Have you ever stood in front of a carnival mirror? If you have, you’ve noticed that you look a bit different depending upon the angle. Bend your knees and crane your neck, and you’re skinny and long-faced. Adjust slightly, and you’re suddenly short and overweight.
Deconstructing relational conflict and misunderstandings over the years, it seems clear that we commonly see ourselves one way while others see us a bit differently. Like a carnival mirror, reflections can be distorted. Knowing this, it’s helpful to be aware of at least four available views during any interaction and one that is important to always keep in mind.
How We See Ourselves
This is our go-to. It’s the N on the compass. Our default perception is how we view ourselves. Most often, this is the most flattering perspective. Our motives are cast in the best light, our mistakes minimized, and our virtues exaggerated. We tend to give ourselves the benefit of every doubt and vigorously defend ourselves against any attack. Remember, we do this because, well, let’s be honest, we love ourselves. We give ourselves the “home-team advantage.” We are naturally biased towards ourselves. We must keep this tendency to root for ourselves on our dashboard. We’re not a completely objective source for evaluating our motives and actions. Realizing this prejudice can help us make progress toward humbly embracing reality.
How We Think Others See Us
This can vary depending upon the person and the circumstance. But, suffice it to say, we tend to exaggerate here. We hover on the borders of thinking people either love us or hate us. This is one of the reasons why people surprise us so often. We come away from a conversation saying, “I can’t believe how nice they were” or “Where did that come from? I thought we were friends?” Here it’s helpful to remember that just like our view of ourselves, the way we think others see us is also likely distorted by various levels of misconceptions and personal selfishness.
How others see us
At the end of a healthy discussion that resolves conflict, there’s a point where we learn something about ourselves and others. The realization usually comes with humility. We may learn that we’ve done something to offend another. We may also experience the blessing of forgiveness and grace. These moments are as humbling as they are illuminating. Craning our neck through the anguish of humbling conversation changes our vantage point to learn how others see us.
How We Really Are
In these first three views, there is an element of subjectivity. We may not have the proper view. These are some of the variables we must accept with relationships in a post-Genesis three world. We live amid foggy days. God’s Word does cut through the fog and shed light upon our actions. For example, when I speak on my own authority—attempting to read the mind and motives of others–the Scriptures instruct me that there’s a reason for it. Jesus says that we do it for our own glory (John 7:18). Also, when I’m arguing with another, I’m informed by James 4, which tells me that at least one, and probably both of us in the argument, is craving supremacy over the other. I’m angry that I cannot have what I want (James 4:1–2). Even a passage like James 1:20 reminds me that even when I may be right in the principle of the argument, I can be wrong in how I am talking and treating the other person. Scriptures like this cut through the fog and let me know what’s really going on. It changes my angle of perception.
Pushing away from the carnival mirror of subjectivity and into the mirror of God’s Word will serve us best.
How God sees us in Christ
Then there is another view that we can easily forget, especially in the heat of conflict, but it’s essential—especially for Christians. We have to remember that God looks at us as his children, swaddled in the everlasting righteousness of his Son (2 Cor. 5:21). We are his adopted and eternally loved children (Eph. 1:4–5). Nothing can separate us from his love (Rom. 8:35–39). We are his. Forever, we are his. This reality is informed by who we were. We were dead in transgressions and sin (Eph. 2:1–3); alienated, hostile in mind (Col. 1:21); foolish, disobedient, and slaves to various passions and pleasures (Titus 3:3); and destined for wrath (Eph. 2:3). Who we were naturally is eclipsed by who we’ve become in Christ: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). Remembering who we were and how God sees us in Christ provides the proper framework for viewing ourselves and others. This brings us to humility and security. It frees us from pursuing our own avatar of self-expression by letting us delight in God’s verdict in Christ.
Trying to keep these views on our dashboard will undoubtedly aid us in our interactions, especially when there’s conflict. Pushing away from the carnival mirror of subjectivity and into the mirror of God’s Word will serve us best.