What's Your Mirror Saying?

Oct 10, 2022

Do you know anyone like the queen in the fairy tale of “Snow White?” She didn’t ask the magic mirror on the wall “Who’s the fairest in the land?” because she wanted information. She only cared about admiration.

When the mirror’s answer fed her insatiable appetite for affirmation, he remained safe. Probably even was polished to a shining gleam on orders from Her Majesty. The mirror, however, possessed a trait which jeopardized others: honesty.

Isn’t it fascinating integrity threatens vanity, never humility?

Do you ever wish you could be “less honest” to avoid the cost you know is going to come?

We tend towards a love/hate relationship with mirrors. We pass by one, and it’s hard not to cast a glance towards it, even if briefly. Other times we become contortionist trying to avoid seeing our full early morning reflection while retrieving a tube of toothpaste. We’re both attracted to these imagers yet work to avoid them. Not just the ones framed with metal or plastic or wood and secured to walls but those displayed on faces.

Our minds are hardwired to seek people mirrors.

Mirror neurons, a recent discovery on the timeline of scientific understanding of human development, remain more mystery than fact. Yet we know enough to conclude their role in healthy development, not only physically but emotionally, mentally, and relationally, is profound.

In essence – and this is a very simplistic explanation – when I copy your actions or language, my brain will fire the same neurons as yours. And in the brain, what fires together, wires together. Perhaps this might explain why people who’ve been married a long time can look so similar! (That’s just a guess of mine; no formula hypothesis I’m putting forward.)

We innately seek others to be our mirrors.

Which makes sense. In the same way I can be oblivious to how much I’m resembling a racoon due to runny mascara, how do I know if I’m rude if you don’t mirror that back to me? When a child falls and scrapes his knee and looks at me with a pained expression saying, “I’ve got an owweee,” he needs that reality mirrored back to him. If my response is the equivalent of a distorted funhouse mirror – to laugh or ignore him -- I create cognitive dissonance. The mirror neurons won’t match, and his development will suffer.

Perhaps you’ve encountered this situation. You tell a friend, family member, or spouse about a painful experience, and they listen but mirror back to you a message which says, “That’s no big deal” or “Get over it” or “It’s your fault” or “You’re boring me.” You walk away feeling worse because the right mirroring didn’t happen, leaving your mind in a state of disarray.

So how do we handle this people-mirroring need we possess?

  1. Accept this is part of our design, for better and worse. When used correctly, this allows us to see both our beauty and our faults. When we’re genuinely asking our mirror-folk what they see in us to pursue growth in ourselves or a relationship, we’ll sometimes hear, “You’re the fairest” and sometimes hear, “You’re not very beautiful in this area.”

Our response to both messages, those which affirm and convict, also act as a mirror to the truth of our character, priorities, and values.

The queen in “Snow White” came off as a lovely person when the mirror gave her what she wanted. The whole truth didn’t rise to the surface until she didn’t get her way.  

  1. Accept no one is a perfect mirror. We are each, to varying degrees, cracked, distorted, or foggy. No other person can ever accurately reflect your entire being. We need more than one mirror person, and we must live close enough they get to see the real us, not just the dressed-up us. Sure, I can look pretty good first thing in the morning if I stand far enough away from the mirror and keep the lights dim. But up close, paired with bright lights, and that’s a whole other story!

More than one person in our close-up community helps us discern when the message we’re hearing from another person is an accurate reflection of us or is severely distorted. Remember those fun-house mirrors where you look 6’8” when a measuring tape proves you’re 5’3”? Sometimes people are like that. They can make us look more beautiful or disheveled than is true. Which is why we especially need the next truth.

  1. Accept Christ is the only perfect mirror. He alone can reflect our radiance and our rebellion, our goodness and our godlessness, our selflessness and our selfishness. His Word, the Bible, is a perfect mirror if we will have the courageous humility to look at all of it. Yes, we see “through a glass darkly” and have the promise someday we’ll see “face to face.” When that happens, all we’ll see mirrored back to us will be love, grace, beauty, goodness, joy, and delight!

In the last three blog posts I’ve used photographic lenses as metaphors for life. Historically, cameras have been designed with internal mirrors. Today we have digital mirrorless cameras with capacities as great as or even greater than traditional mirrored gear. What works for cameras, however, will never work for people. We need mirrors, both when the message is affirming and when it’s convicting.


©Stephanie D. Smith, 2022


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