the beauty He’d placed there. The mirror image revealed some of His work in me.
I have an interesting history with mirrors.
When I was eight years old, I picked up a mirror, slathered on the lipstick, and soundly kissed my own reflection. I didn’t decide if I’d be good at kissing or not, but I was rewarded with a very nicely-shaped lip mark and an embarrassing moment for the record books.
At 17, I was an oldest sister in a long-desired room of my own. The glow from the candles lit in my room danced in the dresser mirror, lighting my face and revealing eyes of a young woman I didn’t know I had become.
At 21, a mirror reflected a sparkle back to me as I realized my first love, a sparkle that was soon replaced with the pain of thwarted desire. Over the next few years, the mirror assisted in its masking.
My wedding day reflection disclosed wedding-stress weight loss, nervousness, hope for the future, and my desire to leave the past behind. And there was one very large, non-disguisable zit in the center of my forehead.
The mirror was both friend and enemy during my pregnancy, revealing the changes in my body, reminding me of the baby still growing inside me. I watched my transition from girl to woman in the journey that is every woman’s rite of passage.
It is no secret that we live in a culture dominated by image. Image both defines and disguises who we are. Do we wear the right clothes? Do we say the right things? Do we have the right friends?
Even as a believer, I have struggled not to buy into this image philosophy. I constantly weigh myself, examining and refining my image to cover my insecurity, lack of faith, and failures. Too often, I define myself by what I can see and attempt to remove my own imperfections by covering up my blemishes and pretending that what I see is who I really am.
But the image I see in the mirror is only a part of who I am.
Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 13 that “now we see through a glass, darkly, but then, [at Christ’s coming], face to face.” John tells us we don’t yet know what we will be, but then, we will see God as He is, and we will be like Him (1 John 3:2-3).
Too often, I focus on the image itself instead of on the One who created it. In my frustration with my reflection for its flaws, I forget that who I am is a reflection of Him.
Created in the image of God, Adam and Eve had no need of a mirror to reveal or perfect who they were. In their innocence, they were unafraid to be naked before Him. Generations after this vulnerability was shattered by sin, I still try, like them, to cover my shame.
Yet there is nothing I can do in front of any mirror that will earn or exclude me from the love of God in Jesus. I am already perfect and complete in Him. My blemishes have been removed at the Cross. When I walk in faith believing this, I am free.
I find that my ideal image of me is a poor reflection of Him. Believing that God is changing me into His image, I have set my bid for attainment aside, and I have gained a glimpse of Him and what I will be when I see Him face to face. The question I ask when I look in the mirror is no longer “what have I done to fix my image?” but “what is God doing in me that reflects His image?”
Lately, the woman in my mirror has been seeing a lot of herself that she doesn’t like. She wasn’t a contented single. She’s not the greatest wife. She’s not a stellar mom. She is solidly entrenched in the “foolish and weak” category. Strangely, though, she has found herself content. Peaceful. Joyful, even.
As my faith grows and my inadequacy is revealed, I am learning that the work of faith itself is believing that God is changing me when I can’t change or control my image to perfect myself.
When I look at my reflection through the lens of faith, I see that I am no longer shame and imperfection. I no longer have to hide myself behind an image. I am free to know and be known, to love and be loved.
When I look in the mirror, I can no longer define myself by what I see or what I’ve attained. Neither of those will affect what the mirror reveals: a woman being changed from the inside out by a God who sees her more clearly than she will ever see herself.
My reflection discloses an ongoing transformation that goes from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). This glory that God is revealing in me as I am changed into His image is something that I can barely glimpse now. It is not mine to restore, improve, or manufacture. It is His to reveal as He finds occasion.
Reflected in a mirror held by a loving Father (who doesn’t mind this silly girl) I see a more real me. I see failures, imperfections, blemishes, and flaws. But I also see a woman standing in Jesus, no longer afraid that she won’t measure up.
In the lens of His love there is no condemnation. The very real smile that gets captured in this mirror is overflowing joy.