Wholly Living

The Man In My Mirror

"We need to love ourselves the way He loves us—the way we love others." by Jeff Adams

When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t like what I saw. I stood in front of the sink and sobbed. I needed to wash my face and compose myself. It was time to meet a friend. How can I face him when I can’t face myself? Little in my life had changed in the past two decades. I disguised the truth in an effort to hide my weaknesses. I prayed but for the wrong reasons. I read my Bible out of duty. I attended church but felt little joy. Compared to the people I admired; I fell short. I did what others expected, but I didn’t know what God wanted. I deceived myself and thought I fooled others. I lied to myself to avoid the pain of the truth.

For 10 years, my wife Rosemary and I served in almost every way possible in our church. Finally, our dream came true. We became pastors. We tried to pioneer a church in Las Vegas and failed. I grew bitter from betrayal. God, if you won’t fight for me, at least quit fighting against me. Like the apostle Peter who returned to fishing after he denied knowing Jesus, we went back to work. We received promotions, accepted transfers and thought we could be useful in California. A misunderstanding left us with one option.

We left that church. I called our pastor. “You can come home, but I have nothing for you.” No place. No position. No prospects. Reluctantly, we moved back to Arizona.

In time we found ways to serve again. Rosemary managed the nursery. I learned to run the soundboard. But we felt tolerated at best, overlooked at worst. We weren’t wanted. We weren’t even needed. Years passed. Until that evening in front of the mirror.

I didn’t see how God could forgive my failures…I couldn’t
do enough.

I finished reading “The God Who Pursues” by Cecil Murphey, in which he describes a mythical beast, a basilisk—part serpent, part rooster. The hideous creature tormented and killed local villagers. No one knew how to kill the monster. Somehow someone learned that the basilisk feared its own image. When the serpent appeared again, the townsfolk surrounded their adversary. Holding mirrors, they forced it to stare at itself. Unable to escape, the basilisk died of fright.

I saw myself as a hypocrite—part religious, part sinner—someone who said he believed in God but seemed to have little faith. Rather than trust God with my life, I tried to engineer my success. I tried to impress people and influence God. “If I try harder to do more perhaps I’ll become good enough to be worthy. Then He’ll help me.” That became a twist on the notion that God helps those who help themselves. But all that I tried to do convinced me I couldn’t do enough. I didn’t see how God could forgive my failures. I saw myself as the prodigal son in Luke 15 who squandered what he’d been given by his father.

Unable to look in the mirror and face myself, I confessed. “God, I’m sorry. How can You love me after what I’ve done? I disappointed my pastor and our church, but worse, I disappointed You. You’ve given me so much, and I have nothing to offer You.”

I wanted to prove to God how much I loved Him. Instead of being the leader of a large congregation of committed people, I stood alone. I didn’t want to face my past and I was unwilling to face my future. “God, I’ve wasted everything You’ve given me.”

I wiped the tears and stared at my face. I felt as if God was standing behind me. He looked into the mirror and put His hand on my shoulder. “You should pray for that man in the mirror the way he prays for others.”
I wept again. Then I thought about His words. I often prayed for others. I’d take their hands in mine, let them look into my eyes, and I’d say what they wanted to hear most: “God’s not mad at you. He loves you. He’s never stopped loving you. When you stumble into sin, His grace catches you.” God seemed to step closer and spoke again. “You should speak to that man the way he speaks to others.”

I didn’t look away. I often encouraged others to believe in themselves. “You may not trust yourself, but God trusts you. When you can’t help yourself, He will rescue you.” I splashed cold water on my face and stared at the man I barely knew.

God uses the bruised, battered and broken because they give freely what they’ve received.

God leaned against me and wrapped His arm around my shoulders. “You should love that man, the way he loves others—because I do.” I understood. I loved people because God does. When I saw others unable to love themselves, I often put my arm around their shoulders, and told them what they needed to hear. “Jesus doesn’t love you because of what you do; He loves you because of what He did. Nothing you do or don’t do can change that.”

A small smile crept across my face. Tears of sorrow became tears of joy. God comforted me the way I comforted others. “I love God because He loves me. I need to forgive myself the way I forgive others.” I brushed my hair and stood a little straighter and taller than I had in years. I looked at the man in my mirror. I didn’t cringe at what I saw. Instead, I smiled again, grabbed my room key and headed out the door to meet my friend.

I knew I wouldn’t change overnight, but my heart overflowed with hope. “I can be who God created me to be; I can make a difference.” I faced the truth—failing doesn’t make us failures. God uses imperfect people; they’re the only kind. He chooses the least likely to succeed, those who feel invisible, the people that others discount, disqualify, or discard. God picks people like us—the ones others choose last.

“Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important” (1 Cor. 1:26–28).

God uses the bruised, battered and broken because they give freely what they’ve received. “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Cor. 1:4).

We don’t have to know the right words to say. Our prayers don’t need to be eloquent. We need to be filled with compassion. “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20 NLT). We need to do what our Father does. We need to love ourselves the way He loves us—the way we love others.

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