09 October 2007

Breaking the Funhouse Mirror

One of the things I simultaneously love and loathe about being in relationship with others is how you are reflected back to yourself. Let’s face it – the reflection isn’t always pretty when someone who can lend some objectivity to your you-ness shows you what he’s seeing. There are days I’d much rather have my relationships function as a kind of funhouse mirror, but in reverse: distort and manipulate the truth so that what is reflected back to me is what I want to hear, what I want to see, a supermodel picture of spiritual and relational perfection – not the impalatable, hard-to-digest, I’m-really-quite-deformed-and-deficient-and-all-out-of-proportion truth.

But getting a truthful look at yourself is essential to seeing and knowing what needs to change, what needs improvement, what needs a tune-up, and what requires a complete overhaul. And while others may have an unmitigated ability to examine themselves critically and with utter honesty, I find I am fond of subconsciously (and sometimes not-so-subconsciously) convincing myself that I’ve got my stuff together. In other words, I sometimes need other people to tell me when I’m full of crap.

When you have a friend who possesses a blatant, unapologetically no-holds-barred variety of honesty, all I can say is, watch out and in the same breath, thank God! Honesty is a quality that many value but in my own experience, few exercise to its full potential (I include myself in this) because not only is there difficulty for the recipient, but it also requires a measure of risk for the one who speaks it. It is a delicate matter to speak the truth with tact and in love to another child of God. It is much easier to let things slide, kick your feet up and allow the friendship to coast, the ills of another remaining unidentified and unchallenged.

I once heard a pastor say, you are contributing to or contaminating your relationships one hundred percent of the time. The statement struck me as odd, but the more I allowed it to roll around my brain, the more I grasped its truth. While I may not be actively contaminating a relationship with my words or behavior, I am contaminating it if I contribute nothing toward it. If I do nothing to sustain its life, I am ensuring its death.

So I am thankful for the friend who is helping me learn this these days, who tells me the truth even when it might be painful to hear, and encourages me to reciprocate. As uncomfortable as these conversations might be at times, they are drawing me into the fullness of myself. It is helping me to identify those parts of me that are all too human and decidedly un-Christlike. Knowing this, I can choose to surrender them at the foot of the cross so Christ can give me the new self He has created for me, the self created in the “righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24).

This is part of how we grow and live in love in the Body of Christ. This is how we attain maturity in Christ’s Body. To avoid it is to become careless and callous; to avoid it is to contaminate it and by extension, ourselves.

I think St. Paul says it best:

… if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.
Ephesians 4:21-25 (NASB)

We are members of one another, friends. Grace and peace be with you.


  1. I'm just here tapping at the window. And fogging it up with a bit of awe.

  2. I wandered across your blog today and I am glad. Both your blogs look great and give me much to be thankful for and much to admire. I will be back.

  3. Thanks for visiting, LL. You are always welcome to tap at my window, or come in and enjoy a cup of tea.

    Gyrovague - welcome!! I always enjoy receiving new visitors here. Thank you for your kind words & I look forward to seeing you again soon!

  4. what an honest and wise post... and about one of the hardest parts of Christian relationship: accountability. and its such a delicate thing, like you said.

    i think the key, is having intimate relationship before addressing ANYTHING. but you are right.... it's hard for the receiver and the bearer.... i've been both. i addressed a very close christian friend once on something she was doing that was really hurting me, and she basically said, 'sorry you feel that way' and ended the friendship. so i'm always super cautious when approaching people now. and it hurt me a lot to know that she didn't value our friendship enough to work through it.

    marriage is probably the ultimate example of this give-and-take, if its a healthy one. i've called marriage a magnifying glass to all my faults.... things i didn't even know were there. :) but i'm glad things get called out and worked on, b/c we always seem to come out better on the other side.....

  5. Blue -- you are absolutely right! I think a loving and intimate friendship is absolutely necessary before we can approach one another to give AND receive this kind of communication. If someone who had no personal relationship went on a tirade about my endless faults, I think I would be far less disposed to take them seriously: they have no investment in relationship with me (or I with them) & nothing is risked when there is no relationship on the line.

    As Paul says, "we are members of each other". We're not meant to be disconnected & disjointed. We're meant to live in community, live in relationship, and live in love through the nitty-gritty, through the trials and tempations, through the gauntlet that is life. Our lives are meant to be intertwined.

    Speaking the truth in love: SO, SO much easier said than done, no? I don't love it (receiving it, or giving it for that matter), but God gave us each other to make each other better, He uses each one of us to build up the Body.

    May He give us all the grace to embody this command!

  6. I love this post, Kirsten. You are so right that it's both painful and wonderful to receive that kind of love from someone. And I agree with you and Blue about needing the relationship to be established before this kind of sharing can legitimately happen. I would agree with you that not only is the investment NOT there if the reverse is the case, but also the two people in the "confrontation" do not really know each other, so how can they even know if they are speaking truth? Also, I'm thinking maybe love only flows from true relationship in these experiences because the person who doesn't know you and tries to correct you would likely be motivated from a judgemental perspective (Kind of like, "Um, excuse me, but you are SO WRONG over there and you might want to do something about it! Just thought you should know. Love you, bye!" I so don't think so!!).

    I was pained to read Blue's story about losing the friendship when she took the risk of telling her friend how the relationship was hurting her. I have had relationships end in the past, too, when one or both of us was not at a mature level to handle really looking at the truth. I wish I could go back now, with what I've learned and how I've grown into where I am now, and change the way that happened and the outcome. I'm sorry to hear what happened to you, Blue.

    Thanks for writing this post, Kirsten. It's a good one!

    Oh, and I particularly loved your reference to the funhouse mirror, and also the line about needing someone to tell you when you're full of crap. :) I would also add that it's important to have people in our lives who affirm the truth of who we are in all our splendid glory, too -- not just pointing out the bad stuff, but also the glorious good that makes us uniquely us.

  7. Thanks for stopping by, Christianne! You are absolutely right that a pretty solid foundation of friendship needs to be in place before this kind of exchange can take place. Without it, it becomes -- as you said -- someone sitting in the seat of judgment over another, which Christ does NOT enjoin us toward at all!

    And I would hope that the life-giving affirmation you describe is implicit in any friendship between two people whose lives are aimed at obedience to Christ; speaking these "truths in love" and pointing out the image of God in another bears just as much import in my own mind as the speaking of those less pleasant truths. But yes, it absolutely does bear noting! Both are definitely present in the particular friendship to which I refer and indeed, hearing what's good makes it not only easier to bear, but affirms for me that this is a person who sees me and takes me as a whole person, a whole soul before God.

    I was pained too to read of the loss of Blue's friendship. I would hope that the loss her friend experienced as a result (because who would honestly want to lose Blue as a friend?!!?) taught her to see the need and the place for such loving exchanges of the hard truth within relationship.

    We none of us are perfect, but I believe that those of us who are truly after Christ's own heart would bear such truth with equanimity and though it's painful, use it as an opportunity to open our hearts & lives to God's own cleansing & sanctifying grace.

    Thanks again for your kind comment! I always look forward to what you have to say.

    Grace to you all, friends!

  8. I'm so glad you have that person in your life, Kirsten. When both parties are concerned with helping the other conform ever more into the image of Christ, we can know that they desire our highest good and rest in that, even in the not-so-pleasant conversations.

    I always look forward to what you have to say, too! And I agree that choosing to lose Blue as a friend is a great loss to the other party! :)

  9. ahhh, shucks! you and christianne are too sweet! :)

  10. Kirsten, this is an excellent post. Not only in its content, but also in the creative way you presented it (I agree with Christianne. . . I loved the funhouse mirror imagery). I have a love/hate relationship with this type of honesty. It is so hard to hear, so painful to realize that my sinfulness is evident to others (it is bad enough to know it is evident to God!). And yet, it is such a cleansing feeling to address those sins and grow.

    One of the blessings of a Christian marriage is the accountability it offers. Knowing that the marriage covenant is sacred and permanent provides such security. It is next to impossible to hide one's weaknesses from one's spouse, but it sure helps to know that the commitment isn't founded on one's perfection or performance, but on Christ. Hard to explain, but very beautiful!

    ps-sorry if there are massive typos. . . Caleb was trying to "help" me type this!

  11. Hi Rebecca (& Caleb)!! Thanks for visiting. I've heard many say this of marriage and it's definitely something I would expect in the context of that relationship. I'm so thankful I'm being "prepped" for it now and that I'm with someone who really values it also. ;o)